Candidates spar at ‘Art of Politics’ debateWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
Gentle and not-so-gentle barbs were traded Oct. 26 at “Art of Politics,” where three sets of candidates debated at the Toledo Museum of Art.
More than 150 people attended the debate, hosted by Toledo Free Press and the Toledo chapter of the League of Women Voters. The program, moderated by FOX Toledo news anchor Laura Emerson, consisted of exchanges between candidates in the Lucas County Auditor race, the District 11 Ohio Senate race and the Lucas County Commissioner race.
The candidates answered questions from panelists Brandi Barhite, Toledo Free Press associate editor, and Cumulus Radio News Director London Mitchell.
First up were Democrat Anita Lopez, incumbent Lucas County auditor, and her challenger, Republican Gina Marie Kaczala.
Kaczala said the auditor’s office requires experience and her 21 years working in the auditor’s office gives her knowledge that Lopez lacks.
“Lucas County property owners are paying some of the highest property taxes in the state of Ohio — why? Because my opponent does not possess the experience this job requires,” said Kaczala, who said Lopez could have started the process to lower property values when she took office in 2007, but didn’t until 2009 because “she simply didn’t know how to lower the values.”
Lopez said those property values were locked in after being submitted in 2006, but Kaczala said end-of-year tax bills could have been lowered as a refund of sorts.
Another ongoing argument revolved around the qualifications of Lopez’s staff, while Lopez accused Kaczala of not maintaining consistent attendence during her tenure in the auditor’s office. Both candidates accused the other of nepotism.
Kaczala said Lopez lives in the past, “blaming the previous administration,” but Lopez said that administration, run by Kaczala’s late husband, Larry Kaczala, did make a number of errors.
“Whatever qualifications they may have had, they still didn’t deliver the right results for Lucas County citizens and that’s why I was elected,” Lopez said. “I stand 100 percent behind my staff and the quality work we deliver.”
Lopez said that, since taking office in 2007, she has focused on decreasing spending and increasing transparency.
Both candidates said they would consider combining the offices of auditor, recorder and/or treasurer into one position. Kaczala said the position could be appointed, while Lopez said more study and public input is needed and that the position should be elected.
Next, Democrat Edna Brown, an Ohio House Representative for District 48, and Republican Tom Waniewski, a Toledo City Councilman, squared off in the District 11 Ohio Senate debate.
Waniewski called Brown, who is term-limiting out of the House of Representatives after nine years, a “career politician,” but she objected to the title.
She said she is a “public servant” and the relationships she has built in Columbus and her knowledge of how the legislature works are invaluable to Northwest Ohio.
Referencing Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati as the “3 C’s,” Brown said Toledo is often shortchanged in the legislature because those cities are larger, with more representation and a stronger voice.
“But the one thing I have learned … seniority goes a long ways,” Brown said. “Seniority means a lot … having seniority enables one to sit at the table and have a strong voice when it comes to who gets what.”
But Waniewski said “relationships are not made in Columbus, but made in the community you serve. If you can’t do your job in eight years, something is wrong.”
Waniewski, whose background is in journalism, where he said he was aggravated by never getting straight answers from politicians, said he never considered a career in politics.
“I went into politics because I thought the public wasn’t getting their money’s worth from elected officials,” Waniewski said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think ‘Am I giving the public their money’s worth?’”
But Brown questioned Waniewski wanting to leave the Toledo City Council before finishing his term.
“I kind of wonder, with all he has to say about the state of Ohio, Toledo has a budget deficit and Mr. Waniewski has served less than three years of his initial term on City Council, so I kind of wonder … why not try to solve problems first in the city of Toledo rather than think you can solve the state of Ohio’s problems singlehandedly?” Brown said.
Waniewski said he’s not abandoning his constituents — rather he wants to represent more of them. He said he hopes his “fiscal sense” will be more influential when working as an Ohio senator as opposed to one of 12 Council members, in which he was sometimes overruled as the lone dissenter.
The last set of debaters was Democrat Carol Contrada, a Sylvania Township trustee, and Republican George Sarantou, a Toledo city councilman, who are facing off for a Lucas County Commissioner seat.
Both candidates stressed the need to reach out more to suburban Lucas County communities to combat the historically Toledo-centric focus of the county commissioners.
Sarantou pledged to attend meetings in each jurisdiction — 11 townships and six villages — once per quarter in order to learn what is important to each.
“I know I’ve committed myself to a lot of meetings, but … I will do everything I can do to bring us to this next level of success,” Sarantou said. “I will roll up my sleeves and put my ego in my back pocket and go to work for the citizens of Lucas County.”
Contrada said Sarantou is promising to visit the townships, but she already knows how they work.
“Each one is unique, but I could bring that representation from day one,” Contrada said.
Although he lives in Toledo, Sarantou said his record proves he has a history of addressing county and regional issues as well as Toledo issues. He said it’s not the address you live at, but the leadership you exhibit for the region that should qualify you to serve on county commission.
Sarantou, a businessman for 28 years, said he would bring maturity as well as business sense to the office. He said retaining and creating jobs would be his No. 1 priority.
“I think my business skills are vastly needed at the commission office,” Sarantou said. “If we do not retain the jobs we have and create more jobs we will not win in this economic war of survival. Other areas of Ohio will benefit.”
Tags: Anita Lopez, Art of Politics, Brandi Barhite, Carol Contrada, Edna Brown, George Sarantou, Gina Marie Kaczala, Laura Emerson, League of Women Voters, London Mitchell, Toledo Free Press, Toledo Museum of Art, Tom Waniewski