October 2, 2014

Elyria
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GOP underdog Baxter hits the streets to get word out

Tim Baxter is running for mayor. And walking.

All over the city. With little money or support in a traditionally Democratic city, the Republican Baxter is waging an uphill, guerilla campaign rotating pairs of shoes like tires as he walks Lorain’s neighborhoods, sticking leaflets on doors and talking himself up to voters.

“We’re going to lower the sewer and water rates right away,” Baxter told a disinterested West Erie Avenue resident Monday.

“OK,” said the man, never pausing to look up as he washed his car in his driveway.

“The apathy’s just dripping off everybody and believe me, I know what they (feel),” Baxter said as he moved on to the next home. “That’s why I’m running.”

While Democratic opponent Chase Ritenauer said he spent about $44,000 defeating incumbent Mayor Tony Krasienko in the primary and has raised up to $20,000 since then, Baxter said he’s received $3,000 to $4,000 in donations and has spent $15,000 to $20,000 of his own money.

A Class III wastewater treatment operator, Baxter left his job at the Springfield wastewater treatment plant in August to campaign, vowing to walk through every neighborhood in Lorain. Last Sunday, he put up signs near City Hall in a steady downpour. But mostly he places fliers on doors.

Baxter, 55, said he realized early on that knocking on doors or ringing doorbells to converse with residents slowed him down. Instead, he makes his raspy-voiced pitch — Baxter is a throat cancer survivor — to residents outside their houses or to anyone he encounters on the street.

“I think I’ve got a handle on what’s going on around here,” Baxter told resident Brent Susanjar at the intersection of North Lakeview Boulevard and West Second Street. “We don’t deliver very good services in this city, and we charge too much money.”

Susanjar, a 27-year-old student teacher, said he’s a registered Democrat but would consider voting for Baxter.

“There’s so much crime out there and everything else,” Susanjar told Baxter. “Somebody just needs to step in and take control.”

While some residents have been apathetic, Baxter said many have been positive like Susanjar. They include several 18-year-olds who Baxter said promised to register to vote after meeting him. Like most political underdogs, Baxter has made bold campaign promises.

If elected, he vows to cut his salary by 40 percent. Baxter would be eligible to earn $108,761 annually. Krasienko is eligible to earn $105,506, but has chosen to keep his salary at $96,553, the rate he made when he took office in 2008.

Baxter would combine the service director and safety director positions into one job and eliminate two assistant service director positions. The positions would be replaced by a part-time, 10-person committee of retired city workers or interested citizens earning $6,000 annually.

Baxter said the changes would save about $250,000 annually.

Baxter, who previously worked for Lorain’s Utilities Department and at the Black River Wastewater Treatment Plant, would shut the Philip Q. Maiorana Wastewater Treatment Plant, which he estimated would save between $500,000 to $1 million annually. Ritenauer said closing the plant could cause the city to break state and federal clean water laws.

Baxter said he quit working in Lorain for Springfield because Ritenauer — then an assistant safety/service director in Lorain — and Utilities Division Director Corey Timko were unsupportive of him. Baxter said they rejected cost saving ideas from an outside worker’s compensation group Baxter recommended while he was a member of a citywide worker safety group. The ideas included prospective workers taking lung tests to decrease worker’s compensation costs.

“That’s patently false,” Timko said. “I started the initial lung testing.”

Ritenauer said Baxter had good intentions, but ventured outside his job description.

“I didn’t formally discipline him, (but) I had a discussion with him he did not like,” Ritenauer said. “From then on, he didn’t like me.”

Baxter said his decision to try to return to city government as an elected official is to implement transparency that he says it lacked while he was a city employee. Baxter said he owes it to city taxpayers who helped pay for his cancer treatment.

“I’m just hoping that the people have had enough and they want something different,” Baxter said. “Things have got to change.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.