Good, Bad, and Ugly in City Politics
It’s that time of year, when pampered millionaires from across the fruited plain come together for self-aggrandizement and awards show ratings. We sit betwixt the Grammys and the Oscars. Red carpets ablaze, and stars aplenty.
Not to be outdone, we offer our annual Hildys, the coveted award for the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in City Politics.
The Good. The Hildy this year for Best Actor in a Critical Role goes to none other than Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz. Being Mayor of a mid-sized aging post-industrial city is tough. Since the advent of the strong mayor form of T-Town government, the 22nd Floor is the graveyard of politics. Figuratively for some, literally for others.
Carty even managed to pull off the unthinkable and make it both a literal and figurative graveyard in nineteen ninety seven, when he came within an eyelash of losing his re-election campaign to an unknown gravestone salesman.
There’s never enough money in city coffers, always too many city services to deliver. The workers deserve more, but so do the citizens. Juggling the demands of all the competing interests without turning the show into a three ring circus is nearly impossible. Ask PHH, a good woman but a challenged ringleader.
But Wade’s first year seems to prove he’s up to it. He has tamed the mighty beast of the suburban water customers. He has appeased the giant maw of city workers. And citizens seem to be generally satisfied.
Wade has been tested by a tense standoff after a police-involved shooting and the ongoing blatant racism at the local GM plant. Either case could have destroyed weaker administrations. Wade handled both with grace under pressure.
The best economy in our lifetimes doesn’t hurt. Time will tell how Wade handles the inevitable economic downturn. For now, though, Wade and his team are the Good in City Politics.
The Bad. The Hildy for Worst Collapse in a Lead Role is a tie this year, and will be shared by Toledo City Council’s hardliest working member, Sandy Spang, and Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken.
Spang has filled a political lifetime with making excuses for her ineffectiveness. She overpromises and under-delivers on the regular. Then blames her failures on being held back by her colleagues.
She is often late to Council meetings, and much of her time in Council chambers seems to be devoted to increasing screen time on her mobile devices. She has promised an overhaul of the sign code and a comprehensive urban agriculture proposal, among myriad other nonstarters. Five years later? Nada.
All of which culminated in her crash and burn as a candidate for Toledo mayor, then Lucas County Commissioner. Spang? She wins a Bad Hildy.
Gerken’s Hildy was earned by his complete mishandling of the location for a new County jail. The first location was chosen without a whiff of public input. That idea fizzled like a dime store firecracker.
The latest location has created a backlash from the surrounding neighborhood. A referendum on the jail location is on the ballot in a special election later this month. Whatever that outcome, Gerken insists city voters can’t tell the County what to do.
Even Gerken’s most natural constituency, organized labor, has softened its support over his lack of labor friendliness. And, as we speculated in this column, it seems likely Gerken will face a challenge for re-election from Auditor Anita ‘Stepping Stone” Lopez.
The verdict? Gerken, awarded a Bad Hildy.
The Ugly. Last column we began to dissect this year’s election for Toledo City Council district reps. We discussed Districts One and Two.
The Hildy for ugliest upcoming election in a low turnout role goes to Toledo City Council District Three, Current Officeholder, Councilman Peter Ujvagi.
Ujvagi has been at the center of City Politics for decades. He has served a prior stint on Council and has been a State Representative. He has also been Chair of the Lucas County Democratic Party.
As term limits eased him out of the state house, he cast his eyes on the District Three seat vacated by Mike Craig due to term limits in twenty fifteen. A long-time activist in East Toledo, his path looked clear.
The primary included Peter U, long-time fellow East Toledo activist Glen Cook, and two typical also-rans. Ujvagi won easily with over forty-seven per cent of the vote.
The turnout in that election was abysmal, with barely over eight per cent of registered voters casting a ballot. Ujvagi couldn’t muster one thousand total votes.
District Three’s boundaries have shifted dramatically over the years, with less registered voters in East Toledo, so that more of the District now covers the South End. Nevertheless, the twenty fifteen primary left two East-siders, Ujvagi and Cook, to square off in the general election.
Ujvagi won the general in unconvincing fashion, with the closest race of any Council district, fifty-three percent to forty-seven percent. Cook actually won an entire ward in East Toledo. If he had performed better in South Toledo, which had no natural candidate, he may have won the whole shebang. Wards Fifteen and Sixteen, both in South Toledo, plus Ujvagi’s home Ward in East Toledo, largely provided the margin of victory.
Ujvagi’s fortunes have shifted for the worse since then. In twenty fifteen he had solid support of labor. Then he voted against a zone change favorable to building a new Kroger store. That and other matters mean his labor support has softened considerably.
Cook will likely challenge Ujvagi again this year. And other, younger and fresher candidates likely wait in the wings. All of which could lead to a nasty and competitive primary in District Three.
Ujvagi is definitely vulnerable. Will labor, or certain labor segments, throw its support elsewhere? If so, to whom? This will be the election to watch this year, and it will be ugly.
Our prediction? Too close to call.