Clergy face flocks shocked by scandal; Local clerics field questions

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 8A

Although facts are still hard to come by, local clergy have begun fielding questions from their congregations about the latest Clinton crisis.

“I hear both sides: people who are tired of hearing about the President’s personal life, and people who think, if he’s immoral in this, what does that say about his ability to govern?” said the Rev. John Ebenhoeh, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales.

The scandal raises a host of issues for clergy, who must respond to churchgoers shocked by allegations the President of the United States received oral sex from a 21-year-old woman, fresh out of college.

“Their concern seems to be a real shaking of beliefs,” said the Rev. David Hyde of Liberty Baptist Church. “They’re upset that this kind of thing could even be accused of our President.

“Our people have been taught to respect the office and pray for him, no matter whether or not you agree with him on an issue,” Mr. Hyde said. “He’s God’s man in that place. Their talk has been, this is a real shame that any of this has to occur at all.”

The Rev. Rebecca Gifford-Mitchell, pastor of Central United Methodist Church, said she is most concerned about Chelsea, the Clintons’ only daughter, who is in the middle of her freshman year at Stanford.

“She’s the one who’s going to be hardest hit emotionally,” she said.

Area clergy suggested that Chelsea distance herself from the maelstrom that has erupted around the allegations, which have the President having sex with a woman only a few years older than Chelsea.

“I would imagine it would get to the point of her remembering who her father has been to her personally, regardless of what reports may be circulating,” Bill Barnard, chaplain at Flower Hospital said.

“She’s going to show her father a great deal of support, and she ought to. I would encourage that,” Mr. Hyde said.

Ms. Gifford-Mitchell said Chelsea should explore her own faith at a time like this, and try to put the accusations in perspective.

“Since she is an adult, she will need to realize that she is an individual outside of what others do, including her parents,” she said.

But Father Ebenhoeh said it may not be as much of a shock to the First Daughter as some might expect. “I think Chelsea already knows there have been many speculations about her father,” Father Ebenhoeh said. “I think she already knows how to deal with this.

“This isn’t coming out of the blue sky. This goes back a long way.”

Press reports have said the President admitted to a lengthy affair with Gennifer Flowers in his recent deposition in the Paula Jones case. His presidency has been marked by what some observers call “bimbo eruptions” and accusations of sexual impropriety.

Mr. Hyde said the Clinton scandal will come up indirectly in his sermon today. He said he will preach about embracing the law of God. “By way of application, it goes to show that there is, in our country, a lack of desire to embrace any kind of moral standard from God,” he said.

Father Ebenhoeh said he would not discuss the scandal in his sermon until the web of allegation produces concrete facts. “The pulpit is not the place to be talking about rumors and accusations,” he said.

Were Monica Lewinsky – the former White House intern in question – her daughter, Ms. Gifford-Mitchell said her reaction would be a mixture of comforting and ire. “My initial reaction would be to support my daughter,” she said. “If the allegations are true, sure there would be anger. It’s obviously a power situation. She is very young.”

She suggested Ms. Lewinsky find someone unreachable by the media, someone with whom she can be sure “that whatever she says is inviolate.”

Even if the scandal proves only to be a series of false accusations, Mr. Hyde said he believes the appearance of impropriety is bad enough.

Burglary suspect’s day ends in arrest

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 8B

It was a very busy three hours.

After allegedly abandoning a stolen van in favor of a stolen car, a west end man was captured by Toledo police yesterday afternoon while he was in a home he had broken into near Ottawa Park, authorities said.

The saga began about noon when security guards at the Southwyck Shopping Center, 2040 South Reynolds Rd., noticed a young man making large purchases with a credit card. The guards – who were off-duty Toledo police officers – caught up to the man in the mall’s parking lot, where he was sitting inside a blue van, Detective John Wirth said.

The officers asked him to get out of the van and began questioning him. The man gave what turned out to be a false name, but one of the officers spotted an identification card with his real name hanging out of one of the man’s pockets, which also held a screwdriver. At that moment, the man ran across the parking lot and across Reynolds Road. The officers pursued, but lost him between buildings on Reynolds, Detective Wirth said.

