While Democrats try to make political hay over what they say is Sen. John McCain's connection to significant job loss in Wilmington, Ohio, politics seems very far from the minds of people in the small town. They are focused on jobs — and fears for the future.
Wilmington, in southwestern Ohio, boasts a college and quick access to cities such as Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus. And until fairly recently, good jobs.
The town's biggest employer, the shipping company DHL, has decided to contract with UPS and close its hub in Wilmington — meaning a loss of up to 10,000 jobs in a place with a population of roughly 12,000 people. The decision followed a merger between DHL and U.S. rival Airborne Express, which had long operated in Wilmington.
That's where the McCain connection comes in. Four years ago, as the then-chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, the Arizona senator helped derail a bill that would have prohibited foreign-owned carriers (such as DHL, which is German-owned) from flying U.S. equipment. The upending of the bill allowed DHL to merge with Airborne. Rick Davis, now the McCain campaign chair — but then a lobbyist working for DHL — pushed for the merger.
But now DHL executives say they expect more than $1.3 billion in losses this year, and the company has no choice but to cut costs.
Saving Jobs Is Paramount
Wilmington is a mostly Republican town, though its mayor, David Raizk, is a Democrat. Raizk says he knows politics are involved, and while he says he has gone out of his way not to get caught up in that, saving jobs is paramount.
"Any kind of attention that we can draw, I think, is good for us," Raizk says. "Because the more that we keep this story on Page One, the more that we can get the help that we need to turn this around."
Raizk suggests he'd go to the devil himself if Satan knew anyone at DHL.
"If anybody has an asset, a connection, anything," Raizk says. "I don't care who it is, if Vladimir Putin knows the chairman and says, 'I'll make a phone call for you,' absolutely, Vladimir, you do it. And that's the way I feel about this."
DHL's executive vice president for corporate public policy, Wolfgang Pordzik, says the company's decision to contract with UPS and shut the Wilmington hub was tough.
"Nobody within DHL has taken this decision lightly," Pordzik says. "We have thought about it long and hard. There's no alternative left. If we want to maintain 40,000 jobs in the United States, within the DHL family, we ought to do all we can to make this deal work."
Deanna Liermann works for ABX, a contractor for DHL. Her husband, Bill, lost his job at the local General Motors dealership six weeks ago. Now Deanna expects to lose her job. Talking over breakfast at the local Bob Evans, Liermann says this will hit her family hard.
"I've carried the insurance in the family for over 27 years," Liermann says. "So now, I'm looking to make sure my husband gets insurance in whatever job that he gets. It could be devastating for our family budget, very much so."
Residents Blame DHL
The Obama campaign as well as the Democratic National Committee has tried to connect McCain and Davis to the decision to lay off jobs in Wilmington. Both have run ads critical of the two men.
But it's hard to find anybody in Wilmington who blames McCain in all this. Most point the finger at DHL and say they feel betrayed by the company's decision.
Randy Riley, a Clinton County commissioner, says Wilmington's first mistake was putting too many eggs in DHL's basket.
"If I could snap my fingers and redevelop the air park, I would never want to have one employer who has 10,000 employees," Riley says. "I would much rather have 20 employers that have 500 employees each to get 10,000 employees."
Raizk says DHL's decision is going to have a devastating impact on Wilmington. "These jobs are just going to disappear if this goes through," he says. "When a foreign-owned company can come to the community and literally rip the fabric of it in two, it's very difficult. And how do we prepare for that?"
Raizk has met with both McCain and Barack Obama. He says he hopes they make good on their promise of congressional hearings.
Gary Scott is a reporter for member station WMUB in Oxford, Ohio.