By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
Bruce Baumhower, one of northwest Ohio’s most well-known labor leaders, has been tapped by Mayor Carty Finkbeiner to be the newest member of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority’s board of directors.
He promised to provide “the voice of the common man” to a board sometimes criticized for being elitist.
“I’ve spent 27 years on the shop floor, so there’s nothing elite about me,” Mr. Baumhower said. “I’ve never seen a lamb chop or cognac. I’d go for a cheeseburger and a Diet Coke.”
Mr. Baumhower, 44, is president of Local 12 of the United Auto Workers, which includes most Jeep employees. His appointment is the latest signal that the port authority will push harder for union votes in its fall levy campaign.
“Bruce Baumhower’s no-nonsense approach to solving problems will be a great asset to the port board,” Mr. Finkbeiner said in a statement issued yesterday. The mayor is in Germany.
Mr. Baumhower’s appointment must be approved by the Toledo city council. He would fill the unexpired term of Beverly McBride, former board vice chairwoman, who announced her resignation March 19. She cited a scheduling conflict that would not allow her to attend board meetings on a regular basis.
If he is approved by council, Mr. Baumhower’s term on the port would expire in July, 2000. He expressed interest in being appointed to a full, four-year term at that time.
Mr. Baumhower, who lives in Oregon, said his highest goal for the year would be persuading voters to pass the agency’s levy. In November, voters rejected renewal of a 0.4-mill levy that produces about $2.2 million annually. The levy expires at the end of this year, and port leaders will try again with the voters this November.
“It is my top priority, to convince the voters that we hear their criticisms and believe that this is a good investment for them,” he said.
Mr. Baumhower was very active in last year’s levy campaign, giving speeches before union crowds and participating in media events. “He’s the one key guy who went out and worked for the levy last time,” said J. Patrick Nicholson, vice chairman of the port board.
Mr. Baumhower had good reason to support the levy. Since February, 1998, he has sat on the board of the Regional Growth Partnership, the port authority’s spinoff agency charged with leading economic development efforts throughout a 10-county area of northwest Ohio.
About two-thirds of the $2.2 million raised annually by the port levy goes to the growth partnership. The remainder stays with the port authority.
When he campaigned for last year’s levy, he said, the one issue he had the toughest time defending was the growth partnership’s policy of promoting economic development throughout its 10-county area – despite the fact that it is funded by a Lucas County levy.
“I think a lot of citizens had a real problem with that,” Mr. Baumhower said. “I truly think that has to change.”
He said one of his top priorities on the port board would be starting a fee system, through which other counties would pay for the services the growth partnership provides.
“If we help an outlying county with site selection, grant-writing to secure loans, or help them develop tax incentives, we ought to be charging them some fee for that service,” he said. “It has to happen. The citizens have said they don’t want to fund a one-stop shop for economic development that’s going to be used by 10 counties.”
Several board members have said that the port did a poor job of communicating its role in the local economy to voters, and Mr. Baumhower said he will work hard to convince Lucas County residents that their dollars are being used wisely.
“We’ve got to show the citizens that it is a great investment,” he said. “Like it or not, the citizens spoke, and you have to respect the will of the people. We’ve got to show the return they get on their investment, invite their feedback, and accept their criticisms. We’ve got to recognize they are the investor here.”
The port was criticized last year for what some called lavish spending on overseas trips, lush accommodations, and expensive meals.
Mr. Baumhower’s appointment would bring to three the number of union representatives on the 13-member board.
Daniel Smith, appointed in June, is vice president of the Great Lakes office of American Maritime Officers.
G. Ray Medlin, Jr., executive director of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters Health & Safety Fund of North America, was named chairman of the port board in December.
“Ray Medlin is a great, great leader, and I look forward to working with him,” Mr. Baumhower said.
Mr. Nicholson said that having a strong union presence on the port board would help convince voters in November.
“I think it’ll help a tremendous amount, particularly if we get them out in the open,” he said. “I think the union leadership has a good reputation of really providing good leadership in the community, and Bruce and Danny and Ray are as fine a three guys as you’ll ever find.”
In addition, the port board has asked Lloyd Mahaffey, director of the UAW’s western Ohio region, to co-chair the levy campaign committee. Mr. Baumhower said it was Mr. Mahaffey who approached him about becoming a port board member.
“He felt it would be a good idea to have a UAW representative on the board,” he said.
Mr. Baumhower is the second straight port board appointee not to come from the business community.
On April 1, Mr. Finkbeiner named Dr. Henry Moon, the University of Toledo’s interim provost, to the board.
The two have been tapped to replace Ms. McBride, vice president of The Andersons, Inc., and Edward Shultz, chairman and CEO of Dana Credit Corp.
“I think we have a nice diversity on the port board,” Mr. Baumhower said. “It’s a good blend of big business, unions, and others.”
Six port board members are appointed by the mayor and the city council, and six are appointed by the Lucas County commissioners. One is a joint appointment.
While Mr. Baumhower said he has never had any personal contracts with the port authority, his union has benefitted several times from business expansion deals brokered by the port or the growth partnership.
The most notable deal: the landmark 1997 announcement that Chrysler Corp. would be investing more than $1 billion into retooling and expanding its Stickney Avenue plant. Mr. Finkbeiner, among others, has given Mr. Baumhower much of the credit for persuading the corporate giant to stay in Toledo.
“We would not have a Jeep plant under construction in North Toledo if Bruce hadn’t played a leadership role,” the mayor said in his statement.
Mr. Nicholson credited Mr. Baumhower for “more than any other individual, convincing Chrysler to stay in Toledo.”
For his part, Mr. Baumhower credited the Jeep plant workforce for Chrysler’s decision but said he received valuable economic development experience from the Jeep talks.
James Hartung, president of the port authority, said Mr. Baumhower has “a good sense of business understanding.”
“I really find Bruce to be an extraordinarily enlightened labor leader, one of the real bright lights of the world of trade unionism.”
“Bruce is one of those people with a real uncanny skill for cutting right to the heart of a matter,” Mr. Hartung said. “He really discards all extraneous rhetoric and hones in on the heart of an issue.”
Mr. Nicholson said Mr. Baumhower “understands what industry is looking for, from the inside. A lot of people think they know, but he knows. He’s just a super, super appointment.”
Mr. Baumhower was born and raised in Toledo and attended Whitmer High School. After graduation, he was hired by Jeep, where he has worked since 1972.
In 1983, he became involved in the UAW, first as a shop steward. Over time, he worked his way up to the bargaining committee, then vice president, and eventually president of Local 12, a job he has held since 1993.
His other community involvements include serving on the board of the local United Way, as president of the Toledo Area UAW Community Action Program Council, and on the Labor/Management Committee of Toledo Public Schools.
The mayor cited his 1998 work in negotiating a contract between the school board and its teachers as one of the reasons he appointed Mr. Baumhower.
“His role in preventing a teachers strike demonstrated his willingness to serve the greater community in a significant way,” the mayor said.
Mr. Medlin was in Washington last night and could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Baumhower said he is looking forward to serving on the port board. “I’m going to give it everything I’ve got in me. It’s a challenge, there’s no question,” he said. “But I like a challenge.”