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Monday, September 15, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 11/10/2013 - Updated: 10 months ago

COMMENTARY

They gave an election and almost no one came

BY DAVID KUSHMA
BLADE EDITOR
Dave Kushma. Dave Kushma.
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A few final thoughts about last week’s local election, before we groan collectively and prepare to endure next year’s statewide campaigns:

● Toledo voters — at least those who showed up — fired Mayor Mike Bell, decisively. Still, Toledoans owe the incumbent a measure of gratitude before he departs at year’s end.

When he took office nearly four years ago, the mayor had to make gutsy and unpopular decisions to resolve the budget crisis he inherited, a product of the Great Recession. Above all, that meant confronting intransigent leaders of municipal unions.

His successor, D. Michael Collins, isn’t likely to face as dire a fiscal threat as Mr. Bell confronted during his term. Still, Mr. Collins needs to be ready to show similar courage, and the ability to say no to his friends in unions and other interest groups that supported him.

True, the rest of Mr. Bell’s administration hasn’t been as accomplished as those first few months. There has been way too much unnecessary official secrecy, too much failure of murky development schemes, too much disdain for struggling Toledoans who needed and deserved the help of city government and didn’t get it.

Polling places across Toledo and its suburbs were largely empty last week. Polling places across Toledo and its suburbs were largely empty last week.
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But I doubt any of us would want to return to the pain and drama of early 2010. And because of the mayor’s leadership, to an appreciable extent, we haven’t had to.

● For the most part, voters appear to have made good choices for Toledo’s City Council, Board of Education, and Municipal Court, both in whom they selected and, just as important, whom they rejected.

I can’t help noticing, though, that the mayor’s and council offices are starting to resemble the Soviet Politburo of the Brezhnev era in the, shall we say, longevity of many of their occupants. As a person of a certain age myself, I hope I can offer that observation without being accused of ageism. Let’s just hope everyone stays healthy.

● The election showed the weakness, bordering on irrelevance, of both major political parties in Lucas County. Neither candidate for mayor ran with a party affiliation — the first time that’s happened since Toledo embraced the strong-mayor form of city government two decades ago.

In the general-election campaign, Mr. Collins gained the backing of Democratic Party and union officials. They portrayed the Toledo mayoral contest as a preliminary bout to next year’s main event, Republican Gov. John Kasich’s re-election bid. But much of that support wasn’t forthcoming until Mr. Collins beat two organization Democrats in the September primary.

The local Democratic Party had other setbacks last week, notably voters’ rejection of an undistinguished City Council incumbent whom unions shoved down the party’s throat to fill a council vacancy earlier this year. The party clearly needs to broaden its base.

At the same time, Mayor Bell benefited from Republicans’ money and interest-group support. But he brushed off the endorsement of the county GOP, as did other ex-Republicans who ran as independents on this year’s city ballot. There’s still a long way to go before Toledo and Lucas County have the genuine party competition that their voters deserve.

● Voters largely ignored the tiresome Tea Party no-tax mantra. Rather, they showed that they are willing to maintain and even raise their taxes when they feel the spending those taxes will pay for is worthwhile.

Voters granted tax requests from Lucas County’s port authority and board of developmental disabilities. They supported school millages in Toledo and most suburbs with tax questions on the ballot. Now these bodies must show taxpayers that they’re getting their money’s worth from government.

● Spencer Township voters last week joined their equally myopic counterparts in Perrysburg in seceding from the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority. That decision will isolate the small community even more from the rest of Lucas County and metropolitan Toledo. Not the best strategy for economic growth, or even minimal transportation service.

Still, most of TARTA’s member communities decided to stick together, dashing the dreams of destruction of those who fomented the breakup scheme. It isn’t the strongest foundation for other efforts at regional cooperation, but it will have to do for now.

● The most discouraging aspect of last week’s election was that nearly three-fourths of registered voters, in Toledo and suburban Lucas County, didn’t bother to take part. The city turnout was marginally better than the abysmal 15-percent rate in the primary.

It’s bad enough when politicians hijack our votes, through gerrymandering and similar outrages. It’s worse when we have the franchise and fail to exercise it.

As my Blade colleague Tom Troy reported, the turnout rate in Toledo mayoral elections has dropped by half since 1997, despite the ready availability today of absentee ballots and early voting. Turnout often was lowest in those parts of the city that are most in need of good municipal services.

If you didn’t vote last week, in Toledo or the suburbs, I’d like to hear from you. What caused you to sit the election out?

Didn’t you like the choices on offer? Didn’t the candidates’ campaigns contact you? Didn’t you feel you knew enough about the contests and ballot issues to cast an informed vote?

Was getting to the polls on a workday too much of a hassle? Is local government not important enough to the way you live to bother with voting? Or what?

Let me compile your responses and share them with our readers. Because we need to understand this trend, and reverse it.

David Kushma is editor of The Blade.

Contact him at: dkushma@theblade.com or on Twitter @dkushma1



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