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Published: Thursday, 1/3/2008

Sobczak is elected president of council

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Democrat Mark Sobczak was elected president of Toledo City Council last night after Mayor Carty Finkbeiner broke a 6-6 tie to give him the seat.

Council members split evenly between Mr. Sobczak and Michael Ashford, who had been council president since September.

Newly sworn-in Councilman Lindsay Webb, a Democrat, voted for Mr. Sobczak essentially handing the tie-breaking vote to the mayor just 90 minutes after promising to cast her vote for Mr. Ashford.

"I just believe that Mark Sobczak will provide the kind of leadership we need at this juncture," Ms. Webb said. "I have been struggling with this decision since the day after I was elected. I have thought about it every single night and certainly prayed about it twice as much."

Ms. Webb acknowledged that she promised her vote to Mr. Ashford before yesterday's meeting, but changed her mind by the time of council's 5:30 p.m. organizational meeting.

She said a factor in her decision was a letter dated Dec. 31 from Mayor Finkbeiner criticizing Mr. Ashford for his performance as council president after he replaced Republican Rob Ludeman in September.

Ms. Webb also acknowledged she probably would face political retribution for breaking her promise last night.

Also supporting Mr. Sobczak were the other two new councilmen: independent D. Michael Collins and Republican Tom Waniewski, as well as the two incumbent

Republicans, Betty Shultz and George Sarantou.

Supporting Mr. Ashford were Democrats Wilma Brown, Phil Copeland, Mike Craig, Joe McNamara, and Frank Szollosi.

Mr. Szollosi said Ms. Webb's action was dishonest and "pathetic."

"She looked us right in the eye, shook our hands, and said she was voting for Mike Ashford," Mr. Szollosi said.

Ms. Webb later declined to respond to Mr. Szollosi's comments when asked by reporters.

The election of president was the first order of business at council's organizational meeting after the new councilmen and those re-elected in November were sworn in.

Before casting his tie-breaking vote, Mayor Finkbeiner asked for a recess and met in private for 30 minutes with Mr. Sobczak and Mr. Ashford.

"When this meeting is over, everybody will not be happy," Mr. Finkbeiner said before voting for Mr. Sobczak.

The mayor was interrupted by Mr. McNamara, who said: "Mr. Mayor, with all due respect, council procedure is to vote."

The mayor responded to Mr. McNamara by saying, "With all due respect, I'm going to make some comments," and eventually continued.

In his Dec. 31 letter to Mr. Ashford, the mayor accused him of missing meetings, not returning telephone calls, and refusing to place legislation on the council agenda from the administration in violation of the city charter.

"You have shown little leadership on a very important issue to the city: the 2008 budget," the letter states.

The letter was in response to a recent request from Mr. Ashford that only the mayor not one of his senior staff members in the mayor's absence sit on the council chamber's dais.

Mr. Ashford said after the meeting he was not surprised the mayor selected Mr. Sobczak since he has been one of Mr. Finkbeiner's regular supporters.

"There's no bad blood," Mr. Ashford said. "Let's understand the facts: You think, in a tie-breaker, the mayor was going to vote for me? I was against the $10,000 shower; I was against the $40,000 Christmas tree lights. We've had our battles on the garbage-tax fee."

Mr. Sobczak said he would not be afraid to oppose the mayor and added that he would reinstitute council retreats, which in the past were either all-day or half-day meetings.

Mr. Sobczak also said fighting the mayor about who is allowed to sit on the council dais was "the wrong direction" and does not help foster working relationships.

There has been political pressure in the past to elect Mr. Sobczak to the president's seat including just weeks after he was first elected to council in November, 2005.

Bill Lichtenwald, of the politically powerful local Teamsters union, threatened political reprisals in December, 2005, against Mr. Szollosi if he did not support Mr. Sobczak for council president then.

Mr. Sobczak, who is Teamsters Local 20 vice president, had the unofficial Democratic Party backing for president of council.

Mr. Ludeman was instead elected president in January, 2006, and held the top seat until Mr. Ashford was elected president in a midterm coup by a Democratic faction.

Staff writer Tom Troy contributed to this report.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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