TOLEDO, Ohio — Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz held a press conference Wednesday afternoon, calling for the resignation of four city council members accused of bribery and extortion.
Democratic council members Larry Sykes (At-Large), Yvonne Harper (District 4), Gary Johnson (At-Large) and Tyrone Riley (District 1), as well as local attorney Keith Mitchell, are all mentioned in the complaint for their role in an alleged bribes-for-votes scandal that dates back to 2013.
The scheme allegedly encouraged soliciting and/or accepting cash, checks, money orders or other things of value from local business owners in exchange for the council members' votes. Mitchell is accused of funneling the bribes for Harper.
Here's a look at what was discussed at Wednesday's presser:
CALL FOR RESIGNATION
Kapszukiewicz opened the conference by discussing his own road into politics, saying he believed that "the good that can be done if you get involved in public life for the right reasons is immeasurable."
He said that just as he believes the overwhelming majority of police are good and honest, he is sure that most people in public life are good people who do it for the right reasons. However, just as a few high-profile examples have tainted positions of policing and priesthood, the high-profile examples of wrongdoing in the profession of government work also serves to taint everyone who has dedicated their lives to public service.
"Part of what is so upsetting about what happened yesterday, is that it allows people to think that everyone in public life, that every government official is engaged in inappropriate behavior, and that is absolutely not the case," he said.
Kapszukiewicz said that because of this, and a number of other conversations that occurred over the past 24 hours, he has decided to call on all four members of council to resign.
The chairman of both Lucas County parties, as well as the chairman of Toledo City Council have also called on these council members to step down.
"All we have is trust, certainly in my line of work. Government relies on trust. Government relies on the consent of the governed. And when there has been a breach of public trust, and when the consent of the governed is gone, then good government can't happen," Kapszukiewicz said.
He said that his call for resignation is not a legal indictment and that everyone involved has a right to due process. He made note that this is not inconsistent with his belief they should step down, however.
"Even suspicion or the perception of wrongdoing is enough to threaten the good work that government has the ability to accomplish," Kapszukiewicz said.
The mayor said his administration was stunned that anything like this was happening in the city, even saying when he received the phone call at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday he thought it was some sort of a joke.
He then got a second call from the local FBI director around 10:10 a.m. and started seeing it on the news soon after.
Kapszukiewicz said the overall feeling at first was sadness, before changing to anger. He was briefly at a loss for words, before he reiterating the good that city government can do when joined for the right reasons.
While the situation is sad and shocking, Kapszukiewicz said that this is not part of the culture of Toledo, and he welcomes any scrutiny that may follow.
"I don't know what the future is going to hold. I'm sure that there will be additional scrutiny on how government operations work and I welcome it, and we should want it. And as tough as the scrutiny might be, we will have a better government for it," he said.
Kapszukiewicz said it is unlikely the accused will be on council for very long, predicting we will have a number of new members joining in the near future.
He hopes to use this opportunity to continue diversifying Toledo City Council.
Watch the full press conference below:
INITIAL STATEMENT FOLLOWING ARRESTS
In addition to Wednesday's presser, Kapszukiewicz did make an immediate statement following the arrests on Tuesday. He told Toledoans Wednesday that he wrote that statement yesterday in his car, saying he wanted to think carefully about what he was saying.
Kapszukiewicz called the rest of the day "surreal."
Tuesday's statement reads as follows:
“I am shocked and heartbroken by today’s arrests. This is a terrible day for Toledo — and for everyone who believes in the good that can be accomplished through public service.
I was inspired to run for public office by a Catholic priest, Fr. Timothy O’Brien, who impressed upon me the benefits of a life dedicated to serving the public good. Because of his mentorship, I have no tolerance for public officials who abuse the trust of the citizens. One of the reasons Toledo has seen relatively little political corruption, historically, is because the public doesn’t tolerate it either.
These members of Council are entitled to their day in court, and they should be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. I encourage all Toledoans to say a prayer for our city and for the hope that justice will be done in this case.”
If convicted, the council members could face 10 years in prison for bribery and 20 years for extortion.