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Published: Monday, 12/15/2008

Businessmen defend efforts to oust mayor

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

The backers of a campaign to throw Mayor Carty Finkbeiner out of office have heard the arguments that it would be a lot of energy to accomplish just a three-month reduction in Mr. Finkbeiner s term.

But Tom Schlachter, the treasurer and spokesman for Take Back Toledo, doesn t care.

We re not doing it just to grandstand. We would like the business community to have a seat at the table, and you can only do that if you ve got the power, said Mr. Schlachter, a Sylvania Township developer and builder. That is the real purpose.

He said desirable outcomes of the recall effort could include removing the mayor from office, forcing the mayor s resignation, defeating a re-election bid, or identifying and supporting a business-oriented mayoral candidate.

The group, Take Back Toledo, led by two officials of radio station WSPD-AM-1370, two suburban real estate developers, and the owner of a suburban trucking company, earlier this month went public with its plan to get a recall of Mr. Finkbeiner on the Sept. 15 primary ballot.

The initial charter members were Mr. Schlachter; Andy Stuart, general manager of Clear Channel radio stations in Toledo, including WSPD; Brian Wilson, that station s program director; Brian McMahon, president of Danberry National Ltd. of Perrysburg, and Ed Nagle, a Toledoan who owns a Lake Township-based trucking firm.

Members of the group have said the mayor s actions since taking office in 2006 have embarrassed Toledo, driven it deeper into fiscal crisis, and discouraged private investment in the city.

Mayor Finkbeiner fought back with a 20-minute speech last week highlighting his achievements and harshly attacking his opponents for alleged ethical misdeeds.

In an interview later in the week, the mayor said the best use of his time in 2009 will be to protect the quality of life in Toledo s neighborhoods and push forward on economic development projects such as the Marina District.

Mr. Schlachter said the 90-day petition effort would begin in January to allow plenty of time to meet the deadlines necessary to get the question on the Sept. 15 ballot.

If a majority of voters agreed to replace Mr. Finkbeiner, he would have to leave office as soon as the vote is certified by the board of elections, a process that could take until early October.

Under the city charter, if Mr. Finkbeiner leaves office, then the council president, currently fellow Democrat Mark Sobczak, would take over for the remaining three months.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he has not decided whether to seek a second consecutive term as allowed under the charter, but has said he would not resign.

The whole process could cost a lot of money.

Collecting between 30,000 and 40,000 signatures the number needed as a cushion to get at least 19,753 good signatures would not be easy under the best of circumstances.

But doing it in winter, against a mayor in his last year of office, and against a mayor whom Toledo voters already have elected three times, could be daunting.

Mr. Schlachter, co-founder of the Moses/Schlachter Group Inc. building and development company, said the group has hired one of the mayor s former public information officers, Brian Schwartz, to manage the effort, but would not say how much Mr. Schwartz is being paid.

He is going to assist us in organizing petition signers and setting up a system of captains of signers and overseeing the captains, Mr. Schlachter said. It s probably full-time but temporary.

He said it is possible that the company would turn to a paid signature-gathering effort in the closing weeks of the signature drive. Ohio s premier signature-gathering company, Professional Petition Management LLC of Columbus, said his company would charge as much as $160,000 for such an effort.

Company CEO Ian James said to ensure the collection of enough signatures would require an office operation with hourly employees who would be armed with a well-lawyered petition and sent out to street corners, shopping centers, cooperative stores, and door-to-door to collect valid signatures.

We would probably have to hire dozens and dozens and dozens of people, Mr. James said.

A more modest effort could be had for $50,000, he said.

Tom Morrissey, a University of Toledo undergraduate student who tried unsuccessfully to recall Mayor Finkbeiner in 2007, said he spent about $150 and relied on about 100 volunteers. He claimed to have collected 17,000 signatures, but did not turn the petitions in because he knew the number was insufficient.

Organization of as many people as you can is the key thing, Mr. Morrissey said. If they went to a professional, it d be a done deal. These people know what they re doing, they ve done it before.

Mr. Morrissey isn t persuaded by arguments that Toledoans would be reluctant to agree to a recall election so close to the end of the mayor s term.

A lot has happened since [the previous recall effort]. You ve got the Marine incident. We gained national attention from that. There have been other incidents constantly, Mr. Morrissey said.

In February, Mr. Finkbeiner ordered a company of Michigan-based U.S. Marines to stop doing urban warfare drills downtown.

Take Back Toledo also will reach out to volunteers to collect signatures.

One of them is Bill Delaney, owner of Delaney s Tavern on Alexis Road and a foe of city government policies of the last several years such as the smoking ban and the takeover of ambulance and tow-lot business.

He said he supported Mr. Finkbeiner and worked in his campaign. I regret it now, absolutely, he said.

Others in the business community have shied away from Take Back Toledo s insistence on a recall campaign.

Bruce Rumpf, owner of employment agency Job1USA and a longtime city contractor, called the recall effort a total waste of energy negativity at a time when we should be working together positively.

He said politicians take heat from citizens but fault for the city s economic doldrums lies also with the business community.

We attack the politicians because the business leadership is under the radar screen, Mr. Rumpf said.

Kevin Smith, a vice president of Bostleman Corp., a building firm, said he refused to participate in the recall effort.

Rather than working all this time doing something that is nothing but symbolic in nature, why don t we use this time in finding a good candidate? Mr. Smith said. If they ever get to a second phase where they actually try to recruit a decent, strong candidate, then maybe I can support that or the company can support that.

Toledo City Councilman Frank Szollosi, perhaps the most outspoken political critic of Mr. Finkbeiner, said he doesn t support the effort and won t sign the petition if it s given to him.

I have had policy disagreements with the mayor, but I was elected by the same voters that he was in 2005 and I respect the voters intent, said Mr. Szollosi, who is up for re-election next year.

And he said the organizers might be taking the wrong tack if the think they can influence Mr. Finkbeiner to resign or not seek re-election.

When a group does something like this, it only fuels your competitive spirit and only makes him more likely to run for re-election and more likely to feel that he s right, Mr. Szollosi said.

The recall effort began with a meeting at the Toledo Club in mid-October that attracted about 70 people. Several attendees said they bailed out quickly when they learned of plans to recall Mr. Finkbeiner.

Mr. Schlachter said he supported Mr. Finkbeiner s 2005 election campaign to the tune of thousands of dollars, and he helped raise thousands of dollars from others.

But he said he and others felt betrayed early in the mayor s term, beginning with his veto of a waiver of the city s living-wage law to allow development of a Costco department store to go into Westgate Village Shopping Center. City Council overrode the veto.

In its public statements, Take Back Toledo has condemned the mayor for his continued spending of city money on the Erie Street Market, the Marina District, and Southwyck with little to show so far, while also spending money on beautification efforts.

Contact Tom Troy at:tomtroy@theblade.comor 419-724-6058.



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