Enright joins Council amid controversyWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
Newly appointed Toledo City Councilman Shaun Enright said his youth, energy and colorful past make him right for the job.
“I’ve been through rough times. I’ve been through the daily struggles of our citizens,” said Enright, who is the membership development representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 8 (IBEW 8).
“I understand what [citizens] go through. I think that gives me a pretty good advantage. If you look at Council’s makeup, you don’t have many that were from rags to riches, so to speak,” he added.
East Toledo roots
With six votes, Enright was appointed to Toledo City Council on Jan. 8 to replace Phil Copeland. Copeland was elected Lucas County Recorder and had to resign from his position as at-large councilman.
Enright grew up in East Toledo and graduated from Waite High School and Owens Community College. He is also father to four boys, ranging from age 6 to 12.
The at-large councilman entered the electrician trade about 13 years ago. Also around that time, Enright had several run-ins with the law, including being charged with carrying a concealed weapon, disorderly conduct and an open container violation. In the past, Enright’s opponents have raised concerns about these charges.
In response, Enright said, “I was young. A lot of that’s 14 years old. Here I am, I’m 33 years old and they want to keep hanging it over my head. I’m not making excuses. I’ve made mistakes. But the success of that is I decided to stay in the neighborhood and help the kids out through the coaching, the mentoring.”
Joseph Cousino, president of the Northwestern Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council and business manager for IBEW 8, said he has known Enright since he started out as an electrician.
“I’ve seen him from the time when he first walked in here when he was a rabble-rouser and I’ve seen him grow into a leader,” he said.
“He’s got some street smarts in him. He’s a family guy. He’s been through some tough times when he was a kid like a lot of kids on the East Side.”
Ron Rothenbuhler, leader of the Lucas County Democratic Party, which supported Enright’s appointment, agreed.
“Shaun brings a young perspective, being younger than the majority of City Council people. I think he also brings a background that can relate to many of our citizens who may have had some issues in the past,” he said.
Enright filed for bankruptcy in 2004 when he was a third-year apprentice.
“I had to do what I had to do to pay the bills. I totally understand a lot of families go through struggles. … If anything, they can look at my situation and know that it’s not negative, that there is hope at the end if you keep fighting and you keep sticking through with what you believe in,” Enright said.Getting fired up
Enright’s first run for Council was against District 3 Councilman Mike Craig in 2011. Enright won the primary, but lost the general election to Craig.
Neighborhood improvement was a major theme of Enright’s platform in 2011.
“To be honest, the neighborhood decline in East Toledo is what started [my entrance into politics]. That’s what got my fire going,” he said.
While those issues are still a concern, Enright said his new agenda focuses more on crime prevention and job creation. He said he’d also like to look into helping the police and faith-based community.
Enright, whose family was recently the victim of a break-in, said he is still developing a plan for dealing with crime.
“There’s just got to be more we can do. Simply just saying, ‘This is what we’re doing,’ and a take-it-or-leave-it kind of attitude, I don’t like that. So I plan on sitting down and figuring out a plan of attack. I don’t have one yet, but I’ve got some information requests in,” he said.
He said he plans to talk with neighborhood groups and the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce as well and that a small business owner has already been in touch with him.
Rothenbuhler said Enright’s union background will help him with economic development.
Cousino said, “I know a lot of people say [Enright’s] a labor guy, but he’s from East Toledo first. He’s got some proving to do. He’s got to prove to the naysayers out there that he can look past just being a labor guy. I think he’s got a lot to prove, and I think that he will prove it.”
Although he looks forward to working with Enright, Councilman Tom Waniewski said he is disappointed in the appointment process in which special interests may factor too heavily.
“It’s the process where it’s the party, it’s special interests that really control things and it’s sad because special interests don’t make up the majority of the public,” he said.
Waniewski, a Republican, nominated Matt Rubin for the Council vacancy before switching his vote to Sandy Spang during the third round of voting Jan. 8.
Craig and Council President Joe McNamara were the only two Democrats on Council who did not vote for Enright.
Both men supported former mayor Jack Ford for the seat. Ford indicated in November that if he did not receive Council’s appointment, he would run for the seat in the election later in 2013.
“Jack Ford was the most qualified candidate,” McNamara said. “Being a former mayor, he would know the budget back and forth and have a lot of really good experience.”
Craig agreed. “Quite frankly, Jack is much more qualified. You can’t get anybody more qualified than Jack.”
He also said that his and Enright’s shared past did not influence his vote and that the two could work together.
“I’m going to be able to work with him. In politics, if you don’t learn how to deal with disappointment, you’re going to have a really rotten life,” Craig said.
McNamara said he would also have no problem working with Enright.
“Like I’ve always done, I’m going to work with all members of Council and help all members of Council be successful. I’ve worked with members of Council from all different political backgrounds and Council works best when we work together and put personalities aside,” he said.
Still, McNamara and Craig face possible consequences for voting against the Democratic Party’s recommendation. Rothenbuhler said the party’s executive committee was set to meet Jan. 17 and could set a meeting date to discuss possibly removing McNamara and Craig from the committee. This would restrict McNamara’s and Craig’s access to the party’s support and facilities.
Craig said, “It would be unfortunate if there were any backlash for either of us. If you can’t vote your conscience than there’s something wrong with the party. I don’t believe the party should be able to tell anybody who to vote for. The party doesn’t elect you. I was elected by the constituents.”
When asked if there was a rift brewing in the party, Craig said, “If you’re saying Democratic Party and you’re not saying rift, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” adding that Democrats are often independently minded.
McNamara declined to expound on his possible removal from the committee, but did comment on a threat made to him by Dennis Duffey, a former leader of IBEW 8.
“Whether he should be removed, tarred and feathered, or de-nutted, it don’t f****** matter, something ought to happen to him,” Duffey reportedly told The Blade.
In response, McNamara said, “The comment suggesting something violent would happen to me puts the party in a very bad light and it hurts the Democratic brand. People don’t like elected leaders to be physically threatened. The only thing I can say is if anybody thinks I can be threatened or intimidated or sanctioned into not voting in the best interest of the community then they have no idea who I am or what I’m made of.”
Waniewski said threatening individuals is “extremely immature.”
He added of his colleagues’ possible ouster from their party, “When you’re talking about political backlash, that’s sad, but unfortunately that’s politics.”
Regarding McNamara’s and Craig’s possible removal from the committee, Enright said he didn’t think his opinion mattered much.
“I try not to get party politics involved with city politics here. I understand what people are saying on both sides,” he said.
Enright said he is confident he can work with McNamara and Craig. He added that he has known McNamara for a while and that, “He kind of always goes against the grain and he does his thing.”
In regards to supporting Enright in the election later this year, McNamara said, “If Shaun supports the things I care about — creating jobs, making our streets safer, supporting neighborhoods — of course, I’m going to support people that agree with my agenda to move the community forward.”