One week ago, Joe Wurzelbacher was just another working man living in a modest house outside Toledo, Ohio, and thinking about how to buy the plumbing business where he works. But when he stopped Senator Barack Obama during a visit to his block last weekend to complain about taxes, he set himself on a path to becoming America’s newest media celebrity — and as such suddenly found himself facing celebrity-level scrutiny.
As it turns out, Joe the Plumber, as he became nationally known when Senator John McCain made him a theme at Wednesday’s final presidential debate, may work in the plumbing business, but he is not a licensed plumber.
Thomas Joseph, the business manager of Local 50 of the United Association of Plumbers, Steamfitters and Service Mechanics, based in Toledo, said Thursday that Mr. Wurzelbacher had NEVER held a plumber’s license, which is required in Toledo and several surrounding municipalities.
He also never completed an apprenticeship and does not belong to the plumber’s union, which has endorsed Mr. Obama.
On Thursday, he acknowledged that he does plumbing work even though he does not have a license.
His full name is Samuel J. Wurzelbacher. And he owes back taxes, too, public records show.
The premise of his complaint to Mr. Obama about taxes may also be flawed, according to tax analysts. Contrary to what Mr. Wurzelbacher asserted and Mr. McCain echoed, neither his personal taxes nor those of the business where he works are likely to rise if Mr. Obama’s tax plan were to go into effect, they said.
None of that is likely to matter to those who see Mr. Wurzelbacher as a symbol of the entrepreneurial spirit they hope to foster with tax cuts, but even Mr. Wurzelbacher said he was shocked by all the attention.
“I’m kind of like Britney Spears having a headache,” he told The Associated Press on Thursday. “Everybody wants to know about it.”
Just five days ago, Mr. Wurzelbacher, 34, lived in anonymity in Holland, Ohio, a single father who, as he said on national television, worked all day and came home to fix dinner and help his son, 13, with his homework.
But he became the hero of conservatives and Republicans when he stopped Mr. Obama, who was campaigning on his street, and asked whether he believed in the American dream. Mr. Wurzelbacher said he was concerned about having to pay higher taxes as an owner of a small business.
“I’m getting ready to buy a company that makes $250,000 to $280,000 a year,” he told Mr. Obama. “Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn’t it?”
That encounter wound up on YouTube and led to appearances on the Fox News Channel, interviews with conservative bloggers and a New York Post editorial, all of whom seized on a small part of Mr. Obama’s long reply. “I think that when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody,” Mr. Obama had said.
Mr. McCain invoked Mr. Wurzelbacher in Wednesday’s debate as a way to criticize Mr. Obama’s tax plan and wealth-sharing argument, and picked up the theme again on Thursday.
“You know what Senator Obama had to say to Joe? That he wanted to spread his wealth around,” Mr. McCain said at an event in Downingtown, Pa. “America didn’t become the greatest nation on earth by spreading the wealth,” he said. “We became the greatest nation by creating new wealth.”
After some version of “Joe the Plumber” was mentioned two dozen times during the debate, Mr. Wurzelbacher found news crews outside his home and Katie Couric on the phone.
Mr. Wurzelbacher told reporters that the company he works for, Newell Plumbing & Heating, has two full-time employees: himself and the owner, Al Newell.
Neither Mr. Newell nor Mr. Wurzelbacher responded to telephone calls.
And Mr. Wurzelbacher has provided only vague information on his and the company’s finances since talking to Mr. Obama.
But if the plumbing business remained a two-person company and the net proceeds — after deductions for business expenses — were shared by the two men, both incomes would most likely fall well BELOW the top tax brackets on which Mr. Obama wants to raise rates, as would the company itself.
Both, in fact, would probably be eligible for a tax cut, said Bob Williams, senior research associate at the independent, nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, though the cut would probably be greater under Mr. McCain’s tax plan than Mr. Obama’s.
According to public records, Mr. Wurzelbacher has been subject to two liens, each over $1,100. One, with a hospital, has been settled, but a tax lien with the State of Ohio is still outstanding.
In his interview with Ms. Couric, Mr. Wurzelbacher, who voted Republican in Ohio’s March primary, said that his encounter with Mr. Obama had been prompted by his desire “to ask one of these guys a question, and really corner them and get them to answer a question for once instead of tap dancing around it. And unfortunately I asked the question, but I still got a tap dance.”
He added, “He was almost as good as Sammy Davis Jr.”
Saturday, October 18, 2008