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Published: Tuesday, 9/7/2010

Vice president's visit to Toledo boosts governor, Labor Day event

BY TOM TROY AND MIKE SIGOV
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

Biden, Strickland parade union solidarity

Vice President Joe Biden marched in Toledo's Labor Day Parade yMonday, giving a boost to the morale of union members stuck in a weak economy and lending political support to the re-election efforts of fellow Democrat Gov. Ted Strickland.

To the delight of several thousand cheering union marchers and parade spectators, the 67-year-old vice president walked briskly and sometimes broke into a trot as he bounced from one side of the street to the other, at times outrunning his gaggle of Secret Service protectors.

The nation's No. 2 Democrat came to help Mr. Strickland, who trails in polls against Republican challenger John Kasich less than two months before Election Day.

"The vice president, he's a real person and I admire him a great deal, and had a chance to spend some quality time as we drove here from the airport," Mr. Strickland said after the parade. "He's committed to do everything he can to make sure Ohio is successful and moves forward."

Mr. Biden was in Toledo only two weeks earlier to tour the Chrysler Jeep Wrangler assembly plant and tout a resurgence of American car and parts manufacturing.

The vice president arrived at Toledo Express Airport Monday morning and flew back to Washington after the parade, leaving without making any public remarks. It was the only event on his official schedule.

Mr. Biden maintained his trademark smile, except to occasionally mug a serious expression, as he clasped every hand and posed for every picture asked of him on the mile-long parade route.

The parade kicked off at Summit and Monroe streets about 9:15 a.m. and followed a loop through downtown.

Spectators lined the route four or five deep in places.

Mr. Biden's entourage included a group of Strickland volunteers who walked on the sidewalk and kept up a steady chant of "Ted, Ted," and "Four more years." A golf cart equipped with speakers played a constant flow of patriotic music.

The vice president and governor left the parade route about 9:50 a.m.

Dignitaries and candidates in the parade and on the reviewing stand included mostly Democrats and a few Republicans.

John Boellner, chairman of the parade for the United Labor Committee, said he made a point of inviting both county party organizations, and both participated.

Mr. Boellner said he was disappointed that Kasich supporters waved banners that lacked the symbol identifying the banner as union-made.

"People kind of take us for granted," Mr. Boellner said. "That's kind of a slap in the face to us."

He said the committee representing six major union groups in Toledo was happy to have the vice president as its guest.

"It's an honor to Toledo that he came," Mr. Boellner said. "Especially the way the economy's been, I think it gives all the sisters and brothers in the labor movement just a little boost in morale."

Jon Stainbrook, Lucas County Republican chairman, led a contingent carrying signs for Republican candidates. He declined to comment on the lack of a union-made symbol, but noted that candy thrown from floats was from nonunion-organized supermarkets.

"I'd say 40 percent of union households are Republican," Mr. Stainbrook said, adding that for the most part, his contingent was treated well by the predominantly Democratic crowd at the viewing stand.

He said the rare appearance of a national political figure in Toledo's Labor Day parade shows how badly Mr. Strickland needs Mr. Biden, and how badly the White House wants to keep Ohio Democratic for President Obama's 2012 re-election effort.

Kasich volunteers made a point of waving their signs as Mr. Biden strode by.

Mr. Strickland said he expects Mr. Biden and President Obama to return repeatedly to Ohio as the race between him and Mr. Kasich heats up.

"I love Joe Biden and I want him in Toledo. He's a man of the people. He understands the working middle class," the governor said.

Mr. Strickland said he told Mr. Biden of some help he wanted from the administration, including some guaranteed loan requests to the Department of Energy, which he would not detail.

"I always talk to the vice president about the growing solar energy we're seeing in Ohio, what's happening here in terms of solar. I'm very hopeful that at some point in the future we'll have wind [turbine] manufacturing in Toledo," Mr. Strickland said.

A poll published Monday by the Columbus Dispatch showed him trailing Mr. Kasich 49-37. Mr. Strickland acknowledged the poll, but disputed the percentage.

"I think I'm down. I don't think I'm down 12 points. We've got a long way to go and frankly, I'm just beginning to fight."

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) marched in the lead group with union leaders such as Bill Lichtenwald, president of Teamsters Local 20, and drew numerous cheers.

Her opponent, Republican Rich Iott, wasn't present but issued a statement decrying Democratic leaders who, he said, "have dug a financial hole so deep that our country may never recover."

Following the dignitaries were traditional delegations of union locals, many smiling and throwing candy to children along the route.

Parade units included walkers, semis, pickups, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and novelty vehicles, all honking and revving up their engines.

School marching bands made music at the head, middle, and tail of the parade.

Bill Jensen, 44, a machine operator for Riker Products Inc. on Stickney Avenue, stood with his daughter Emma, 4, on his shoulders.

"I've come here to support the Teamsters and all the people who work for the living, and all of the middle class, and all of the unions. I want them to keep America going, you know," said Mr. Jensen, a member of Teamsters Local 20.

Other spectators also expressed hope for an economic rebound.

Gary Allred, 50, a Toledo equipment operator, was one of them. He watched the parade with his 7-year-old granddaughter Hannah and his golden retriever Caleb.

"I am here to bring my granddaughter to her third Labor Day parade. She likes to get the candy," Mr. Allred said with a chuckle, adding that he was there to support labor.

"I just got laid off last week. But I am optimistic. We'll get back," he said.

As he came by, Mr. Biden called out "beautiful dog," and veered over to pet and nuzzle Caleb.

Mr. Biden continued walking with the parade, frequently stopping to talk or pose for a picture.

"He hugged me! He kissed me!" exclaimed Aletha Easterly, 49. The Toledo child-care business owner said she was there to support her husband, Albert Easterly, a Toledo electrician and member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 8, who was marching in the parade.

Dan Kovacs, 53, also a Local 8 electrician, said he has marched in every Toledo Labor Day parade for about 30 years.

"I was impressed that [Mr. Biden and Mr. Strickland] would come to Toledo and do a little bit of campaigning. I think it shows how important northwest Ohio is in the campaign," said Mr. Kovacs, who said he was a Strickland supporter.

Douglas Brock, a Strickland supporter and Teamsters welder at Riker Products, said he doesn't trust Mr. Kasich, saying the governor cannot be blamed for the loss of some 8 million jobs nationally.

"I think it's probably 50-50 right now," Mr. Brock said of support for Mr. Strickland within in the union. "And the 50 percent that aren't behind him are probably just waiting to see what's going to happen," he said.

He said he's been working overtime since January at Riker, which builds heavy equipment and exhaust parts.

George Tucker, executive secretary of the Northwest Ohio AFL-CIO and chairman of the United Labor Council, said, "We try not to make it political, but every one of the locals has got their individual candidates that they're supporting."

The labor committee comprises the Toledo-area AFL-CIO, United Auto Workers, Teamsters, the Port Council, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, and the Northwestern Ohio Building & Construction Trades Council.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.

PHOTO GALLERY: LABOR DAY PARADE: Vice Presiden Biden returns to Toledo: Sept. 6, 2010



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