The officers alerted their on-duty colleagues, and checked the van. They found that it had been reported stolen in Monroe on Jan. 17. At the time of that theft, the van had been “replaced” with a Cadillac that had been stolen earlier in Taylor, Mich., the detective said.

Shortly after the man fled from the mall, police received a report that a car had been stolen from the parking lot of a nearby Kroger store, 5109 Glendale Ave.

Having seen the man’s ID card, they knew his address, so police crews were sent to his neighborhood to search for him and the stolen car, Detective Wirth said.

About 2:50 p.m., while searching, police received a report of a burglary in progress at 1918 Evansdale Ave. – two blocks from where the man lived.

Officers found the car stolen from Kroger backed up to the house, with a TV set from the house in the backseat, the detective said.

Three hours after the first confrontation at the mall, police apprehended Hiram J. Beasley, 19, of 1920 Alvin St., in the house. The rear door had been pried open with a screwdriver, Detective Wirth said.

Meanwhile, back at the mall, police found stolen property in the abandoned van – jewelry, phones, and CDs – taken from a burglary reported Friday at 1914 Evansdale Ave.

Mr. Beasley’s shoeprints matched those left at that burglary, Detective Wirth said.

Mr. Beasley was being held last night in the Lucas County jail on two counts of burglary, two counts of receiving stolen property, and one count of possessing criminal tools.

There have been at least eight other burglaries in the neighborhood in the last three weeks, and Detective Wirth said police are continuing their investigation.

Toledo to close Maumee mall deal

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

Toledo will close a deal today that will clear the way for a new mall in Maumee – but still with only oral assurances that it will be “upscale,” as city leaders have demanded.

The city has agreed to sell 430 acres its owns north of U.S. 24 and west of I-475 for $6.51 million to Bryan-based developer Isaacs Group Holdings, Inc., fulfilling an option the Isaacs have had on the land since 1995. The Isaacs will then sell 130 acres of that land to General Growth Properties, Inc., the nation’s second largest mall developer.

A letter sent to Mayor Carty Finkbeiner yesterday by John Bergstrom, vice president of General Growth, states the project will include “three major retailers that are new to the market, including two department stores.”

But there are no written assurances that the mall will feature even a single “upscale” store.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he has been told by General Growth that the two new anchors will likely be upscale, but he said the city has no legal way to guarantee that.

“But they want favorable publicity,” the mayor said. “If they don’t get those anchors, then we’ll be publicly chastising them.”

He said that, since the city still owns about 400 acres near the site, Toledo could control the mall’s neighbors if General Growth fails to provide what the city wants.

“I don’t think they want smoke-belching factories right next to their mall,” Mr. Finkbeiner said.

The mayor and General Growth have both said that the mall – which will be about the size of Franklin Park Mall – will likely feature a “blend” of upscale and middle-income stores. Mr. Finkbeiner said the mall will “in all probability” include J.C. Penney, Sears, or both, in addition to more upper-crust fare.

“I did want a store that will appeal to all of the economic classes of our city,” he said.

But he argued that Toledoans should be given the chance to show they can support the upscale stores they now travel to Detroit to visit.

Earlier this week, Mr. Bergstrom said General Growth had received interest from six or seven potential anchor stores.

Three of those, he said, were included on the list of “upscale” stores Mr. Finkbeiner said he would find acceptable. That list included stores like Lord & Taylor, Nordstrom, and Saks Fifth Avenue.

City officials consider the deal a victory, since the city had only a very weak legal argument that it should have a hand in the planning of the mall. The 1995 option the Isaacs held on the land was picked up before the Dec. 31 deadline and, in a court fight, the city likely would have had to hand over the land without any say in its future.

Plans for the mall, and the decision on which stores will anchor it, are months away. But General Growth officials have said they are examining an entertainment component to the new facility, including an ice skating rink.

Of the three promised new stores, two will be department stores. The third will be a specialty store, the mayor said, and may or may not be large enough to count as a true anchor.

