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La Liga de Las Americas

Copeland fails in bid to capture the commissioner’s seat,

Balderas down by 12 votes, McCloskey up by 3 bribery-count pleas of guilty

By Fletcher Word, La Prensa Political Correspondent

May 8, 2006: Ben Konop may be ready to reach out to his defeated opponents for the sake of party unity and a victory in November, but Toledo City Councilman Phil Copeland, who finished in third place in last week’s Democratic primary for Lucas County Commissioner, is having none of it.

Phil Copeland

“I’m not the type to be mad,” said Copeland of the winner’s campaign tactics, “but I’m certainly disappointed. He and his aunt [Sandy Isenberg, former Lucas County Commissioner] didn’t do it the right way. It’s okay to win, but when you discredit people and their names, and the lying … that crosses the line to me.”

As far as throwing his support to the victor, Copeland declared that it’s highly unlikely he would hit the hustings on behalf of his Democratic colleague.

“If it was Tim Wagener, I wouldn’t hesitate,” said Copeland, “but I don’t feel like I owe Ben nothing.”

In November, Konop will be facing Republican George Sarantou, Toledo city councilman, who won his party’s primary last week while capturing 70 percent of the vote against Sylvania School Board member Pam Haynam.

Konop won more than 47 percent of the Democratic votes to Wagener’s 27 percent and Copeland’s 26 percent.

Copeland led early in the evening as returns from central city wards came in. But that lead quickly evaporated as outlying city wards and those from the suburbs were added to the total.

Buzz saw of negative publicity

Right from the start, the ill-fated Copeland campaign ran into a buzz saw of negative publicity and seemingly bad luck. He also suffered from a lack of funds as he attempted to run back-to-back campaigns in a six-month span.

The Blade broke the story in March of a U.S. Department of Labor audit into the expenditures of Laborers’ Local 500, where Copeland is secretary/treasurer. The Blade repeatedly cast in the audit in terms of a criminal investigation and just as repeatedly, in articles on the commissioner’s race, noted that the union has lost 20 percent of its membership over the past six years as Copeland’s salary has more than doubled.

“I thought the race would be tighter, I thought it would be close,” said Copeland reflecting on the harm the reports of the audits had caused. “The Blade articles did a lot of damage.”

And on May 2, as the day wore on, Copeland knew his chances of prevailing in his second political campaign were slim. “When I heard about the low turnout and the rain, I knew I was hurt,” he said.

Copeland was initially voted into office in January 2005 by Toledo City Council over the objections of the leadership of the Democratic Party. The party had endorsed union official Mark Sobczak for the post, but the “A” team-dominated City Council selected Copeland.

That vote exacerbated the breach in the local party and ultimately prompted members of the “A” team to form their own short-lived alternative organization.

Copeland won election to council on his own merits in November and, within weeks, announced his intention to seek a spot on the Board of Commissioners, the last elective office that the esteemed Bill Copeland, Phil’s late uncle, had held during his career.

For the last number of years, Bill Copeland and Isenberg served on the board together until her defeat in 2002 at the hands of Republican Maggie Thurber. Thurber, who has run into problems of her own with the news of her and her husband’s donations to the Bush campaign in 2004 have come to light in the Noe investigation, decided not to run for re-election. She will be succeeded by either Konop or Sarantou.

Particularly irksome to Copeland over the last few weeks were references by Konop to statements he had made regarding identification voters might make between him and his late uncle. Copeland was reported by The Blade as having said he would have no problem if voters pulled the lever for him thinking they were voting for his uncle. During the candidates’ last debate, Konop jumped on that statement and accused his opponent of wanting to fool the voters. Copeland retorted that he was being quoted out of context and that he was merely honoring his uncle’s legacy.

Balderas down by 12 votes, McCloskey up by 3 bribery-count pleas of guilty

Copeland was not the only candidate of color to lose an election last week. Toledo City Councilwoman Taylor Balderas appeared to have fallen just short in her bid to win election to continue in her District 3 post. She was appointed by colleagues to fill in for Bob McCloskey, the long-time District 3 representative who won election to an at-large berth in November.

McCloskey has since resigned from council due to a pending state criminal indictment on bribery charges—on May 8, McCloskey entered a plea of guilty, and was found guilty of, one of the state counts of bribery and two federal counts of bribery. The pleas of guilty were entered before Judge James Bates (Common Pleas) and David Katz (U.S. District Court).

At press time, Balderas had 1279 votes to Mike Craig’s 1291—a difference of 12 votes. Provisional ballots had yet to be counted, but sources have told this correspondent that there are only a dozen such ballots to be culled and totaled. Balderas had been supported in her campaign by both Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and the Lucas County Democratic Party.

Candidates of color fared poorly in last November’s general election as well. In contested elections last fall, only two of eight candidates of color prevailed—Copeland and Toledo School Board member Robert Torres.

Copeland said after his defeat that he will be more than content to serve on city council. “I’m going to be the best council member I can be,” he said. “I’m going to be out there working in the best interests of the working people of this county.” 






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