Is 'Joe The Plumber' A Plumber? That's Debatable

Joe the Plumber's story sprang a few leaks Thursday. Turns out that the man who was held up by John McCain as the typical, hard-working 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 on Thursday 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 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 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 as an example of someone who wants to buy a plumbing business but would be hurt by Obama's tax plans.

Wurzelbacher, a self-described conservative, had spoken to Obama at a rally Sunday near his home and asked him 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 that under his proposal taxes on any revenue from $250,000 on down would stay the same, but that amounts above that level would be subject to a 39 percent tax, instead of the current 36 percent rate.

McCain said Obama's plan would stop entrepreneurs such as Wurzelbacher from investing in new small businesses and keep existing ones from growing.

The McCain campaign posted a Web ad featuring the exchange between Wurzelbacher and Obama.

During an afternoon taping of "Late Show with David Letterman," McCain said he had not yet spoken to Wurzelbacher, and apologized for the press attention he had received.

"Joe, if you're watching, I'm sorry," McCain said.

Wurzelbacher had to deal with a clog of two dozen reporters outside his home on a narrow street lined with ranch- and split-level homes Thursday morning. 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?

Leaning against his black Dodge Durango SUV, 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 indicated he was a fan of the military and McCain but wouldn't say who will get his vote. He is registered as a Republican, the county elections board said, 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.

On Thursday in New Hampshire, Obama said McCain was misleading voters by proposing tax plans that favor the rich while criticizing an Obama tax plan that would raise taxes only on people making more than $250,000 a year, just 5 percent of all taxpayers.

"He's trying to suggest that a plumber is the guy he's fighting for," Obama said. "How many plumbers you know that are making a quarter-million dollars a year?"

Wurzelbacher said he felt a bit overwhelmed by all the attention.

"I'm kind of like Britney Spears having a headache. Everybody wants to know about it," he joked.


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