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Published: Friday, 12/5/2008

Take Back Toledo group seeks recall of Finkbeiner

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Carty Finkbeiner Carty Finkbeiner
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A Sylvania Township businessman who formerly served on the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board took to the airwaves yesterday to announce an ambitious effort to recall Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner that, if successful, would remove him from office with about three months left in his four-year term.

Tom Schlachter, a co-founder of the Moses-Schlachter Group Inc., speaking on WSPD 1370-AM radio yesterday, said a group of business leaders had formed the "Take Back Toledo" initiative, for which the "most shocking" goal would be the recall of Mayor Finkbeiner.

"It's not a vendetta at all," he said. "No one can doubt the mayor's love of the city. Loving it is not enough. You have to act appropriately."

Mr. Schlachter said the group would raise money for its own candidate for mayor.

He said Mr. Finkbeiner has been fiscally irrespon-sible, created an unfriendly business environment, and made a series of bad decisions during his time in office - including spending money on the Erie Street Market while cutting funding for new police officers and firefighters in the proposed 2009 budget.

He also blasted the mayor for spending millions on a road in the Marina District in East Toledo when there are no dedicated private investments.

Tom Schlachter Tom Schlachter
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Mayor Finkbeiner released a written statement regarding the recall effort.

"These individuals, almost all of whom live in the suburbs of Toledo, and in recent years haven't lifted a finger to better Toledo, should be ashamed of themselves," the mayor said. "In a time of national and local severe recession, instead of pursuing their selfish personal and political agendas, they should help us raise money for the United Way and Salvation Army, and fight for auto jobs just as hard as I did to keep Jeep a few years back. They should also support us in working to bring alternative energy jobs and companies to Toledo."

Mr. Finkbeiner said he fought to keep COSI Toledo open while none of those involved in the recall helped.

"I just traveled to Washington to fight for Jeep, GM, and Ford jobs. I'm working with the governor and lieutenant governor to expand Ohio's economy," he said. "I'm working weekly with Larry Dillin to build a Marina District and rebuild Southwyck, and I am working to maintain city services while balancing a very strained city budget."

The group would need to collect 19,753 valid signatures of registered Toledo voters within a 90-day window to get the recall issue on the city's September primary ballot.

A majority vote at the election would remove Mr. Finkbeiner from his $136,000 post with about three months to go in his third term as mayor.

City Council President Mark Sobczak would temporarily become mayor until city voters in the November general election elected a new mayor, who would take office in January.

During his radio interview, Mr. Schlachter referred to Mayor Finkbeiner's order in February that a Michigan reserve unit of the Marine Corps stop training in downtown and a November, 1994, statement he made referencing deaf people living near Toledo Express Airport.

He also acknowledged that many of those aligned with the Take Back Toledo group did not live in the city but depend on its vitality

Mr. Schlachter, who resigned from the port board as of Oct. 26, 2005, did not name the other business leaders involved in the recall effort.

Former CitiFest Board Chairman Brian Epstein told The Blade last night that he had attended meetings of the recall group. Brian McMahon, a local commercial developer, confirmed he was involved with the group.

Neither would identify who else is behind the recall effort.

"I support it 100 percent. I think it's well overdue," Mr. McMahon said.

The mayor and Mr. McMahon have bumped heads in the past.

Earlier this year, Mr. Finkbeiner accused Mr. McMahon of misleading some local media and fabricating the existence of a petition to extend city water lines for an intermodal facility at Toledo Express Airport.

Mr. McMahon has a long history of deal-making with the city, some of it that went sour. In the 1980s, he convinced former Mayor Donna Owens and former City Manager Phil Hawkey to secretly purchase options to buy about 1,200 acres of land in what was then Monclova Township in hopes of annexing the property into Toledo in a development scheme.

The city spent more than $14 million to buy the land Mr. McMahon helped to assemble, but Toledo was never able to annex the property, although Mr. McMahon and his firm, then Danberry Co., received more than $700,000 in real estate commissions.

Mr. Finkbeiner, then a city councilman, initially voted to support the project, but eventually railed against Mr. McMahon, Ms. Owens, and Mr. Hawkey for the city's failed investment.

Toledo attorney Keith Wilkowski, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2005 and plans to run in 2009, said last night he would sign the recall petition.

"I understand why they are doing what they are doing," Mr. Wilkowski said. "What I am focused on is making sure my message of how we go about changing this community That is exactly why I am running for mayor."

Mr. Sobczak, an ally of the mayor, said Tuesday that trying to recall the mayor is too extreme, but he supports the right of community groups and leaders to confront the mayor over things they don't support.

"I don't know if it's to that extreme but I think it's important that a group make their feelings known when they think elected officials are behaving badly and say, 'Hey look, that's unacceptable behavior for leadership in our community.' So I encourage that. I think there's better ways to deal with it than [a recall effort]," Mr. Sobczak said.

Councilman Joe McNamara, often an outspoken critic of the mayor, declined to comment on the merits of the recall effort and said he has no first-hand knowledge of who's behind it. He said they'll need an organization or paid professional canvassers to succeed.

"It's extremely difficult under the city charter to recall anyone from municipal office because of the number of signatures and the time which you have to collect them," Mr. McNamara said. "It's a crazy amount, and it was written purposely so to make it difficult to recall mayors."

Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop, who also is considering a run for the mayor's office, said he understood the motivation for the recall campaign but was unsure if he would support it.

"They are not happy with the way the city is being run, the image of the city, and the really challenging economic times we are facing that are even worse than the country," Mr. Konop said.

Ron Rothenbuhler, chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party, said the recall effort is a bad idea.

"I know nothing of this committee and Toledo probably doesn't need any more negative publicity that we seem to produce," Mr. Rothenbuhler said. "I'd rather see people use their energy to produce jobs and economic development."

Tom Morrissey, a University of Toledo student, ran an unsuccessful "Recall Carty" petition drive in 2007. He claimed to have collected about 15,000 signatures.

Staff writer Tom Troy contributed to this report.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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