By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
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.