WARREN - Comments by Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel during Monday's U.S. Senate debate did little to help him gain ground on his opponent with local autoworkers nor with officials from the Delphi Salaried Retirees group.
Mandel, the Republican candidate facing off against Democratic incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown, made it clear during Monday's debate that he would not have supported the auto industry bailout.
Brown has made his support of the auto bailout a central part of his campaign, saying it helped 800,000 people in the state who work in auto-related jobs. Up until now, Mandel had refused to say whether he would have gone against keeping General Motors Co. and Chrysler LLC afloat.
Mandel, elected Ohio's state treasurer two years ago, said Monday that while he supports policies that help the auto industry, he could not have supported the bailout because it also meant the loss of pensions for non-union employees at Delphi Corp., a former General Motors subsidiary, and the loss of jobs for mechanics and salespeople at car dealerships that were forced to close.
"I'm not a bailout senator. He's the bailout senator," Mandel said.
''Let's be perfectly clear,'' United Auto Workers Local 1112 president Glenn Johnson said in response to Monday's debate. ''What happened to the Delphi salaried workers nobody likes, but if President Obama wouldn't have done what he did, the auto industry wouldn't be where it is today.''
Johnson and United Auto Workers Local 1714 President Dave Green called Mandel's comments elusive, and Green accused the candidate of playing up to the audience.
Delphi retiree Bruce Gump, chairman of the Warren Legislative Committee, maintained his ongoing fight to regain the pension benefits lost following the bailout, but noted his retiree organization does not back any political candidate.
''Mr. Mandel is using the retrospect because he can see it ended in an unfair manner,'' Gump said.
He was clear to point out that he also agrees with Brown's position, saying Brown has been a good friend to the retirees' group in their fight to win back their full pensions.
''He (Brown) also agrees with Mr. Mandel that the treatment was inappropriate and needs to be corrected.''
Last month, Brown introduced legislation that would restore the full pensions of Delphi salaried retirees.
The bill would transfer certain proceeds from the sale of government stock of General Motors to a fund at the U.S. Treasury Department that would supplement payment to about 20,000 Delphi retirees, about 1,500 locally, after the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation took over Delphi's pension plans. They had lost up to 70 percent of their pensions during the recovery of the American auto industry. The salaried retirees are the only large group of former employees whose pensions were not protected.
''If Mandel is that opposed (to the auto industry bailout), then hundreds of thousands of UAW retirees would have lost their pensions as well. Now he is saying it's the wrong thing to do. He's playing to a specific audience,'' Green added.
During the debate, Brown said that opposing the auto rescue "just boggles my mind," noting how so many auto assembly and parts plants were located in Ohio. "These are real jobs and real people," he said.
The government sent $62 billion in tax dollars to the two automakers in 2008 and 2009 amid concerns that they were about to shut down and sink the economy.