The Whitmer High School band marches through the rain near the front of the annual Labor Day parade in downtown Toledo.
Spectators huddled under store awnings, umbrellas, and the pedestrian bridge over Summit Street on Monday for the start of a Labor Day parade that was overshadowed only at the beginning by a heavy downpour.
“It’ll take more than a little bit of rain to dampen the spirits of our Labor Day,” said Mark Sobczak, vice president of Teamsters Local 20, as the parade kicked off through rivulets of storm runoff. The rain slacked off about 15 minutes later.
PHOTO GALLERY: Annual Labor Day Parade marches in downtown
Toledo’s mayoral election made itself apparent as at least three of the candidates marched in the parade and one of them — Democrat Anita Lopez — enjoyed it on the street in front of the reviewing stand.
Workers from nearly 100 union locals, including construction workers, autoworkers, government employees, firefighters, teachers, and nurses flocked through downtown Toledo, past a reviewing stand of politicians, and the informal viewing stand of thousands of spectators who lined the route.
Natasha Blackmon, right, of Toledo; daughter, Iyanna Scrutchins, 7, and nieces Jala Brazzil, 11, and Sonee Brazzil, 8, watch the parade.
Among the guests was Elizabeth Shuler, the secretary-treasurer and second-highest ranking official of the National AFL-CIO. She later addressed an estimated 700 guests at a picnic hosted by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union Local 8 in Rossford.
“We are always on Labor Day talking about how to make life better for workers, and the challenges we’re facing in the economy right now where we have a few at the top benefiting quite a lot and those at the middle getting squeezed, and those at the bottom actually not sharing in any of the wealth,” Ms. Shuler said.
“Our message this Labor Day is, let’s find a way to inject some fairness into this economy,” she said. Ms. Shuler, of Portland, Ore., is wrapping up her first four-year term and is up for re-election at the AFL-CIO’s convention next week.
The AFL-CIO is an umbrella organization of 57 unions that advocates in the legislative and political arena, and counts about 12 million members.
Spectators included union supporters and some who just love a parade.
Amanda Kleindienst, 29, of Oregon, who works for Dunn Chevrolet, came as part of a family tradition and brought daughter Hollie, 4.
“I think Labor Day is the best parade of all of them. More people come there, and it’s more candy for her,” she said, indicating Hollie. “Labor Day is for the people.” Even though she’s not in a union, she said some of her family members are in Local 55 of the ironworkers union.
Auditor and mayoral candidate Anita Lopez waves to marchers.
Paul Czyzewski, 71, of West Toledo worked for GM 34 years and said he comes to the parade to support his old union. “We haven’t missed one in about 30 years,” said Mr. Czyzewski who was accompanied by his wife, Pat. Their clothes were damp from sitting in the downpour, despite umbrellas.
Ms. Lopez, the mayoral candidate and Lucas County auditor, said she prefers to watch the parade at the reviewing stand, where other politicians and dignitaries were gathered. Also there was Nina Turner, a state senator from Cleveland and Democratic candidate for secretary of state in 2014.
“I want to salute and see everyone,” Ms. Lopez said. “There were a lot of loyal labor working families here today. It was exciting.” Ms. Lopez has collected endorsements from Teamsters, AFSCME Council 8, IBEW, and other construction unions, with many members carrying her red campaign signs.
Ms. Lopez’s campaign over the weekend began airing its first television ad, a 30-second spot that stresses her upbringing and accomplishments as auditor. One of her claims is that she lowered property taxes. She said that was a reference to her role setting property valuation, not a claim that she personally lowered any tax rates.
“We made fair values for citizens and we made the system work for the citizens and businesses of this community,” Ms. Lopez said. “And as a result of that, some citizens and businesses received lower taxes, or a refund.”
Opponent Michael Konwinski, a Libertarian, disputed that claim, saying property taxes went down because property values were reduced by the collapse of the housing market. He called the claim misleading.
“She didn’t lower the taxes; the values went down,” Mr. Konwinski said. “That is similar to claiming that you lowered the sales tax by 50 percent because someone bought $100 worth of stuff today, but bought $200 worth of stuff yesterday.”
City Councilman Joe McNamara greets Thomas Szych of Toledo and son, Kadin, 7. Mr. McNamara is running for Toledo mayor.
The auditor’s job includes setting property values, on which tax bills are based.
Democratic Councilman Joe McNamara and a contingent of volunteers marched in the parade with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. He said later that the parade was “a great way to celebrate Toledo’s labor history.” He said he talked to a lot of voters along the parade route, including people who promised to vote for him.
“I got a lot of positive feedback,” Mr. McNamara said.
D. Michael Collins, a political independent and a former president of the Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association, walked in the parade with Toledo police and fire unions that have endorsed him. He called the parade “probably one of the most significant events in the history of Toledo as it relates to organized labor.” He said he was impressed with the number of youth involved, which he said demonstrates the value in which organized labor is held.
Alan Cox, a political independent candidate for mayor, walked with AFSCME Local 2058, a city of employee union of technical and supervisory workers, of which he is president. He expressed concern that children were being endangered when they ran into the street to get candy and objects thrown to them from moving vehicles.
“It looks like we’re getting away from trying to maintain the safety of candy being thrown out,” Mr. Cox said, suggesting that as a topic for next year’s parade organizers.
Toledo Councilman D. Michael Collins, who is running for mayor, watches the parade with Elizabeth Shuler, AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, from the grandstand.
There was no sign of Mayor Mike Bell, who is running for a second term as a political independent, and if he had been there he might have heard some of the ribbing from Bill Lichtenwald, president of Teamsters Local 20, which is backing Ms. Lopez.
“Anyone seen Mayor Whatshisname? He must have lost his invitation again this year,” Mr. Lichtenwald cracked. When Mr. McNamara walked by, exchanging polite nods of greeting with Ms. Lopez, Mr. Lichtenwald chanted, “Lopez, Lopez, Lopez.”
Jen Sorgenfrei, a spokesman for Mr. Bell, said he did not attend, and did not attend the two previous parades either.
“He recognizes and respects that this is a celebration of the labor movement. He also recognizes that there is a sentiment from many of the unions that the best way he can respect that celebration is not to infringe on it uninvited,” Ms. Sorgenfrei said.
John Boellner, parade chairman, estimated participation at 8,000 to 10,000 people, with an estimated 100 units, including marching bands and union groups. The annual parade is sponsored by the United Labor Committee, which includes the AFL-CIO, the United Auto Workers, and other unions.
Pete Gerken, president of the Lucas County commissioners and a member of UAW Local 12, shakes hands with a truckload of Local 12 workers on a float in the parade. The event drew thousands of spectators downtown Monday.
A group protesting possible American military action in Syria took up a position across from the viewing stand with signs such as, “If you ask us, stay out of Damascus.” U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) spoke to the protesters and said she shares some of their skepticism about the need for American intervention.
“I want to see evidence that it was the [Syrian President Bashar] Assad government [behind the recent apparent chemical weapons attacks],” Miss Kaptur said. “Even if they are responsible, whose role is it to hold them accountable?” She said she hasn’t decided whether to support military action because President Obama hasn’t presented the case yet to Congress.
“We have yet to be briefed. I can’t vote on a hypothetical,” Miss Kaptur said.