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Published: Monday, 2/11/2008

Calls mount for mayor to apologize as order to cancel training draws fire across nation

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The pressure was on yesterday for Toledo's Carty Finkbeiner to apologize to a company of U.S. Marine Corps Reservists whose weekend urban-patrol exercises on downtown streets were canceled by the mayor.

Five city councilmen, one of whom is a former Marine, called the order an embarrassment and demanded the mayor apologize - similar to calls from hundreds of people locally and on Internet blogs across the nation.

Former Marine and Vietnam War veteran John Schaub, 62, the owner of Holland Dry Cleaners in western Lucas County, said news of the mayor's order brought tears to his eyes.

"I'm not an emotional guy, but after I put the newspaper down, it just really hit me," Mr. Schaub said.

"We are at war and no one seems to understand that, so we should be rolling out the red carpet for these kids so they can be trained."

Toledo City Council members, from left, Frank Szollosi, Michael Ashford, and D. Michael Collins propose a resolution apologizing to the members of Company A, 1st Battalion, 24th Marines. (THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER)
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Toledo City Council members, from left, Frank Szollosi, Michael Ashford, and D. Michael Collins propose a resolution apologizing to the members of Company A, 1st Battalion, 24th Marines. (THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER) <br> <img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/photo.gif> <b><font color=red>PHOTO GALLERY</b></font color=red>: <a href=" /apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Avis=TO&Dato=20080211&Kategori=POLL&Lopenr=425156915&Ref=PH" target="_blank "><b>Marines training halted in Toledo</b></a> <br> <img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/forum.gif> <b><font color=red>TALK BACK</b></font color=red>: Join <a href=" /apps/pbcs.dll/news_themes?Category=FORUMS" target="_blank "><b>Forums</b></a> to talk about this story. Look in LATEST NEWS, REGIONAL NEWS
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Mr. Finkbeiner's decision Friday resulted in the five-bus convoy of 200 members of Company A, 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, based in Grand Rapids, Mich., canceling their planned training.

Yesterday, the mayor came short of an apology, but defended the decision in a written statement.

"I spoke with Maj. Jeff Brooks of the United States Marine Corps. I conveyed my sincere regret for the failure to communicate within the administration and any inconvenience that caused the U.S. Marine Corps," the statement said.

"I also conveyed, as my staff did on Friday, that we would make available abandoned buildings for Marine training outside of the central business district."

The mayor said Saturday that he did not learn of the exercises until reading a news item in Friday's editions of The Blade.

Mr. Finkbeiner said downtown, particularly on a weekday afternoon, was not suitable for military staging operations since up to 14,000 people would have been departing their offices.

"For those who disagree with my priorities in terms of safeguarding Toledoans, we may disagree, but you have my respect," the statement said.

Brian Schwartz, spokesman for Mr. Finkbeiner, acknowledged that Major Brooks asked to see the mayor Friday, soon after the battalion was ordered to leave, but was denied a meeting.

"The mayor was in another meeting," Mr. Schwartz said.

Councilmen Frank Szollosi, D. Michael Collins, Joe McNamara, Michael Ashford, and Mike Craig spoke to reporters yesterday at Government Center and presented a proposed resolution apologizing to the Marines.

The resolution needs eight affirmative votes to be immediately considered during tomorrow's council meeting.

Council President Mark Sobczak said the mayor had made arrangements for the Marines to come back to Toledo and use the vacant North Towne Square mall.

He declined to comment on the proposed resolution since he had not seen it.

The mayor's statement, which was sent to media outlets after the 3 p.m. news conference ended, opened with the line: "Frank Szollosi can play politics with anything. It is what he does best."

Mr. Szollosi dismissed the statement.

"His attempt to deflect responsibility for the situation is pathetic," Mr. Szollosi said. "And this is completely not political."

Mr. Collins, a Marine from 1963 to 1969, said the situation is an embarrassment for the city.

"The city signed-off on those plans or they wouldn't have embarked on this trip," he said. "I sincerely hope that our reputation throughout the United States isn't reflective that this is the value system that Toledo, Ohio, has."

Mr. McNamara said the other councilmen with him would all make private donations to charities that support veterans and encouraged others to do the same.

Mr. Ashford challenged Mr. Finkbeiner's statement from the previous day that people downtown would be frightened by warfare exercises and said he was doubtful the mayor was completely unaware of the planned visit.

"If you have ever been downtown on a weekend in February, there is no one downtown," Mr. Ashford said.

The backlash against the mayor intensified yesterday.

There was much disdain for Mr. Finkbeiner when he competed in a free-throw shooting contest during halftime of yesterday's men's basketball game between the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University at BGSU's Anderson Arena.

Mr. Finkbeiner, who competed against Bowling Green Mayor John Quinn, was showered with boos by fans from both teams. The mayor responded by cracking a faint smile.

He lost the contest 4-3 and must raise a BGSU flag at city hall for the rest of the week.

Members of the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines have trained periodically in downtown Toledo since at least 2004 and most recently in May, 2006.

Exercises included mock fire fights, ambushes, and the firing of blank ammunition.

Toledo police knew days in advance about plans for the three-day exercise and on Tuesday issued a news release to media outlets on behalf of the Marines that asked Toledoans not to be startled by the sight of camouflaged soldiers carrying M16 rifles.

But police greeted the Marines' Friday afternoon with a roadblock at Madison Avenue and Huron Street.

The Marines traveled to their battalion's Weapons Company headquarters in Perrysburg Township after they heard of the mayor's decision and later returned to Grand Rapids.

Sports writer Ryan Autullo contributed to this report.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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