Part of the agreement to be signed today is a guarantee that the city will be reimbursed for any Toledo stores that move to the new mall. If, for example, the Maumee mall featured a Sears and caused the Sears at Westgate to close, the city would be reimbursed by General Growth for all tax earnings lost over a five-year period.

The J.C. Penney store at Southland Shopping Center closed last May because of declining sales. If a J.C. Penney opened in the Maumee mall, “there would be discussions” about bringing suit against General Growth to be reimbursed for that store’s lost tax revenue.

The mayor said this was the largest return the city has yet received on its massive investment in Monclova Township land in 1987. The city spent $14.35 million on nearly 1,200 acres in hopes that the land could be annexed to Toledo and provide space for industrial development.

Instead, the annexation effort failed, and the land became part of Maumee. The two cities have a joint economic development zone agreement that gives the city about 40 per cent of tax revenue from the mall, Mr. Finkbeiner said.

“It’s time we got some money back from that investment,” the mayor said.

Some parts of the land have been sold since 1987 for small-scale industrial development.

The $6.51 million, which will be sent by wire transfer today, is already included in the mayor’s proposed 1998 budget. There, it is included in the city’s capital improvement budget, where the mayor wants to use it for infrastructure improvements in Toledo industrial parks.

The mall would create 2,000 permanent jobs and 1,000 temporary construction jobs, Barry Broome, Toledo’s economic development commissioner, said.

Multiuse ball park for Toledo promoted

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

Lansing’s Oldsmobile Stadium has been an unqualified success, that city’s officials said yesterday, and could serve as a model for Mayor Carty Finkbeiner’s efforts to move the Toledo Mud Hens to a downtown ball park.

“It has drawn thousands and thousands of people downtown,” said Mayor David Hollister, who with other Lansing officials met with Toledo officials about the stadium, how to keep automotive plants from moving, and other shared interests.

The Lansing stadium, finished in 1996 at a cost of $20 million, has drawn suburbanites back to downtown and created a public space for all the city’s residents, he said.

“They’ve had a terrific success there,” Mr. Finkbeiner said.

In 1994, Lansing was in a rush to get a stadium built because the owner of a minor-league team in Springfield, Ill., had agreed in October of that year to move the team to Michigan. Officials chose a downtown site to try to spur devel opment. The city broke ground in April, 1995, and the Class-A Lansing Lugnuts began play in 1996.

In their first weekend in Lansing, the Lugnuts drew more fans than their entire previous season in Springfield, Mr. Hollister said. The Lugnuts, cheered on in the stands by the lovable Big Lug, have drawn up to 13,000 fans to some games, he said.

But despite the Lugnuts’ success, Mr. Hollister said the key to the stadium’s success was making the facility open for purposes other than baseball. Lansing hosts rock concerts, ethnic festivals, July 4 celebrations, and ice skating there.

In the summer, the city shows outdoor movies every Friday night.

He said the best way to sell the idea of a downtown stadium to a skeptical public was emphasizing the nonbaseball uses of the field.

“The key is providing low-cost, family-oriented entertainment,” Mr. Hollister said.

Even minor-league games take on an almost vaudevillian air of entertainment, with between-inning stunts and games, he said.

“It’s the goofiest damn thing you’ve ever seen,” Mr. Hollister said, describing a game. “It’s not baseball. It’s just goofy, fun stuff.”

Mr. Finkbeiner has said he wants to build a stadium in the Warehouse District downtown to revitalize the area. It would replace Maumee’s Ned Skeldon Stadium, which some have criticized as outmoded and unappealing to fans. He said he will likely have the issue put on the ballot between now and the November elections.

But the mayor said he would consider building a downtown stadium in Toledo without a vote if he could find the right financing. Oldsmobile Stadium’s costs were financed mostly by a loan from a consortium of six Lansing banks. Without the need for a bond issue, city officials did not need a vote on whether to build the stadium.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he hopes to be able to throw out the first ball in the new park in April, 2000.

Finkbeiner says parties are near deal on ‘upscale’ mall

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

City officials are “very, very close” to an agreement with developers that would ensure a new mall in Maumee is “upscale,” Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said yesterday.

