Friday, February 25, 2005

Jobs, Sports, Performing Arts with New Arena

Mayor Jack Ford announced today a development team for a new Toledo arena. Columbus-based Pizzuti Co. will be joined by local contractor The Lathrop Company and downtown Toledo based architect & engineering firm SSOE to launch and build the project. A $50,000 feasability study will begin immediately, which will look at among other questions site location and financing. The East Side site is the choice of the Mayor, myself and several of my colleagues - out of respect to voters who approved the location with the Section 79 vote.

Pizzuti is the lead developer of Toledo's Marina District and recently scored a major success with Nationwide Arena in Columbus. I joined the Mayor at the announcement and recalled the excitement of the Mud Hens ballpark project. We can envision luring NCAA Basketball tournaments, major recording and performing artists, Toledo Storm hockey, rodeos, and other special events.

Under Mayor Ford's leadership of this project, several hundred local building and construction trade jobs and impressive spin-off business from the arena is expected. More details to follow...

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Police, Fire, Libraries Hang in Balance


Toledo City Councilman Frank Szollosi joined (right to left) President Tina Skeldon Wozniak and Commissioner Pete Gerken, Toledo Mayor Jack Ford, Maumee Mayor Tim Wagener, and Oregon City Councilman Matt Szollosi (and Clyde Scoles, not pictured, Director of the Toledo/Lucas County Public Library system) this afternoon to kickoff a campaign to salvage the Local Government Fund from state budget cuts.

You can calculate the impact on your community on-line.

The City of Toledo will suffer a loss of $3.6 million - jeopardizing funding for Toledo Police and Fire. We are putting together a bipartisan group of NW Ohio officials to join our state delegation at a Toledo/Lucas County Day in Columbus in March - which will also include Toledo Police Officers and Toledo Fire Fighters.

Governor Bob Taft announced a budget plan that includes an irresponsible tax giveaway to the wealthiest Ohioans (22% across the board) while cutting aid to cities and counties 20%, and aid to public libraries 5%, and will force the University of Toledo to hike tuition 9%. Contact the Governor, Speaker of the House and Senate President to register disapproval.

My younger brother, Matt, called this abandonment of local communities a sucker punch to taxpayers.

Urgent Public Safety Upgrade

Link to an article published on toledoblade.com about our city council hearing on the $30 million upgrade of emergency radio communications. The 9/11 Commission Report cited a failure of adequate radio communications between First Responders on that sacred day. Our local system is years past its shelf life (I'll be posting a report shortly with those details.)

Toledo Fire Cheif Mike Bell has been pressing for "interoperability" across the county for 14 years. Shortly after taking office in 2003 I asked my colleagues to increase and expedite funding within our Capital Improvements Budget.

With jurisdictions within Lucas County working together on Homeland Security, timely federal HS grants, and a consensus that we owe our First Responders the ability to communicate in any kind of emergency without fail - $12.9 million has been identified and recently committed for an initial $15 million phase.

Monday, February 21, 2005

open thread: "The Party"

Post a comment with your take on what local Dems need to do next.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Free Tax Help = Money For You

People who work for a living in Toledo can feel it. As wages have stagnated, the tax burden for lower and middle income folks has risen. Our progressive tax system in Ohio erodes yearly as corporations and the wealthy see their tax burden shrink - shifting the burden onto the rest of us.

And the rub...too many lower and middle income taxpayers are not getting the full credit and tax refunds we legally deserve - robbing our local economy of an influx of money.

With the 2005 tax season underway, the City of Toledo and the Economic Opportunity Coalition are teaming up once again for VITA - the Voluntary Income Tax Assistance program. The cornerstone goal is to offer free, fast and electronic income tax filing - insuring people who qualify take the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Even if you don't owe income tax, you can get the credit and cash.
Does your family earn up to $31,338 with one child? You may get up to $2,604 back.
Does your family earn up to $35,458 with more than one child? You could get as much as $4,300 back.
If your between ages 25 and 64, without children, and earning up to $12,490, you could get up to $390 back.

