Ernie Tarle, the only politician recalled in Akron, is seeking redemption.
He hopes Akron voters will forgive his past and return him to office.
''I love this city,'' an emotional Tarle said in a recent interview at New Era restaurant. ''I love helping people. I believe the best thing I can do with my life is to serve.''
Tarle plans to file petitions to run for Akron City Council today — the filing deadline for local races in five Summit County cities. He reflected on his stormy political past, what he has been doing since then — including going from making a ''Rags to Riches'' infomercial to facing liens and foreclosures totaling nearly $650,000 — and his decision to break a promise to his mother and return to politics.
Tarle faces a tough challenge in his bid for the Ward 6 council seat, which will be open because Terry Albanese is running for an at-large seat. Bob Otterman will come out of retirement to try to win back the ward seat he held before going to the state legislature. (John Otterman, his son, also a former Ward 6 councilman, now holds the House seat.)
Wayne Kartler, who nearly defeated Albanese in the last election, also is expected to run.
''I've got a huge mountain to climb,'' said Tarle, 44, who is working as a contractor. ''I will not pretend this is my race. This campaign for me is an exercise in faith. If they choose to go with me, it will be a truly wonderful thing in my life.''
'Rat pack' member
Tarle earned a reputation as a maverick on council, even before his infamous recall.
Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic deemed a group that included Tarle and former Councilman Warner Mendenhall, who led the unsuccessful mayoral recall effort, ''the rat pack.'' He once called Tarle ''a snake.''
Tarle, who served one term representing Ward 5 then was elected Ward 7 councilman in 1997, claims the incident that got him recalled was blown out of proportion. He does admit to using bad judgment.
In March 1998, Tarle was approached by Michael Lampers Jr., who represented a company seeking council approval that night for an oil and gas well in West Akron. Lampers asked Tarle to give an envelope to Mike Parsons, Tarle's friend and a fellow councilman.
Tarle gave the envelope to Parsons as they entered the men's restroom outside council chambers. Parsons opened the envelope, saw four $100 bills, and stomped into the chambers, where he threw the envelope at Lampers and told him he couldn't ''be bought.''
What followed were bribery indictments against Tarle, Lampers, and his father, Michael Lampers Sr., who worked for the same company and had assembled the envelope's contents.
Tarle said from the beginning that he hadn't tried to bribe Parsons. He said he didn't even know what was in the envelope, but figured Lampers was making good on a promise to give Parsons a campaign contribution.
''The timing was awful — obviously,'' Tarle said.
David Reymann, who had lost to Tarle in the Ward 7 council race, launched a recall campaign.
''I thought he was nothing but a crook,'' said Reymann, who also claimed Tarle tried to bribe him into dropping out of the Ward 7 race.
Akron residents voted 3,065 to 1,955 to recall Tarle.
About three weeks later, a jury found Tarle not guilty of two bribery charges. Lampers Sr. pleaded to a lesser charge of making an illegal campaign contribution and the charge against his son was dropped.
Tarle ran in a special primary in January 1999, hoping to regain his council seat. He lost.
(Voters later changed the charter so that a politician who is recalled can't run for his or her unexpired term.)
Tarle thinks he might have beaten the recall if his trial had been before the vote.
Reymann, however, argues Tarle deserved the boot.
''Just because he was acquitted, doesn't mean he wasn't guilty,'' he said.
Real estate career
When Tarle lost, he promised his mother — and the public — he was done with politics.
He said he prayed, meditated and decided he needed to make a million dollars.
Tarle, who had worked as a house painter, entered the world of real estate. He bought houses, fixed them and resold them.
Within 31/2 years, Tarle said he had reached his goal — a net worth, at least on paper, of $1 million. He offered to share his real estate prowess with the masses in a ''Rags to Riches'' Web site and infomercial.
''Ernie Tarle made over $1,000,000 in just over three years starting with almost nothing,'' proclaimed the site, which is still on the Web. ''He did it by buying and selling houses in a depressed market [Akron, Ohio] and now he's ready to share his secrets with you.''
People could try Tarle's Rags to Riches system for 30 days for only $9.95. That included a manual, a CD, a contract workbook and several gifts.
Tarle said the effort, which lasted about a week, was a bust, coming as the real estate market was taking a nose dive. He said he became a victim of the real estate crash when an investment in a Destin, Fla., development fell through.
Tarle said he lost everything — the land, his $514,000 Florida house, which is now in foreclosure, and his million dollars.
In 2007, he returned to Akron with bad credit, about $243,000 in bank liens and hopes for a fresh start.
Returning to politics
Tarle said President Barack Obama's campaign spurred his return to politics.
''I thought, maybe people are ready for change,'' said Tarle, who has been fixing houses, managing rentals and working on paying his debts. ''Maybe they'll forgive me for this foolish 60 seconds of my life.''
Tarle, whose mother initially wasn't thrilled with his decision, thinks politics is in his blood.
The reaction to Tarle's comeback attempt has been mixed.
''I don't know how he expects people to take him seriously,'' said Albanese, who hadn't planned to run at all but pulled petitions Wednesday for at-large.
''I don't know what he's trying to pull,'' said Reymann, who plans to make another bid for the Ward 7 council spot. ''He's no good for Akron.''
Interestingly, Tarle was opposed to the recall of Plusquellic, despite their stormy past. He said he ''felt for him.''
''I believe he's a good man and has the best intentions for Akron,'' Tarle said of the mayor. ''He has fallen short of grace, as I have.''
Mendenhall said Tarle has a right to his own opinion on the recall and to make an attempt at a comeback. He predicted Tarle would be a hard worker.
''He is the best door-to-door campaigner I know,'' Mendenhall said. ''He would be very attentive to Ward 6 and its needs.''
Tarle, who said he'll fund his own campaign, estimates he has knocked on 3,000 doors since last summer. He hopes to hit 6,000 by the Sept. 8 primary.
On a recent evening, Tarle visited 14 homes on Malasia Road in an hour. At three houses, he convinced residents to display his yard signs. At homes where no one answered, he left pamphlets with something politicians often are reluctant to provide: his home phone number.
Tarle told several voters, ''I believe in a government that listens to people like us.''
He complimented a woman on her new hairdo, called another man handsome and told 75-year-old Barbara Stevic that she was ''looking good.''
''I'll vote for you,'' Stevic told Tarle after hearing his brief pitch.
Stevic called herself ''a strong Democrat.''
''I've been into all kinds of trouble,'' she said, chuckling.
''You and me both,'' said the smiling Tarle, who didn't mention his recall.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.