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AK’s Wardrop critical of Taft in letter

By Eric Robinette, Journal Staff Writer, E-mail:

In a tersely worded letter, AK Steel Corp. CEO Richard Wardrop has criticized Gov. Bob Taft for “endorsing” a competitor’s steel to one of AK’s longtime customers.

Taft’s administration may be moving quickly to address Wardrop, but AK officials apparently remain none too pleased.

In the letter, dated Thursday and released to The Journal Friday by AK, Wardrop wrote, “It was inconsiderate and thoughtless of you to endorse a competitor’s steel over ours. At the least, it shows a true lack of understanding and support for the men and women of AK Steel in Ohio. ...”

At issue was Taft’s trade mission to Mexico last month, when he visited Lithonia Lighting in Monterrey, with a representative of ISG Steel of Cleveland, one of AK’s competitors.

Wrote Wardrop: “But this wasn’t just any sales call, Mr. Governor, because Lithonia happens to be one of AK Steel’s most important and longtime customers, and we’ve served their Monterrey plant for years. ... By accompanying a representative of our competitor to a meeting with one (of) our established Mexican customers, you have endorsed their steel over ours.”

Taft’s press secretary, Orest Holubec, said Friday he had seen the letter but Taft had not, although the governor would “absolutely” respond to the letter.

Holubec contacted The Journal later in the day to say that when Taft went to Mexico, he was not aware that AK was a supplier of Lithonia Lighting, and Taft would tell Lithonia that AK was the primary supplier.

Holubec also said that Taft would phone Wardrop to explain the situation.

AK’s vice president of public affairs, Alan McCoy, responded, “I don’t think it changes our opinion that this administration is not in tune with AK or its employees.”

In the letter, Wardrop takes Taft to task for pledging $12 million in taxpayer money to bail out West Virginia-based Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel, while West Virginia allowed another bankrupt steel company, Weirton Steel, to exceed water pollution standards.

Meanwhile, Wardrop wrote, Taft’s administration continues to pursue AK “over minor alleged pollution issues dating back to the 1980s and continues to seek millions in fines from us.”

McCoy said Taft’s actions were especially troubling in light of the fact that AK has considered shutting down the hot end of Middletown Works because it would be too expensive to meet environmental regulations. If that happens, some 1,000 jobs might be lost, McCoy has said.

The letter concludes: “When is your administration going to stop poking a stick into the eyes of AK Steel employees and their families in Middletown and across Ohio? Or should our Middletown Works employees conclude that your administration is only concerned about out-of-state or bankrupt steel companies?”

McCoy said that AK had tried to contact the governor’s office on this matter previously and received no response.

He also said the issues about the governor and bankrupt steel companies stem from the fact that AK was the lone company that opposed tariffs passed last year that froze free market forces and kept bankrupt steel companies afloat, freezing off imports and dropping the price of steel.

State Sen. Scott Nein, R-Middletown, aware of the letter, on Friday said he has “made it clear” in Columbus that he didn’t think it was right for the administration to support, or appear to support, one steel business at the expense of another.

“It’s disturbing to me, but there were a lot of points raised in that letter,” Nein said.

When asked what he thought Wardrop’s letter might accomplish, McCoy said, “I would hope the Taft administration would reflect carefully on the impact its actions have on 6,000 employees we have in Ohio.”

Published 06.07.03



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