$497,549 spent to get issue OK’d; Home Depot foes outspent 35-1

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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Getting a new store in West Toledo was worth a half million dollars to Home Depot.

In the most expensive campaign for a ballot issue in Toledo history, the home-improvement giant outspent its opponents 35-1, pouring $497,549 into a campaign to get a zoning change approved by the voters Nov. 3, according to campaign finance documents filed yesterday.

“That is certainly more money that I can ever remember being spent,” said Michael Beazley, the Toledo clerk of council who has been active in the local political scene the last 25 years. “For issue campaigns, it’s not even close.”

Home Depot falls behind only Mayor Carty Finkbeiner’s 1997 reelection race in total dollars spent. In that campaign, the mayor spent just over $500,000.

But Mr. Finkbeiner had four years to amass that much money. The Home Depot race, known as Issue 13, was put on the ballot less than 11 weeks before the election.

The gap in spending between Home Depot and its opponents was cavernous. Over the entire campaign, the Vote No on 13 Committee spent $14,297.11.

All the Home Depot spending evidently paid off. The zoning change passed, 42,024 votes to 33,979. That amounts to $11.84 spent by the company for each “yes” vote and only 42 cents spent by opponents for each “no.”

“It infuriates me that the people of Toledo are swayed by something like this,” said Norma Dorfner, media coordinator for the Home Depot opponents.

“They spent a lot more than I had expected them to,” said Harry Ward, the deputy treasurer of the campaign against Home Depot. “We were expecting $150,000 or $200,000.”

The corporation’s money went toward a barrage of television and print advertising, including more than $120,000 spent for direct phone campaigning and $12,000 for a tracking poll.

Issue 13 asked voters to choose between the economic gains of a major new store and the preservation of an old neighborhood. To build the 130,000-square-foot store, Home Depot had to tear down 88 apartments in a residential area.

The city council on July 15 approved the rezoning necessary for the company to build. But concerned neighborhood residents circulated a petition to put the issue on the ballot, gathering almost 19,000 signatures.

An employee in the public relations office of Home Depot’s Atlanta headquarters said that only one person could speak with the news media on the issue. That spokesperson, Kelly Hays, did not respond to telephone messages or pages.