“Our vision for the mall and their vision for a mall are getting very close,” he said.

Mr. Finkbeiner and members of the city council met yesterday with John Bergstrom, the vice president of Chicago-based General Growth Properties, the company that will be developing a mall on Toledo-owned land west of I-475 and north of U.S. 24.

For weeks, Mr. Finkbeiner has argued that for the development deal to go forward, General Growth must promise that any mall built on the land would be upscale, featuring the sorts of upper-crust department stores Toledoans drive to metro Detroit for now.

That assurance, officials believed, would prevent the suburban mall from pulling already established businesses away from Toledo.

Officials say that upscale promise was part of the city’s original 1995 deal with The Isaacs Group, the Bryan firm buying the land to sell to General Growth. But the contract the city signed with the Isaac Group includes no guarantees of upscale retail.

That put the city in a weak bargaining position with devel opers, forcing Toledo to rely on good-faith tactics to convince General Growth to go upscale. Without contract language to support its argument, the city doesn’t have a strong legal case, officials admit.

“[The city’s law department is] saying shake hands, rub backs, and try to get this without a legal fight,” Economic Development Commissioner Barry Broome said.

Mr. Finkbeiner said that has been successful. Without divulging details, he said the city has reached a tentative agreement that would ensure the mall is upscale. The deal must still be approved by General Growth executives in Chicago, the mayor said.

Mr. Bergstrom said the choice of what stores will anchor the mall won’t be made until late this year, at the earliest. But he said General Growth has received strong interest from six or seven department stores, and at least three were on a list of “upscale” stores the mayor said were his choices for the mall.

That list included Lord & Taylor, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Dillards, Filene’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Ikea, Kauffman’s, Macy’s, Lazarus, and Parisienne.

Mr. Broome said the city has gotten General Growth to commit to at least two upscale anchors in the mall. Sears and J.C. Penney are two other options, he said.

Mr. Bergstrom would not confirm the two upscale anchor estimate, but did say the mall would feature a “blend” of upscale and moderately priced stores.

Mr. Broome estimated the mall would add 2,000 permanent jobs and 1,000 construction jobs for the structure’s building. Mr. Bergstrom said most malls the size of the proposed Maumee mall create 1,500 permanent jobs, many of them part-time.

Though the developer is under no legal obligation to negotiate with the city, Mr. Bergstrom said it is important to keep both parties happy with the deal.

Toledo has web site on the Internet

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 9

Only slightly behind the curve, the city of Toledo has made the leap into cyberspace.

City hall has its own web site, allowing curious Internet surfers to find out anything from Mayor Carty Finkbeiner’s middle initial (it’s S.) to the phone number for the tuberculosis control division.

“It’s a great way for city government to put lots of information out there for people to use,” said Frank Beier, the city’s commissioner of support services, who is in charge of the web site project.

Of Ohio’s seven largest cities, Toledo was the last to debut its own city web site. Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, Akron, and Canton all have their own sites, of widely differing size and complexity.

The California-based Internet catalog Yahoo lists 20 cities in Ohio, 18 in Michigan, and eight in Indiana with government web sites.

Toledo’s site features information on eight city departments, ranging from city pool schedules to affirmative action policies. On one page, city development officials push the Autolite site on Champlain Street as a perfect spot for brownfield development. On another, they write about Toledo police bicycle patrols.

Users can even download city income-tax forms that, when printed, can be substituted for the city’s regular forms.

It’s a dizzying array of disparate information, mirroring the wide range of human affairs into which city government dips its hands from its downtown headquarters.

“You have this big tower downtown, this big white thing,” Tom Waniewski, vice president of Access Toledo, an Internet service provider, said. “Then you have the Internet, which lets people interact. We saw this as a natural match between the medium and government.”

Access Toledo designed the site. The firm proposed the site to city officials in 1996, and it debuted in its current form last month.

Citizens seem to be taking advantage. With only minimal publicity, some web pages on the site have gotten more than 4,000 hits a day, Mr. Beier said.

