Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop Monday announced he will run for mayor of Toledo, promising to fight for change and a break from "good ol' boy" government, but quickly faced criticism over the pledge he made in 2006 to serve his full term.
In a speech outside a University of Toledo classroom building, Mr. Konop, 33, sought to pre-empt criticism over his broken pledge by saying Toledo's circumstances had changed dramatically for the worse and that he had made a bigger commitment - to fight for change since the 2006 election.
A small group of students at UT later criticized Mr. Konop for going back on the pledge he made to Lucas County voters.
Senior Tom Morrissey, who ran the unsuccessful 2007 recall effort against Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, accused Mr. Konop of an ethical lapse and said he should quit as commissioner, or give up his commissioner's salary while running for mayor. "The most important qualification for mayor is character, and by running for mayor, Ben Konop is proving to Toledo he is the least qualified," Mr. Morrissey said.
Republican City Councilman George Sarantou, Mr. Konop's opponent in 2006, said Mr. Konop's attempt to get him to sign the same pledge was "a cheap political trick," and said it was ironic that now "he's the one breaking the pledge." Mr. Sarantou said he is considering running for mayor.
Mr. Konop said that when he signed that pledge, Toledo was not facing 13 percent unemployment, a foreclosure crisis, the threat of 75 police layoffs, a $27.7 million deficit, and neglect of city streets.
At the time, he said, he made a bigger promise - to fight for positive change - and he believes he's the only candidate in the race able to do it. "It was a promise to make government work for the people who pay into it, rather than for the select few who profit off it. It was a promise to use government to keep jobs here and create new ones," Mr. Konop said.
He declined to quit his commissioner post or give up his salary.
In that pledge was a promise to accept no outside income while in office. Mr. Konop has made $2,000 as a part-time law professor at the university since Jan. 1, 2007, but has not cashed the checks, a UT spokesman said. Mr. Konop said he directed the money to a scholarship named for his father, Toledo lawyer Alan Konop.
After his announcement, Mr. Konop spoke to a government class at UT, volunteered at the Toledo Botanical Garden, and met with job-seekers at the county's unemployment agency, The Source. He said Toledo voters are tired of "the long-standing network of the same politicians scratching the same backs and leading us down the same dead-end paths."
"Our residents are frightened over the stunning job loss and home foreclosure crisis. Our college students are concerned about where their first real jobs will come from, and so am I. Toledo's hard-working citizens are frustrated over the city's lack of a new direction and furious over its void of leadership to see us through," he said.
Already in the mayoral field are Democrat Keith Wilkowski, independent Mike Bell, Republican Jim Moody, and other lesser-known candidates. Incumbent Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has not said whether he is running.
Mr. Bell and Mr. Moody issued statements welcoming Mr. Konop into the race.
Mr. Wilkowski issued a statement saying he looks forward to "a healthy debate" on the "unprecedented economic crisis" facing Toledo.
Mr. Konop recounted his political and career history, saying he could have stayed in a well-paying job he had with a Washington law firm but chose to move back to northwest Ohio.
As commissioner, he said, he created programs to help families get easier access to the earned income tax credit and to provide donated cell phones to senior citizens.
He said he was successful in forcing change on the Lucas County Improvement Corp., ending political control of the board and no-bid contracts, and requiring disclosure of campaign donations by persons seeking appointment to boards and commissions.
But he said other ideas that would have helped alleviate the county's jobless crisis were defeated by the "good ol' boys" network.
"We need to separate from the network, their back-scratching policies that helped put Toledo in such a dire strait," he said.
He said the political elites he has opposed won't support him. "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred," he said.
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