By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
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.