The city paid a $1,280 fee for the site’s design, Mr. Waniewski said. Access Toledo hosts the site for free but hopes to begin charging about $30 per department per month, he added.

Mr. Beier said the city is shopping around for hosting services in the Toledo area.

Access Toledo is partially owned by Blade Communications, Inc., which owns The Blade. BCI has two seats on Access Toledo’s five-member board of directors.

The city’s site adds to the number of local governmental agencies that have staked their claim on the web. The Lucas County commissioners have been on the web more than a year, and the state of Ohio has a large site.

The city council is looking into getting its own web site, members said, and Mr. Beier said a page for each member is not far off.

They could be given e-mail addresses to allow citizens to voice their complaints and positions electronically.

“I think it’s a great way for people on council to keep in touch with constituents,” Mr. Beier said.

Soon, the site will add a directory and information for at least five more departments. Mr. Beier said he hopes to allow citizens to send their credit card numbers over the Internet and order city reports electronically.

The city’s site can be reached at http://www.ci.toledo.oh.us

Hillcrest Hotel project called close to a deal

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

The Hillcrest Hotel near downtown Toledo is close to being renovated into apartments, city officials said yesterday.

“I believe it’s going to happen,” Neighborhoods Director Paul Hubbard said. “We’ve got about 85 per cent of the deal done.”

The Alexander Co., the Wisconsin-based developer that last year renovated the former Lasalle’s department store in downtown into the LaSalle Apartments, has agreed to convert the 69-year-old structure at Madison Avenue and 16th Street into about 100 units, at a cost of about $11 million.

The biggest sticking point: the city doesn’t own the building.

The Hillcrest is owned by Hillcrest Christian Center Group, Inc., and two of the three major investors in the group have agreed to turn over the building to the city at little or no cost.

But all three must be convinced to sell before The Alexander Co. can go ahead with renovations.

There also are several liens on the property, one of them for unpaid city taxes which the city is prepared to forgive. But another lien – a mortgage held by Mid American National Bank & Trust Co. – could pose a problem.

The bank has not yet agreed to give up its claim, which is for more than $100,000, Mr. Hubbard said. But he was optimistic that the issue would not be a problem.

“I do think we can work out something with MidAm,” he said. “We are talking at least once a week.”

Exactly what financial assistance the city would provide is still unclear.

Matt Meier, The Alexander Co.’s development project manager, said he would not comment on the project’s finances because of ongoing negotiations.

But earlier this week, the city’s housing commissioner, Jim Thurston, said the financial package is similar in structure to – but half the size of – the one approved by the city council Tuesday for the former Commodore Perry Hotel at Jefferson Avenue and Superior Street, which The Smallridge Co. of Toledo is turning into apartments.

The Alexander Co. submitted a proposal for the Commodore Perry, but was rejected.

In the Perry package, the city is issuing $17.7 million in municipal bonds, $10.2 million of that secured by the city. The total cost of renovating the Commodore Perry is estimated at $22 million.

The city council will have to approve the Hillcrest’s financial package, as well.

Legislation likely will be introduced at the council’s next meeting, which is scheduled for Jan. 20.

Jim Phillips, a city finance official, said the city may have to assemble a temporary financial package for that meeting and a permanent package at a later date.

Time is of the essence in the Hillcrest deal for several reasons, Mr. Hubbard said.

Much of the project will be funded through $6.2 million in tax-exempt bonds from the state of Ohio.

The city likely will be given notice today or early next week that the Hillcrest project has been funded, and the city must have a complete financial package assembled within two weeks of that notice.

The city still must find a bank willing to underwrite Toledo’s bond issue and filter through a mound of paperwork before several important deadlines in the next two months.

It also is important, Mr. Hubbard said, to keep the developer interested.

“We’re working on a tight deadline to keep Randy Alexander interested,” he said. “If we waste another week or two, it becomes awfully difficult. We have to move with all speed.”

The Alexander Co. is hoping to have the project completed by early next year. Mr. Hubbard said that is feasible.

An Alexander official said yesterday it was too early to determine how high rents would be at the Hillcrest.