The IRS and City of Toledo Board of Community Relations, led by Juanita Green, are the catalysts for reaching out to Toledoans.
Download my Winter Newsletter that includes VITA site info
Please forward this message & help people keep their money for their families.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Bush Budget Hurts Us

Respected Washington think tank on how bad the President's budget will be on cities and states:

DEEP CUTS IN FEDERAL GRANTS IN FY 2006 BUDGET WILL SQUEEZE STATES AND LOCALITIES

The analysis reinforces "GOP Tax Shell Game" comments. The report also warns:
The Medicaid program is cut by a net of $45 billion over the next 10 years... If total Medicaid funding to states is reduced, states will have to choose between reducing health care for some their residents or increasing the number of uninsured children, parents, elderly and people with disabilities, or raising their own taxes to compensate for a reduction of that magnitude.  There also are deep cuts in child care subsidies over the next five years, which will frustrate the efforts of states to help families join and remain in the workforce.

And guess who gets hurt by greed and indifference:

Once the Tax Cuts are Paid for, Low- and Middle-Income Households Likely To Be Net Losers, on Average

Call Senator DeWine at (419) 259-7536 and email Senator Voinovich and ask them to SUPPORT TOLEDO and VOTE NO on the President's irresponsible budget.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The Hill, Sandy & Governor Dean

Phenomenal weekend. Traveled to Washington on Friday, spent the morning on Capitol Hill delivering letters to the Ohio Delegation advocating FOR the City of Toledo and AGAINST the items in the President's just released federal budget that would hurt people back home. Huge cuts in Community Development Block Grants that threaten our neighborhood revitalization work. Cuts to veterans, job training, transportation, and a plea to save our beloved 180th Air National Guard Division (though that's not a budget item but with BRAC Comm) Oh yeah, keep your hands off our Social Security, too. (Even the Speaker of the House, Illinois arch-Republican Dennis Hastert, has told the WH to cool their jets on that one.) Stopped into Congresswoman Kaptur's office. She is a leader on several House Appropriation subcommittees, and her staff is fighting off a move by the GOP "leadership" to eliminate the Veterans and Housing Approps subcommittee.

The rest of the overnight trip was spent at the Washington Hilton, site of the DNC Winter Meeting. Former Governor Howard Dean was unanimously elected National Chairman on Saturday morning. (All the competitors for the post withdrew over the past few weeks as Dean picked up endorsements and momentum.) The future of the Democratic Party is at stake here (which drew my interest) and to those who believe in progressive policies - Dr. Dean and Democrats across the country need to successfully build to 2006 and 2008. Despite that awful Iowa moment - Dean sparked a grassroots prairie fire coast to coast, revolutionized the interplay of politics and the internet, and took the fight to the White House when other candidates seemed timid.

He gave a spirited, hard-hitting speech - "You can't trust Republicans with your money" channeling Enron, Social Security and the monstrously bad budget deficit that these "conservatives" are cursing my son's generation with paying off.

I took advantage of the opportunity to reconnect with some folks with whom I worked with in the past, including a brief conversation with Harold Ickes, Jr. - whom I interned for about 10 years ago - and some friends from the Kerry campaign. The Ohio DNC people initially rallied on behalf of former ODP chair David Leland this year, but he succumbed to the outpouring for Dean. Dean has apparently promised much help to current ODP chair Denny White, particularly in the fundraising department. As it is White in 04 smoked the 00 fundraising cycle, $4.8 million in 00 to $8.4 million in 04 (Dems are going to be highly competitive statewide in 06)

All this with the turmoil of the Lucas County Democratic Party in the background. As of this writing, Sandy Isenberg, chair since the "takeover" 9 months ago, has resigned. She wants to support Mayor Ford and the other elected Democrats on the ballot this year (including me!) but the men of the self-described "Coalition of Concerned Democrats" who effectively run the show have other plans. This "coalition" is the fabled B Team, mainly associates and past supporters of Ray Kest, with one singular character who enjoys a cult-like following from within the coalition, former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner.

