Change coming for 2009 City CouncilWritten by Brian Schwartz | | email@example.com
Carty Finkbeiner’s exceptionally low approval rating and seemingly dead-on-arrival 2009 operating budget assure that there will be a large number of challengers for the top job in Toledo municipal government. What’s less obvious is how many new challengers will emerge for the six at-large council seats up for grabs next November.
In most instances, Finkbeiner has governed unchecked. With an unpopular mayor wielding unfettered power, one might expect an angry electorate to bring overwhelming change to city council in 2009. But this is Toledo, where we like politicians we know.
The only certainty at this point is we will bid adieu to councilwoman Betty Schulz, who is term limited. Most of her colleagues look to be a safe bet for re-election should they choose to run.
With Schulz’s departure, George Sarantou becomes dean of Toledo City Council. The popular Republican has chaired city council’s finance committee for years and has done a decent job of keeping Toledo’s ledger in black ink while assuring its bond rating does not fall. However, he has made no secret of his mayoral aspirations. Should he decide to run for another term on council, he’s a shoe-in. Running for mayor would be a much tougher row to hoe. Look for Sarantou to reclaim his council post.
There’s no reason to believe that council president Mark Sobczak won’t coast to re-election. He’s done a respectable job of managing the mismatched egos and grudges that make up council. He’s friendly, engaging and is a Democrat who will enjoy labor support by virtue of his employment by the Teamsters. He has led the way on many of Finkbeiner’s less popular initiatives, but has been able to separate himself from the mayor when politically expedient. Look for Sobczak to be a fixture in Lucas County politics for years to come.
Joe McNamara is the newest face among the at-large councilmen and one of the few to stake out a position as an opponent of the embattled mayor. He is thoughtful and not prone to error. He’s worked with the mayor and his opponents on city council when it served his interests but has no compunction about confronting his council colleagues. He is also closely aligned with the only announced mayor candidate, Keith Wilkowski, and will be able to piggyback on what is sure to be a well financed mayoral campaign. McNamara hasn’t done anything that will cost him votes and should have no trouble in September or November.
Less certain for re-election is Phil Copeland. It is a common belief in political circles that Copeland was mistaken by voters for his uncle, Bill Copeland, who was a long-time Lucas County Commissioner. Phil rarely speaks at council meetings and is not a force for any initiative. He is often counted as a sure vote for whatever policy or tax is sent down from the 22nd floor. He has championed no causes on council and has endeared himself to no particular constituency.
Also less certain for re-election is Frank Szollosi. He barely made it to the finish line in 2005, finishing sixth out of six elected councilmen. On council, his opposition to the mayor has been knee-jerk as opposed to the thoughtful opposition of McNamara. While opposing the mayor might be good politics, Szollosi forgets the other half of the political equation: you have to be in favor of something. While Toledo voters are not wont to make wholesale changes in their governance, they are going to want somebody more pro-active than Szollosi.
New faces are certain to emerge as the electorate clamors for change they have not demonstrated they really want. Stay tuned as Toledoans turn from the historic national election to their own backyard and decide if Toledo will be part of the “change” so many want or if they’ll continue to recycle the faces and names that have led us to where we are.
Brian Schwartz is a former spokesman for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority and Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.