In 1995, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner put the building on his list of “12 most offensive commercial and industrial properties” and called for its demolition.

But all 12 members of the council said they opposed the demolition, and the building remained standing, despite Mr. Finkbeiner’s statement at the time that demolition was “99 per cent certain.”

Council backs project at Commodore Perry

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 11

Toledo council approved the renovation of the former Commodore Perry Hotel last night over the objections of members who said the administration had rushed them into an uninformed decision.

In a lengthy series of 8-4 votes, council agreed to turn over the downtown landmark to developers William and Oliver Hirt, who plan to turn the 71-year-old building into a 132-unit apartment complex.

“I’m glad it passed,” said William Hirt, vice president of the Smallridge Co. “I don’t count votes.”

The $22 million project requires the city to issue $17.7 million in municipal bonds, $10.2 million of that secured by the city’s financial backing. The remainder is secured by future revenue of the apartment complex.

The city also will loan the project $500,000 from Community Development Block Grant funds, as will the Hirts. The federal government has added $5.1 million in tax credits.

In 1996, Toledo bought the building for $10 from the Webb Corp. The deal approved last night will sell the structure to the Hirts for the same amount.

But that approval, which came at the first regular meeting of the new council elected Nov. 4, came only after significant sparring between members angry at administration officials they said didn’t have the answers they needed to make a decision.

Led by Republican Gene Zmuda, several members asked to push council’s decision back to its next scheduled meeting, Jan. 20.

Mr. Zmuda questioned the method in which the Hirts were selected to renovate the project, and whether more private-sector investment could have freed the city from having to make such a large bond issuance.

“The city continues to act as if there’s no interest in developing old downtown buildings,” he said. “I’d rather have Mr. Hirt compete with other developers so that the city gets the best deal.”

He also said the development needed to be considered in the context of other downtown developments and that the apartments could fail if the area becomes oversaturated with housing.

“While the mayor may want to put blinders on, I’m not doing my job as a councilman if I don’t find what’s best for the city,” he said.

When told the city doesn’t know how much a parking garage next to the hotel made last year, council member Jeanine Perry said it was a similar lack of oversight that allowed the Maumee mall proposed by developer George Isaac to be less than “upscale.”

Councilmen were told when they approved the sale of land to Mr. Isaac that construction on the land would not draw businesses out of Toledo malls, but the contract contained no such language.

“Maybe we would have caught that if we’d had time to closely examine the contract,” she said. “We need the extra time to look at the Commodore Perry to make sure we’re doing what’s best.”

But administration officials said pushing back the date of council’s vote would jeopardize the entire project. A deposit on a $13 million state bond issue is due in less than two weeks, and Mr. Hirt said he would not pay it unless council approved the deal immediately.

Still, Mr. Zmuda, Mrs. Perry, Republican Rob Ludeman, and Democrat Betty Shultz all supported putting off consideration and, when that failed, rejecting the proposal altogether.

Council had to approve five separate ordinances to finance the package, and Mr. Zmuda moved to delay each one, leading to a lengthy series of motions and votes, each one breaking down to the same 8-4 divide.

Mr. Hirt said construction will begin in early March. The first apartments should be rented by January, 1999.

In other action, council:

* Approved hiring Michael Beazley as assistant clerk of council for the next seven weeks. Mr. Beazley, a former chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party, will train under council clerk Larry Brewer for that time, then take over Mr. Brewer’s post when he retires in March.

For those seven weeks, Mr. Beazley will be paid $9,288. When he takes over the clerkship, his annual pay will be about $69,000, Mr. Ujvagi said.

* Revised the way its committees are structured. Mr. Zmuda will chair the law and criminal justice committee, one of two offshoots of the old law and public safety committee.

Mrs. Perry, who led the committee’s previous incarnation, will head the public safety committee.

Peter Gerken was picked to replace Mrs. Shultz as chairman of the environment, utilities, and public service committee.

Mr. Ujvagi will head the economic development and planning committee.

C. Allen McConnell will lead the finance and budget committee, while Mrs. Shultz will chair a new human resources, personnel, and computerization committee.