This coaliton snuck up on the former chair, quietly filling petitions for and barely winning the vote at a May 2004 Central Committee meeting - electing Sandy chair. My advice to them was to reach out to the elected Dem's who comprise the equally fabled A Team - particularly reach out to Mayor Ford, I suggested. At the time, political energy was properly spent among both Teams on the Kerry & Kaptur campaigns and for our slate of county candidates. I preached unity, and worked as best I could to heal divisions. LCDP Finance Chair Jerry Chabler raised a quarter of million dollars, and he and Sandy gave much of it directly to local candidates and on mailings and literature promoting our county slate. They also spiffed up 1817 Madison Avenue and bought new computers and furniture.

At the same time, Mayor Ford raised better than a quarter million dollars (400k, I think) and invested much of it into our Democratic county candidates. He did all he could for Democrats, as he (and I) have done in the past. Ford spoke at the national convention, again, and is highly regarded nationally and within Ohio. Yet, the B Team didnt consolidate their gains, and with the exceptions of Chabler and Isenberg, never seriously took the magnanomous approach to elected officials. In fact, they jettisoned them from the party's executive committee at the same time they demanded a cut from each of their fundraising events. Then news broke that nearly all the African-American electeds in town were kicked off the executive committee. Finally, in late summer, the coalition showed their cards.

The party's by-laws were changed to withhold endorsements if "more than one qualified Democrat" ran for a particular office. A highminded change to "prevent what happened to Harry Barlos" (the incumbent Dem county commissioner who lost the endorsement in early 04 to Toledo City Councilman Pete Gerken) was how the change was promoted. In fact, it was an obvious move to deny an endorsement of Jack Ford to benefit another mayoral run for Carty or anybody else but Jack. Effectively, the by-law change would mean anyone could run against, say Marcy Kaptur, Julia Bates, or any incumbent, and the party wouldnt take sides - forcing a likely bruising and expensive primary for the many Democratic elected officials.

The intent of the by-law change has been confirmed by events. Party leaders met with Mayor Ford in late 2004 and told him the party wouldnt be endorsing him. Last Saturday Carty held a recruitment meeting, described by one participant (who immediately realized he was in the wrong room) as an effort to build a slate of councilmatic candidates to run under Carty, particularly African-Americans, better to "siphon off support in the central city" from Mayor Ford and his councilmatic supporters (which would include me)

Sandy rightly wants the party to support Jack Ford and the Democrats on Toledo City Council - but, again, the coalition sees it differently. Subsequently, the electeds Dems and 05 candidates won't give money to the LCDP - and the B Team coalition that actually controls 1817 Madison don't want to give Sandy any money either. How will the lights stay on, the insurance and property taxes be paid? These aren't Sandy's problems anymore, but belong to the new LCDP Chairman, Dennis Duffey, who becomes chair per the by-laws chain of succession as the current chair of the central committee. (He also is Business Manager of IBEW Local 8, President of the NW OH Building Trades, a Lucas County Port Authority Board Director, and was recently appointed to fulfill the unexpired term of Lucas County Treasurer Ray Kest by the party's central committee over the Treasurer-Elect.)

There are sidebar events that have contributed to this meltdown: the aforementioned snubbing of Wade Kapszukiewicz who got 120,000 votes to succeed the embattled Mr. Kest as Treasurer. (Wade also continues to hold the endorsement of the LCDP screening and executive committee for that office - but the B team has put two men in ahead of him - this is important in light of the second recent dust-up.) The new screening committee, forgoing the highminded "two qualified Democrats" by-change, recommended Teamster Mark Sobczak to succeed Pete Gerken on Toledo City Council. Thing is, Sandy wanted Laborer Local 500 leader Phil Copeland (nephew of local Dem giant, the late Bill Copeland.) Unlike before, the screening committee didn't seek input from the Mayor or the sitting Toledo City Council Democrats in their deliberations. I had repeatedly called Kest's second in command John Irish, head of the screening committee, and pleaded with him to reach out to council (as council would have to vote to elect Gerken's replacement.) At the same time, council Dems reached out to Sandy with their thoughts. Copeland would support Mayor Ford, Sobczak wouldnt. Both men have helped Democratic campaigns and both would make good councilmen and both great skills and experiences, but the Teamsters were on the vanguard against Ford and Wade and had just helped Republicans attempt to take control of the Board of Lucas County Commissioners. (Teamsters gave dual support for Gerken and Barlos, but picked GOP State Rep Lynn Olman over incumbent commissioner Dem Tina Skeldon Wozniak. Local 500 almost exclusively support Dems)

