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Published: Wednesday, 1/6/2010

Gerken gives back luxury foreign-brand auto

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Under pressure from friends and union colleagues for buying foreign, Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken said yesterday he has taken his lumps and returned his wife's Christmas gift to the auto dealership.

"The car is back at the dealer," said Mr. Gerken, a Democrat and retired United Auto Workers official who worked for 30 years for Jeep and DaimlerChrysler.

"We - Polly and I - probably didn't get this one right. … My history is with the UAW, and I didn't want to offend my friends and the people I spend a lot of time with."

The present, a newly leased Acura TL manufactured in Marysville, Ohio, by Japanese-owned Honda, arrived at the Gerken family home shortly after Christmas.

Although the new foreign-nameplate car was registered in Mr. Gerken's name, Polly Taylor-Gerken insisted that the car was all hers and not her husband's. She emphasized that the Acura was made in Ohio by American workers.

But as news leaked out of the foreign-brand car in the Gerkens' garage, union pals expressed surprise, anger, and a sense of betrayal. Adding fuel to the fire was that the UAW had tried unsuccessfully for years to unionize the Marysville Honda plant that produced the car.

Ken Lortz, current UAW state director, said he phoned Mr. Gerken to refresh his memory.

"I reminded him that his pension and health care are coming from an American car company - Chrysler - and that I was extremely disappointed," Mr. Lortz said.

So, in a matter of hours after the Gerkens'-new-Acura story hit the papers, the vehicle was back on the lot at Dave White Acura and the county commissioner was offering his apologies.

"He was extremely apologetic and said it was a huge mistake," Mr. Lortz recalled. "He said he was going to do everything he could to earn everybody's respect back again."

Mr. Gerken, who is president of the board of commissioners, said yesterday that the Acura was supposed to replace the family's Chrysler 300M, on which the lease is up the first week in February.

He said he did not have to pay any penalties for returning the vehicle to the dealership and is not sure if he will now get a new car to replace the Chrysler.

Mr. Gerken's personal vehicle is a Jeep Grand Cherokee. He retired in 2004 as co-administrator of the UAW DaimlerChrysler Training Center.

Mrs. Gerken, a retired Toledo Public Schools psychologist, ran unsuccessfully last fall for a seat on Toledo City Council. Asked how she took the news that he was taking back her car, Mr. Gerken replied, "Let's just say we didn't get this one right, and now we're trying to fix it."

Yet the damage was done. Mr. Lortz said he is expecting to receive a formal letter of apology from Mr. Gerken soon.

"I am still irritated by it," Mr. Lortz said. "Time will tell. I am looking forward to seeing his letter."

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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