A clerical error on her petitions – the notary public had signed on the wrong line – had been discovered by workers in the Board of Elections office and a protest filed by a Republican in District 6 ultimately prevailed.
Her odyssey started in November of 2004 when the Washington Local School Board member began to make her move to succeed Wade Kapszukiewicz on council. It had always been apparent to Canales-Flores that Kapszukiewicz would be moving on and the long-time Point Place resident and political and community activist had been eying the seat for a number of years.
Then, Kapszukiewicz had won his own bid for the Lucas County Treasurer’s office but he would not be eligible to assume that position for another 10 months. Ray Kest, his predecessor, had resigned in disgrace and someone would have to be appointed to the treasurer’s office for the interim. Many thought that it would make sense for Kapszukiewicz himself to be appointed by the Lucas County Democratic Party but Democrat party politics being what they are these days, Kapszukiewicz was passed over for appointment.
In the meantime, Canales-Flores had started her bid for the party’s endorsement should Kapszukiewicz vacate the seat early. She soon found out that the party would not be supporting her. They preferred to recommend a union official – Joe Blaze, vice president of Ironworkers Local 55 – with no experience in elective politics, to the post.
In fact, her support for the seat seemed to have evaporated from all sides. Both the Toledo “A” and “B” teams appeared to be more interested in courting a large union.
Kapszukiewicz’s failure to gain appointment, however, worked to her advantage. Blaze faded from the political scene and, in the spring, Canales-Flores, without any support from either the Madison Avenue Democrats or the Adams Street Democrats, announced her candidacy for the District 6 seat. By September, still without a formal party endorsement, she was clearly the front runner for the seat she had long coveted and her name was mentioned as the logical choice for a 30-day appointment to council – an appointment she said she would decline.
“It’s not that I don’t want it,” she said at that time. But her obligations as a single mother and a Toledo city employee obviously came first. She would be obliged to resign from the City to accept such an appointment and, even then, she would have no guarantee of victory in November.
But in September, Canales-Flores had to file her signature nominating petitions with the Board of Elections. As she recalled for La Prensa last week, the last-minute rush to get the petitions finished and filed left her and her campaign staff exhausted. She took the petitions to her sister, a notary public, and that’s when the signature snafu occurred. Her sister signed on the wrong line, which meant that Canales-Flores subsequently signed on the wrong line. No one caught the error, an error her attorney, Keith Wilkowski, would later argue, and two members of the Ohio Supreme Court would agree, was harmless since there was no intent to deceive voters.
But the Board of Elections certainly discovered the error. Canales-Flores received a telephone call from an official at the Board of Elections a few days after the filing informing her of the seriousness of the mistake. “You need to get a lawyer,” she was told.
She called Wilkowski, himself a political operative, former office holder and, most recently, candidate for mayor. After reviewing copies of the petitions, Wilkowski informed her that she had a chance, but it would be an uphill struggle.
They filed an affidavit informing the Board of Elections that there had been no deceit or attempt to deceive and initially, on September 19, the Board of Elections concurred. The Board voted 3-0 to certify her candidacy. But Douglas Bick, a GOP precinct committeeman, filed a protest and asked for a hearing.
This time the matter went to the secretary of state’s office for review and Kenneth Blackwell issued an interpretation of the law declaring that the error was indeed not harmless. The Board of Elections held a hearing on September 27 and reversed its earlier position and voted 4-0 to follow the secretary of state’s lead. It was a position that most of the members took reluctantly.
“I feel really badly,” Gary Johnson told a reporter later that evening. “But there was nothing we could do.” Johnson admitted he had seen much worse mistakes on petitions that had not received such harsh treatment.
Canales-Flores and Wilkowski tried another tack. They filed new petitions the following Thursday. The board rejected that attempt declaring that a candidate gets only one bite at the apple. Wilkowski took the case directly to the Ohio Supreme Court.
He filed his three motions on September 30 – one on the merits of the case, one to expedite the proceedings, and one to stop the Board of Elections from printing and mailing absentee ballots. The latter two motions were denied almost immediately. The final ruling denied the motion on its merits.
“To deny Lisa Canales-Flores a place on the ballot,” wrote Justice Pfeifer in a dissenting opinion with Justice Lundberg Stratton concurring, “… is to do more than elevate form over substance; it is to elevate bureaucracy over democracy.”
Nevertheless, bureaucracy claimed its victory.
“I was the candidate,” said Canales-Flores several days later as she recounted her year-long adventure and oh-so-close struggle to secure the political prize. “I take full responsibility.”
What’s next for erstwhile candidate?
It won’t be a different political office. She has no desire, for example, to seek an at-large seat. City council, she has often said, has not been her objective. Her goal has been to represent District 6.
But as painful as the process has been, there have been some significant achievements. She never did get that party stamp of approval from either Adams Street or Madison Avenue, but she got plenty of others. “I counted 14 endorsements,” she noted with satisfaction.
And she had a strong and solid coterie working with her – family, friends, neighbors. They are all still there, she realizes. They will all still be there in four years.
And in four years, anything could happen. Another campaign for District 6, perhaps?