What took the cake was that on this party-line vote I was asked to break ranks with the Mayor and my fellow Democrats as the Teamsters had the 3 Republican votes lined up. It was easy to anticipate that situation weeks in advance of the screening committee recommending Sobczak, and I made it clear, repeated my position, and remained consistent, in saying that I had given up too many Saturday mornings and late nights working with DEMOCRATS to elect DEMOCRATS to break ranks. No, if the B team wanted to make a recommendation, then that candidate should have been able to get the support of the Chairwoman of the Party and a majority of Democrats on council. Copeland won the appointment 7-4, with Dem Bob McCloskey breaking ranks to join the Repubs. So now the B team wants the 7 Dems "sanctioned" for not following the recommendation of the screening and executive committee (see above for recent precedent.)

A long story short: Sandy did the right thing, and she should be respected for it. Democrats concerned about moving the city and region forward will work together to re-elect Ford - who has done very well as Mayor and as a champion within the Democratic Party, will work together to support my colleagues and I - and also build momentum for 2006 gubernatorial and state races. Those who attempt to distract us...won't.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

GOP Tax Shell Game

Congress & Bush cut taxes for rich and big business - cut aid to states - increase spending - go into massive debt.
States cannot go into debt, they raise taxes & fees that primarily hurt poor & middle class - cut aid to cities & townships.
Cities face choice of raising taxes or laying off police & fire or gutting services - despite all manner of austerity measures.

The proof is plain to see when looking at the city, state and federal budgets together.

Tonight City Council passed a $450 million 2005 budget that's the tightest in years - we just escaped laying off police and fire, just saved regular garbage pick-up, barely avoided a regressive new garbage tax.

Our budget includes $18 million in revenue from the State's Local Government Fund. Our tax dollars, sent to Columbus, being returned to us to pay for police, fire and essential city work.

Gov. Taft announced today tax reform that a) cuts the state income tax 21% across the board (read: huge tax giveaway to wealthy in Ohio) b) offsets some of that lost revenue with tasty items like a 3% hike on our electric bills and an expaned sales tax c) dramatically reduces taxes businesses pay with the hope/prayer they'll use their windfall to hire people rather than give it to their shareholders d) all but certainly will result in a cut to the Local Gov't Fund, thereby blowing a hole in our City of Toledo 2005 balanced budget. (as of 2/10, looks like 05 level unchanged, 06 to be cut by $3.6 million, if Taft gets way with Legislature.)

And then there is President Bush. Two tax cuts soon kicking in will cost $200 billion over ten years. Their sole beneficiaries: individuals who earn $200,000 and up. (the Pease amendment and the personal exemption phase out) Huge increases that'll go to defense contractors, huge cuts to states and cities, and heartless decisions such as doubling the cost of prescription drugs for our nation's veterans.

If Taft and Bush really wanted to "unleash our economic potential" they would address the number 1 increasing cost factor for businesses - health care. Employer-financed health care has badly damaged competitiveness and profitablity.

We will fight back. Friday I'll be on Capitol Hill to deliver a letter to the Ohio delegation describing the impact of the President's budget on Toledo. In the next few weeks I'll head to Columbus with rep's from Toledo's safety forces and local governments to advocate against a hit to Local Gov't Funds. Mayor Ford and County Commissioner President Skeldon Wozniak spoke tonight at Council recommending a summit here in NW Ohio to flesh out palpable solutions for state legislators.

They could start by sticking up for local police & fire and against another windfall tax giveaway to those who don't need it. Our tax system shouldn't only focus on rewarding "investment" but also reward "work."

