AP reports on Toledo, Akron recall effortsWritten by John Seewer (AP) | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Tough times in two Rust Belt towns are spurring movements to oust the longtime mayors in Akron and Toledo, once proud industrial cities with neighborhoods scarred by foreclosures and high unemployment.
Just a few years ago, the idea of a recall would’ve been a tough sell.
Now both cities are struggling like most in the Midwest, making their bombastic mayors a convenient target for residents frustrated with everything from police layoffs to knee-high grass in city parks.
“You see boarded up houses. You see lawns that are unkempt. All of that has definitely been a part of the issue,” said Warner Mendenhall, a lawyer who is leading the recall campaign in Akron.
Voters in Akron will decide Tuesday whether to toss out Don Plusquellic, who is in his 23rd year as mayor. Toledo’s vote is scheduled for November.
Attempts at voting politicians out of office before they’ve finished their terms usually are reserved for officials in trouble with the law or caught up in corruption.
California voters recalled Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 during a time that the state was plagued by financial woes. Last year, there were threats of a recall campaign against California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger by a union that represents state prison guards.
In Ohio, the most notable recall attempt came in 1978 when Cleveland’s Dennis Kucinich avoided being thrown out of the mayor’s office by just 236 votes amid financial troubles, death threats and a police strike.
Neither mayor in Akron or Toledo is in any type of legal trouble.
Leaders of the separate recall efforts in both cities accuse the two mayors of wasteful spending and alienating business and community leaders. The two politicians admittedly are not shy from speaking their minds.
Just last week, an online video showed Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner breaking up a fight at a city park and calling one of the teens involved a “fatso.” In Akron, Plusquellic has compared the leader of the recall effort to Hitler.
Making unpopular decisions and controversial comments over a lengthy political career can add up to create problems for mayors, said Raphael Sonenshein, a professor at California State University in Fullerton, who studies recall elections.
He doubts that frustrations with the economy is enough to motivate voters for support a recall.
“This is typical of cities all over the country,” Sonenshein said. “People are unhappy about cuts in Los Angeles, but they’re not talking about recalling the mayor.”
A mounting deficit in Toledo has forced the mayor to lay off 75 police officers and propose an income tax credit cut for some residents, which only helps fuel the recall movement, Finkbeiner said.
“There are some that will sign on because of those day-in, day-out decisions that are sometimes economically driven,” he said.
Recall organizer Tom Schlachter said Toledo’s 12.7 percent unemployment rate may have helped with the group’s petition drive, but it’s not why they want a new mayor. “I don’t at all blame him for the $27 million deficit we have,” Schlachter said.
Akron’s economic outlook isn’t as poor as Toledo’s situation. There haven’t been any police or fire layoffs, but it’s unemployment rate is 10.5 percent.
“Challenging economies are always difficult politically, but that’s not the genesis of this recall,” said former Akron mayor Tom Sawyer, who later served in Congress and is now a spokesman for an anti-recall group.
Still, it may influence who turns out to vote Tuesday because it’s the only issue on the ballot, Sawyer said. “The great fear is that people who are dissatisfied will vote,” he said.