Mayor takes a stab at pizza; ‘Caesar’s’ teams attacked too

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 17

Pizza? Pizza? Not for Carty! Carty!

Little Caesar’s won’t be getting any of Mayor Carty Finkbeiner’s pizza business anytime soon, and he’s asking Toledoans to boycott the national chain because its owners “have shown they don’t support Toledo.”

“I’m gonna buy homemade and seasoned pizzas!” the mayor said.

The mayor, who has never before made a public statement on his pizza preference, said he’ll be eating Marco’s pizza now.

The issue slices up this way: Little Caesar’s is owned by the Ilitch family of Detroit. The Ilitches also own the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Tigers. Last week, the Red Wings signed a deal to move the team’s top minor league affiliate to a $48 million arena complex to be built in Rossford. That suburban development threatens the future of the Toledo Sports Arena and Toledo Storm hockey team.

The mayor said he is calling for a boycott because the Ilitches’ support of the Rossford arena proves they aren’t committed to revitalizing the nation’s urban cores. “They say they understand the needs of cities, but they don’t support the talk,” the mayor said.

Little Caesar’s saw things a little differently.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Ron Bradshaw, who owns three Toledo franchises. “What a ridiculous position to take. I have absolutely no control over Mr. Ilitch. This would just punish the franchisees here, and it’s not very fair to do that to someone like me who’s been in business in Toledo for 28 years.”

Reaction from Detroit wasn’t much different.

“We have about 130 Toledo residents who are employed at our stores, and they don’t deserve to get caught in the crossfire here,” said Sue Sherbow, the company’s vice president of corporate communications. “They pay their taxes, and they’re good corporate citizens.”

Members of the Toledo city council, used to reacting to Mr. Finkbeiner’s proposals, said they’ve seen this sort of decision before.

“When it comes to Carty and the things he says, nothing surprises Toledoans,” Councilman Wade Kapszukiewicz said. “The shock value has worn off; he’s done so many outrageous things.

“Boycotting Toledo pizza because of a decision made by men in Detroit and Rossford makes no sense,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said.

Councilman Louis Escobar compared it to leaders of some other city boycotting Jeep or Owens Corning products because Toledo lured a business away from them.

“I am amazed that, with all the game playing in city government, that the city runs at all,” he said.

Councilman Peter Gerken was more direct upon learning about the mayor’s plan: “Oh my God! I don’t think it’s the business of the city to get into pizza wars.”

“I wish Carty would think before he speaks,” Councilman Gene Zmuda said. “I just think it’s ludicrous that we’re going to boycott pizza. That burns whatever bridge we might have with the Ilitches.”

Provoking the Ilitches is an unusual strategy, considering that area leaders hope that the family will kick in the money to help build a stadium for the Toledo Mud Hens.

The stadium is one of the mayor’s favorite projects. The Mud Hens are the top farm team of the Ilitches’ Tigers.

“I would hope that once we’ve reached some decisions, the Tigers and Mr. Ilitch may be generous and contribute to the project,” Lucas County Commissioner Harry Barlos said. “But I’m not going to sit down and alienate any player in this process.”

Mr. Finkbeiner’s other complaint with the Ilitches was that they have not done a good job in providing the Tigers and Mud Hens with quality players. “The end result is neither team has a competitive team in recent years,” he said.

The top beneficiary of the mayor’s pie preference is Marco’s, the Toledo-based chain.

“I’m obviously very pleased,” said Marco’s president Pat Giammarco. “We’ve always supported Toledo.”

Mr. Giammarco described himself as a friend of the mayor. Records show he gave at least $1,500 to Mr. Finkbeiner’s 1997 re-election campaign. The chain employs about 1,200 people in the Toledo area, he said, and has more than 130 locations in three states. Mr. Giammarco added: “If we were a little bit bigger, I’d build a stadium for the city.”