Supporters of a Sandusky attorney running for municipal judge said they will stand up to a "threat" and "harassment" from the leader of the Erie County Democratic Party.
The Committee to Elect Heather Love Carman for Municipal Judge claimed Thursday Amy Grubbe, chairwoman of the Erie County Democratic Party, crossed the line when she left a message May 30 at Second Baptist Church warning the church it could lose its tax-exempt status by letting Carman hold an event at the church.
Grubbe fired back, saying it was a "publicity stunt" and a "really, really low blow" for the Carman campaign to suddenly complain about a phone call she made several weeks ago. Grubbe said she merely made a courtesy call to pass on complaints about the church.
"All they're looking for is free publicity by sticking my name in there and my title," said Grubbe, who said she was "truly disgusted."
Carman, a Sandusky attorney, is running for Sandusky municipal judge as an independent. She'll square off in the fall against Democrat Erich J. O'Brien, the incumbent, and Republican Michael D. Kaufman. Carman could not be reached for comment Thursday.
According to a transcript of Grubbe's phone message supplied by Jerry Garrett, co-chairman of Carman's election campaign, Grubbe left a phone message for church pastor W. Benson Stephens and said she'd received several phone calls during the last couple of weeks complaining about a fund-raiser for Carman at the church.
Grubbe said several people "are interested in calling down to Columbus" about the church's alleged violation of its nonprofit status.
"I'm once again being the messenger and giving you a heads-up," Grubbe said, according to the transcript.
A copy of the recording was not immediately available. Garrett said he would try to obtain a copy for the Sandusky Register.
Garrett issued a statement Thursday saying the phone call was a "threat."
Carman's election committee "regrets that these kinds of tactics are being used in an attempt to intimidate and harass an institution that is a pillar of the Sandusky community," Garrett's statement said.
Garrett said Thursday the Carman campaign waited until now to publicize the phone call because it wanted to check all of the facts and make sure the church was within the law.
Second Baptist Church has existed for 158 years and was a station on the Underground Railroad. The church has a long-standing policy of letting any candidate, regardless of political affiliation, speak at the church and on the church's Sunday morning broadcast, Garrett and Stephens said Thursday.
"We have an open-door policy here," Stephens said.
Because of that policy, it's "ludicrous" to claim the church has violated any rules, Garrett said.
Asked what he thought of his phone message, Stephens said, "To tell you the truth, I didn't listen to it. I cut it off."
Grubbe said Garrett's explanation for bringing the matter up Thursday was "baloney."
She said when she called the church, she was told the church already had looked into the matter.
The press release from Garrett is "a situation that's being created," Grubbe said.
"This is exactly what her campaign was looking for, as far as getting her name and her campaign free publicity. I think that's really, really a low blow."