A third partyWritten by Jim Harpen | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When you call the Lucas County Board of Elections, the automated answering system gives you a handful of choices, which include, “For the Republican booth official representative, press five. For the Democratic booth official representative, press six.” There’s no option for “Independent” or “Third Party.” In Toledo’s political establishment, little but “D’s” & “R’s” exist. But something new — a tea party — is brewing.
Teamwork Toledo is a new (as in “weeks old”) political party that’s forming as an outgrowth of the Tax Day Tea Party that drew about 1,000 people to a rally at International Park on April 15. Three weeks later, Teamwork Toledo has four candidates lined up to run for Toledo city council and expects to have a complete slate of six.
“I can’t sit back and let other people make decisions that are destroying new business in this town,” Teamwork Toledo’s unofficial leader, Tricia Lyons, told me. “We’re going to make decisions based on what is best for the city, not on what party we stem from.” Lyons is also one of the four declared City Council candidates on the Teamwork Toledo ticket.
You have to go way back, to the early 1960s, to find a time when a third political party gained a foothold in Toledo. That was 1961, and the business community was sick of then-Mayor Mike Damas. Former City Manager League Director Willard Johnson recalls, “Damas had been a strong figure in the UAW, Local 12, and there was a feeling that the union was running the town.” Toledo then, as now, was predominantly Democrat.
The City Manager League ticket cleaned the Democrats’ clocks. Their endorsed candidates snatched eight of nine council seats.
Like the City Manager League, Teamwork Toledo is comprised of conservatives who don’t want anything to do with the local GOP. “We don’t want to work with Jon Stainbrook,” Lyons said, “and have him putting his fingers in our business.”
In a town that will never be famous for embracing change, how is Teamwork Toledo so quickly gaining momentum? The answer: A big “I.” Not Independent, but Internet. Grassroots movement meets cable modem.
The tea party movement began Feb. 19 with a passionate rant by CNBCs Rick Santelli, who called for a Tea Party in Chicago to protest President Barack Obama’s housing rescue/bailout plan. His on-air rant became an online sensation. Then, almost organically and overnight, Web sites began popping up, created by groups and individuals who wanted to organize “tea parties” in their hometowns. The Web site of the conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks became a hub of operations, helping local groups get organized. “Mad as hell” types found each other and rallied the troops on social-media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Lyons posted her contact information on FreedomWorks’ Web site for anyone who wanted to help her organize the Toledo Tea Party. “The very next day, I started getting e-mails,” she said. “Within the first week, I had 70 people contact me.”
But this online movement has obvious repercussions for the established political parties, particularly in Toledo. Consider that of the four announced major candidates for the mayor’s office this year, only two, Democrat Keith Wilkowski and Republican Jim Moody, are seeking their party endorsements. Mike Bell and Ben Konop would rather do without. Only four years ago, shunning party endorsement would have been political lunacy. Now it’s political expediency.
“It’s one of the interesting outgrowths that groups like this don’t need a political party,” said former Lucas County Democratic Party Director Mike Beasley. “Candidates can go around political parties.”
It’s way too early to write epitaphs for Lucas County’s Democrats and Republicans, but with weapons-grade anger mounting and online interaction growing, the political landscape — and our choices — might never look the same again.
And from where I’m sitting, that’s a good thing.
E-mail columnist Jim Harpen at email@example.com.