HOLLAND, Ohio - Joe the Plumber's story sprang a few leaks yesterday.
Turns out the man held up by John McCain as the typical, hardworking American taxpayer isn't really a licensed plumber. And court documents show he owes nearly $1,200 in back taxes. "Joe," whose name is Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, was cited repeatedly in Wednesday night's final presidential debate by McCain for questioning Barack Obama's tax policy.
Wurzelbacher instantly became a media celebrity, fielding calls during the debate and facing reporters outside his home near Toledo yesterday morning for an impromptu nationally televised news conference.
The burly, bald man acknowledged he doesn't have a plumber's license, but said he didn't need one because he works for someone else who is licensed at a company that does residential work.
But Wurzelbacher still would need to be a licensed apprentice or journeyman to work in Toledo, and he's not, said David Golis, manager and residential building official for the Toledo Division of Building Inspection.
State and local records show Wurzelbacher, 34, has no license, although his employer does. Golis said there are no records of inspectors citing Wurzelbacher for unlicensed work in Toledo.
And then there was the matter of his taxes. Wurzelbacher owes the state of Ohio $1,182.98 in personal income tax, according to Lucas County Court of Common Pleas records. In January 2007, Ohio's Department of Taxation filed a claim on his property until he pays the debt, according to the records. The lien remains active.
At the debate, McCain cited Wurzelbacher because he had complained to Obama in a neighborhood visit to Toledo earlier this week that if he was ever able to make $250,000 from a plumbing business, Obama's tax plan would hurt him.
While he wouldn't disclose his current income, 2006 divorce records show at that time he was making $40,000 - which would make him eligible for a tax cut under the Obama plan.
During an afternoon taping of "Late Show with David Letterman," McCain said he had not yet spoken to Wurzelbacher, and apologized for the media attention he had received. "Joe, if you're watching, I'm sorry," McCain said.
Wurzelbacher faced about two dozen reporters outside his home. No detail about the divorced father of a 13-year-old boy was too small: Was he a registered voter? Did he have a plumbing license? Whom will he vote for? Wurzelbacher at first was amused by it all, then overwhelmed and finally a little annoyed. "I don't have a lot of pull. It's not like I'm Matt Damon," he said. "I just hope I'm not making too much of a fool of myself."
He wouldn't say who will get his vote, but the county elections board said he is registered as a Republican, because he voted in the GOP primary in March.
Wurzelbacher said a McCain campaign official contacted him several days before the debate to ask him to appear with the candidate at a Toledo rally scheduled for Sunday. He told reporters he's unsure if he'll attend, since he's now scheduled to be in New York for TV interviews.
Saga of Joe the Plumber
OCT. 12. Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, a self-described conservative, spoke to Barack Obama at a rally near his home in suburban Toledo and asked Obama whether his tax plan would keep him from buying the business that currently employs him, which earns more than $250,000 a year. "Your new tax plan is going to tax me more, isn't it?" Wurzelbacher asked. Obama said under his proposal, taxes on any small business income from $250,000 on down would stay the same, but amounts above that level would be subject to a 39 percent tax, instead of the current 36 percent rate.
OCT 15. During the debate John McCain cited Wurzelbacher as an example of someone who wants to buy a plumbing business but would be hurt by Obama's tax plans.