(In the past 25 years, the bottom 60% of ohio workers have seen no real hourly wage growth, over the same period, Ohio's top 10% have realized a 19% gain. Give the bottom 60% the income tax cuts - Ohio has already socked them for historic sales tax and college tuition increases, to say nothing of the utility increases approved by the State.)

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Coleman for Ohio

Toledo-born Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman is announcing his run for Ohio Governor today.

Ohio needs his help. Most of Northern Ohio has never recovered from the '01-'02 Bush recession. Credit Mayor Coleman's leadership for the swiftness of Columbus's rebound. We in Toledo don't have the same strength in the service sector, nor the numerous university and state government jobs that have boosted our state capital.

When I was born, Ohio's state and local tax burden ranked 44th out of 50 states. Today we carry the 4th heaviest tax burden in the country. Governor Taft and the GOP dominated legislature have not only authored and passed the biggest tax increases in Ohio history - they and their President have engineered a shifting of the that increased tax burden on to low and middle income Ohioans, slashing taxes for the wealthy and corporations.

Our system of higher education needs dramatic reform - tuition has skyrocketed under Ohio Republicans. Health care has only belatedly earned their attention. And what has over a decade of one party rule brought us? State financial scandals that have humbled GOP leaders in the Ohio House and Senate and forced the GOP State Treasurer to resign. And a fiscal crunch that is forcing legislators to consider draconian cuts, such as to the Local Government Fund which among others things put police, fire and rescue on our streets every day and keeps our public libraries open.

I have a lot of respect for Mike Coleman, and his parents back home here in Toledo. Anyone who seeks to become the first Ohio non-judicial statewide elected Democrat in over 10 years has courage, vision, and a burning desire to rescue our state from its downward spiral.

Look for Mayor Coleman to kick off his campaign here in Toledo sometime in the next few weeks. I'll be there to support him.

Szollosi's Biography

I was born in Toledo, June 4, 1972 to Francis Jr. and Emma Szollosi - and I have a younger brother, Matt. My wife Wednesday and I were married in March 1994 and have a young son, Lucas.

I graduated from Clay High School in 1990, and traveled to Salt Lake City to attend the University of Utah - majoring in Political Science. I spent one year at The George Washington University in Washington D.C. before returning to Utah and graduating in 1994.

For the past 10 years I have worked in public service and as a consultant - in a wide variety of roles:

White House Internship (Office of Political Affairs)
Campaign Manager for Cincinnati City Council Race (Longabaugh '95)
Clinton-Gore Media Team (Squier Knapp Ochs Communications '96)
Campaign Manager for Toledo Mayor (Finkbeiner '97)
Administrator for the City of Toledo Parks & Rec. Dept.
Field Director for Congressional Race (Rothman, NJ-9 '98)
Public Information Officer (Lucas County, Ohio)
Ohio Democratic Coordinated Campaign NW Field Staff ('00)
Congressional Press Secretary (Kaptur, OH-9)
General Consultant for Lucas County, OH Commissioner (Isenberg '02)
General Consultant for Lucas County, OH Commissioner (Skeldon Wozniak '04)
Member of 2004 DNC Platform Committee
Ohio Democratic Party Executive Committee

In January 2003 I was appointed as an At-large member of Toledo City Council, and was elected in a special election in November with roughly 28,500 votes. I plan to seek re-election in 2005 and continue offering communications and consulting services.

My love of public service is inherited. My grandfather, Fritz, earned a Purple Heart in the Navy during WWII, came home to Toledo and rose to Postmaster and then Lucas County Commissioner from 1976 through 1984. My parents both served on Oregon City Council - a Toledo suburb - and my brother Matt has served on Oregon Council since 1999.

Although raised in East Toledo, in the historic Hungarian neighborhood - Birmingham - my family and I now live in South Toledo, along Swan Creek Preserve Metropark. My wife - who I met in Utah, but who was raised in Colorado and Maryland - is an attorney for an area labor law firm. A few years back I joined a national writers union. We attend both St. Stephen and St. Patricks churches here in Toledo. My parents, now divorced, are both public school educators - my mom has been a principal for several years.