Bob McCloskey will lead the youth and natural resources committee, and Edna Brown will chair a new panel dedicated to neighborhood development, housing, community relations, and health.

Beazley is in line for clerk’s job, sources say; Partisan background questioned by some

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 9

One of Toledo’s most powerful Democratic operatives is the top candidate to become the next clerk of council, city hall sources say.

But some people question whether someone with such a partisan background should take a job that traditionally has been apolitical.

Michael Beazley, 43, a former Lucas County Democratic chairman, is the “leading candidate” for the job, council member Jeanine Perry said. A source in the clerk’s office said Mr. Beazley was almost certain to be named to the job at today’s council meeting.

“It’s a little premature to say anything,” Mr. Beazley said yesterday. “I think the job would be a terrific challenge and opportunity.”

Four people have submitted resumes for the position, council President Peter Ujvagi said. Whoever is chosen will replace Larry Brewer, a council legend who started working in the clerk’s office in 1966 and who is retiring in March.

At a council retreat last month, Mr. Ujvagi said he hoped to rede fine the role of the council clerk to give council a larger voice in city government. He proposed shifting many of the day-to-day duties of the clerk to a deputy clerk and making the clerk’s position much more high-profile.

Councilman Louis Escobar said Mr. Beazley would be a “very good choice” for the position, but acknowledged that some people have questioned his partisanship.

“Overall, I’ve gotten favorable comments [about Mr. Beazley],” he said. “But I’ve also received some caution it might appear to be a `political favorites’ situation. I can understand why people would have that perception.”

But Mr. Escobar said Mr. Beazley’s experience, legal background, and energy are strong enough to give him the position on his merits.

Mr. Ujvagi often has been described as Mr. Beazley’s mentor and political ally. When Mr. Ujvagi announced he would not seek another term as Democratic chairman in July, 1992, he endorsed Mr. Beazley as his successor.

Since World War II, only four men have had the job of council clerk, and each had at least 10 years of experience in the clerk’s office previously. None held a post in any political party.

In contrast, Mr. Beazley has been a political animal since his first campaign, at age 13 for Robert Kennedy in 1968. He headed the Young Democrats club at the University of Toledo, and by age 21 was the delegate caucus chairman for presidential candidate Morris Udall.

He became the Lucas County Democrats’ executive director in 1989 and chairman in 1992. He resigned in 1994 after his endorsed mayoral candidate, Peter Silverman, failed to make it out of the 1993 primary. Carty Finkbeiner, who failed to get Mr. Beazley’s endorsement, went on to win the general election. Mr. Finkbeiner could not be reached for comment.

To those who question his partisan history, Mr. Beazley pointed to his experience on the Lucas Coun ty board of elections, of which he is chairman.

The board is made up of two Democrats and two Republicans, and he said he has been able to win the respect of members of both parties.

“When it has been my job to be partisan, I’ve been very partisan,” he said. “But when it has been my job not to be partisan, I’ve been able to do that as well.”

Mark Berling, a former GOP executive director who serves with Mr. Beazley on the elections board, said he has never seen Mr. Beazley cross any ethical lines.

“He is scrupulously fair when it comes to issues of partisanship,” he said.

But, he said, if Democrats are looking for someone to take an active, policy-oriented role for council, Mr. Beazley would be a perfect choice.

“Mike Beazley would be the man they want,” he said. “He’s intimately familiar with the system; he knows all the personalities. He would serve his party well in that capacity.”

Tom Noe, who was chairman of the Republican Party when Mr. Beazley was chairman of the Democrats, said Mr. Beazley’s intelligence and law background would serve him well in the clerk’s office.

“If I was a Republican on council, I would not have a problem with Mike being there,” said Mr. Noe, who is on the elections board. “The majority of council would feel comfortable with Mike there.”

Gene Zmuda, a Republican at-large councilman, said he would be concerned only if Democrats used the position to their advantage.

“I would have a problem if they turned the office of council clerk into a political position,” he said. “It needs to be apolitical.”

He said the bigger issue in his mind was whether Mr. Beazley had enough experience “to take the office into the 21st century.”

