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Published: Tuesday, 4/21/2009

Mayor vows he will fight recall effort

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

The mayor was notified Monday by Clerk of Council Gerald Dendinger that the petitions turned in April 9 have enough valid signatures to put a recall question before voters Nov. 3. The charter gives the mayor five days to resign to stop the election.

"Of course, I do not intend to resign," he said in a prepared statement. "The day I turn Toledo over to a group of self-interested malcontents from outside of Toledo will be a cold day in a warm place."

He said his lawyers have been examining the petitions that were checked last week by the Lucas County Board of Elections and have concluded that a significant number are invalid.

"There are not enough valid signatures. The evidence is voluminous," Mr. Finkbeiner said. "We will contest the validity of a significant number of signatures, as more than half of the signatures have already proven to be false or invalid."

The group Take Back Toledo collected 45,500 signatures to meet the required minimum of 19,753 signatures of registered Toledo voters.

The elections board validated 20,444 signatures and threw out 19,550, leaving about 5,000 unchecked, for now.

If voters agree, Mr. Finkbeiner would have to vacate his office with less than two months in his term. He has not said if he will seek re-election, but he could do so even if he is recalled.

Brian Schwartz, a spokesman for Take Back Toledo, declined to respond to the mayor but noted that Mr. Dendinger has already deemed the petitions sufficient.

A lawyer with the Columbus firm Vorys Sater Seymour and Pease LLP submitted a five-page letter to Mr. Dendinger Monday, claiming to have found 2,500 bad signatures over the weekend and asking that the petitions be declared insufficient.

"Our examination has identified numerous additional false affidavits, undocumented signatures, invalid dates, puzzling inconsistencies, signatures procured by unregistered circulators, and other serious failures to comply with the Toledo Charter and the Ohio Revised Code," he wrote.

Attorney John Kulewicz said that the petitions failed to include a mandatory provision warning that election falsification is a fifth-degree felony.

"Strict compliance is especially important in a situation such as this, in which certain individuals seek to undo the result of a duly-conducted election and divest a duly elected official of his responsibilities," Mr. Kulewicz said.

Donald McTigue of Columbus, an independent lawyer hired last week by Mr. Dendinger to review the petition, said that the petition circulators were not required to include the election falsification warning because the recall petition process is defined by the city charter. And he said the circulators signed an affidavit, under threat of perjury, that the signatures were genuine.

Mr. Kulewicz claimed the charter doesn't require the affidavit, and so only the warning found in state law will do. He said the fact that Take Back Toledo used a sample petition provided by the clerk of council doesn't justify an improper document.

"Even advice from elections officials would not abrogate the responsibility of [Take Back Toledo] to investigate, learn, and know the law governing the election process," Mr. Kulewicz said.

Mr. Kulewicz contended that signatures collected by petition circulators who were not registered Toledo voters violated a state residency requirement.

But Linda Howe, Lucas County elections director, said the Ohio secretary of state advised her that residency requirements have been ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court.

In response to Mr. Kulewicz's claims that her department allowed 2,500 invalid petition signatures to slip through, Ms. Howe said she will await direction from the election board.

"We aren't going to do anything else on it until the board meeting [on May 16]. If at that time we're ordered to go back and do anything, we will," Ms. Howe said.

Take Back Toledo claims Mayor Finkbeiner should be removed because he has been fiscally irresponsible, driven business away, and embarrassed the city.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.

Blade staff reporter JC Reindl contributed to this report.



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