Long-time Republican officeholder Larry Kaczala passed away June 5.
I don't remember when I first met Larry. It could have been when I marched down to Republican Party headquarters in the late '80s because I was mad at my state rep. Or it could have been at a Young Republican Club meeting - or perhaps a central committee meeting. Which Republican function isn't really important, just that it was about 20 years ago and it was a Republican function.
He was a bit older than me, and some of the other YRs I was working with - but that never seemed to be an issue, except when he bragged, later on, that he was 'too old' to actually be a 'young republican' anymore. He seemed to enjoy telling us that.
I know that in 1991 I distributed literature for him in my precinct when he ran for Toledo City Council. I remember celebrating his success on election night as it was a major accomplishment for Republicans.
I also remember the discussion at the central committee meeting in 1993 when we needed to replace David Lewandowski as the county auditor due to his election as judge. While there were some other names being floated for the appointment, the clear and obvious choice was Larry. And he promised to put his obligation to the people of Lucas County first as he served - and to run hard to keep the office. Two things he did throughout his time there.
For the next 10 years, he was the only non-judicial county-wide Republican office holder. While he enjoyed the distinction, he would also say it was very lonely and he wanted company.
As the auditor, his motto was 'We're in the business of providing a government service." And he lived that philosophy, instilling it into his staff and the expectations of the public.
He won so many awards as auditor that I don't think they can even be listed. He gave lectures nationally and internationally about his methods and accomplishments as auditor. The modernization of the office and the electronic access to information was 'revolutionary' when it came to a government office. His AREIS system and the GIS programs are still the standard others aspire to. Even after losing election to Anita Lopez, the computerization he put in place still continued as Anita embraced the next planned improvement of the 'levy estimator' tool Larry had been developing. Larry was the go-to person across the state and in many areas of the nation when auditors wanted advice or guidance in making their offices more responsive and accountable to the public.
When I was elected as county commissioner, Larry told me it was now 'the two of us against the world.' It was nice to know that I would always have a friend to turn to in the complicated and often hostile world of county politics.
Larry and I were not without our disagreements, which is certainly to be expected. The two of us had strong beliefs, firm principles, but different ways of doing things. Disagreements are not bad things and they didn't hamper our relationship - though I do recall a meeting between the two of us at the round table in former party chairman Jim Brennan's kitchen to sort out some rumors that were going around. As it turned out, that meeting gave each of us a renewed opportunity to help the other - after all, there weren't that many elected Republicans that we could afford to let rumors spread by our enemies come between us.
And it strengthened our friendship and trust to know that we had each other's back in the political world. While that is something I always appreciated and valued, it really wasn't what I remember most about Larry.
What I remember most when thinking of him is his portrayal of 'The Great Karnak.' For those of you not familiar with the character, it was a skit that Johnny Carson did and Larry duplicated for the LCRP's dinner/talent show. Being someone who has a hard time telling a joke correctly, I marvelled at Larry's talent and humor - and his wonderful sense of timing and wit.
He knew how to be funny and always managed to incorporate local people and situations into that humor. He was an oft-requested speaker because of this talent, especially when people were looking for someone of Larry's stature but for a 'lighter' presentation.
Larry had a reputation for being responsive to his constituents and solicitous to his friends. Unlike some of the elected officials I worked with over the years, your party affiliation never mattered to Larry when you needed something from his office. He did truly live his office motto of providing service - both in his office and his personal life.
His donation of a kidney to his sister was well-known. But it wasn't just his sister he helped. He often led the Kidney Foundation's lollipop sale, taking advantage of his standing as a elected official to bring attention to their efforts and their fundraising.
And when one of his friends or fellow Republicans needed help or advice, he was there. Several times as a commissioner, when the politics of the office were really irritating me and I felt like I needed to be in what I considered a 'friendly' place, I'd call him and ask if I could come down and see him for a moment. He always said yes.
So I'd go down a couple of floors and sit in his office for a few minutes. He'd tell a couple of jokes or we'd talk about something of no real consequence - though we both knew the topic wasn't really the point. Then I'd take a deep breath, he'd give me that 'I know' look, and I'd head back upstairs to my office.
In light of what happened, I'm now wondering where his refuge was...
Much has been said and written about Larry's career since 2004 when he decided to challenge Marcy Kaptur for Congress. Because of Larry's prior successes and how well-liked he was, expectations were so high for his campaign. He got sick during that effort and wasn't able to campaign as he would have liked and lost, though so many of us thought that losing to Marcy with her reputation and district demographics was certainly not something to be embarrassed about.
But then he lost his re-election as auditor to Anita Lopez in 2006. I think he believed he was going to win, considering his past elections. But politics is a fickle thing and more than just the person often comes into play. Timing is sometimes more critical than skills or experience and that was the case in 2006.
I understand his frustration with being considered an 'associate' of Tom Noe. Too many people and businesses within the sphere of influence (what's left of it anyway) of the Blade just didn't want to risk having anything to do with anyone even remotely affiliated with Tom for fear of the headlines it would bring and the negative attention the paper would direct to them. Even in death, the paper couldn't resist the reference, so you can understand why businesses might have such a concern.
Larry had hoped to be appointed to a judicial vacancy, but for whatever reasons, that did not occur. In 2007, he did something he always criticized others for - ran against the appointed Republican for a seat on the Toledo Municipal Court. While I don't think that counted too much against him in the results, it probably did a bit and he lost that race as well.
I have no idea what Larry was dealing with over the last several years. Having experience with family members and friends who have suffered from depression, I know it's a hideous illness that hurts the family as well as the individual. I don't know if that was Larry's struggle, but considering all he went through, it would not surprise me if it was at least part of the issues he was facing.
And if it was, his family and friends are not only suffering from his loss, but questioning themselves about anything they might have done to prevent it - making this time even more difficult for them, so please pray for their peace of mind as you consider them in their mourning.
Larry was a good man.
He was a leader. He encouraged younger people both professionally and politically. He bore the standard of the Republican Party with pride and devotion to the core principles. He was inclusive, embracing individuals who shared a majority of those principles, even if they might disagree on a few. He took seriously his standing as a county elected official and his obligation to abide by a higher standard of conduct because of that position.
He was rarely without his wife, Gina, who clearly supported him as much as she loved him. They were often arm-in-arm at events and functions. Having a spouse as supportive, I cannot even remotely imagine what she must be going through, though my prayers are certainly with her and the rest of Larry's family.
So as we await the announcement of the arrangements for his services, I will remember him in the best of ways - as a friend and excellent role model.
And I will be forever grateful that Lucas County was blessed with such a devoted public servant who cared enough to devote his life to making this a better place.