Republican District 2 Councilman Rob Ludeman said he is satisfied that Mr. Beazley would be nonpartisan and said his knowledge of city politics and government could only help council.

“Personalities change and people move, but I think Mike knows how government works and knows what everyone’s functions are,” he said. “He’s a professional.”

He said the clerk’s position will see “drastic changes” from Mr. Brewer’s administration, but said the full nature of those changes has not yet been determined.

Mr. Brewer had been planning to retire this month. But on Dec. 17, deputy clerk Sue Duckworth – his expected successor – announced she, too, would retire, in part because the new job description proposed by council did not match her expectations for the position.

Mr. Beazley is marketing director for Palmer Energy Co., a consulting firm that helps buy low-cost natural gas services for businesses and nonprofit firms.

Last year, Mr. Brewer’s salary was $76,907. Mr. Ujvagi said the new hire will be paid about $69,000.

Council members take seats; Led by Ujvagi, colleagues vow to be more ‘proactive’

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 11

With only the occasional mumble through forgotten lyrics, Toledo’s city council members officially took their seats to the (off-key) tune of “We’re Strong For Toledo” last night.

The old civic song – with lyrics “The girls are the fairest / the boys are the squarest / Of any old town that I know” – was sung at the end of council’s organizational meeting, after 11 of the 12 council members took their oaths of office. Councilman Betty Shultz has a cold and did not attend the ceremony.

The meeting marked the official start of Councilman Peter Ujvagi’s term as council president. Mr. Ujvagi, in an emotional acceptance, said he will do his best to be a strong leader for the body.

“I want to thank all of you for putting your trust in me and making this possible,” he said. Mr. Ujvagi was the council’s unanimous choice for the position.

In between the standard inauguration trappings – thank yous to family members, statements of civic optimism – members made it clear that they plan to play a more substantial role in dealings with the Finkbeiner administration.

“Everyone of us has talked about taking the agenda into our own hands,” Councilman Peter Gerken said. “Four years ago, the mayor formed Team Toledo. It’s our opportunity tonight to form Team Council.”

Mr. Ujvagi promised a stronger council aimed at checking the administration.

“We will become a proactive, not a reactive city council,” Mr. Ujvagi said, adding that council will be “working together” to be a stronger part of government.

Being named council president was special for Mr. Ujvagi, who had fought for the spot several times before. In 1985 and 1987, he was the top vote-getter among all council candidates, but both times he was passed over for the position of vice mayor, the rough equivalent of council president under the old city manager form of government.

“There are more `D’s on council now than then,” said Mr. Ujvagi, a Democrat. “I think I’ve matured as well.”

Under the city charter, the council president sets the body’s agenda, selects chairmen for committees, and decides who is allowed to speak at meetings.

Should Mayor Carty Finkbeiner not be able to finish his four-year term, the council president would automatically assume the mayor’s post.

The ceremony was sweet for Wilma Brown and Louis Escobar, the two new members of council.

“It’s an awesome responsibility, and very exciting,” said Mr. Escobar, who had several problems figuring out how to use his council microphone throughout the night. He let tears stream down his face mid-meeting as he remembered his father, who passed away three years ago and taught him to be “a strong union man and a strong Democrat.”

Mrs. Brown’s election twice posed a problem for council clerk Larry Brewer. When running down the roll call on votes, he twice called for the vote of “Brown” – a call that now could be answered by either District 1’s Edna Brown or District 4’s Wilma Brown.

Both times, he quickly corrected: “Edna Brown” first, then the rookie.

Mr. Brewer is scheduled to retire in March. Mr. Ujvagi said a new clerk will likely be chosen at Tuesday’s regular meeting.

In other housekeeping matters, council reappointed Gerald Gill as council’s sergeant-at-arms and Tom Buckley as city auditor.

Mr. Finkbeiner expressed excitement about the new council before leaving to go to Ann Arbor to greet the University of Michigan Wolverines as they returned from the Rose Bowl. He left after Mr. Ujvagi’s acceptance speech, but before the speeches of the other 10 council members in attendance.