IN AN election year, Mayor Jack Ford's new "Toledo Works" publicity campaign doesn't pass the political straight-face test, and the $24,600 in city money spent on it can be legitimately questioned.
The campaign, featuring billboards and a city-run Internet site with the mayor's name and photo prominently displayed, ostensibly lauds economic development but is a thinly disguised personal promotion for Mr. Ford, funded by taxpayers in a cash-strapped city that not long ago was considering laying off employees.
Even the most hard-boiled political consultant would have difficulty suppressing a smile while claiming otherwise. A quick look at the Web site leaves doubt that the campaign is Mr. Ford's re-election manifesto.
The site, referred to on the billboards, declares boldly that Toledo is "a model for economic progress by adding more than 2,800 new jobs in the past three years." It points to "signature projects" like the Jeep plant expansion and Dana Corp.'s technology center - even though the Dana facility is outside the city.
"Our approach," the Web site proclaims, "is based on progress through productivity. It is not flashy and fragmented. It is smart and steady - quiet and effective."
Such a message couldn't have been better tailored to the image Mr. Ford wants to project if it had been written by his campaign copywriters - which it probably was.
The mayor obviously wishes to invite comparisons between his "quiet and effective" self and his probable opponent this November, the peripatetic Carty Finkbeiner.
Mr. Ford said as much in his State of the City speech, in which he harpooned Mr. Finkbeiner by asserting, "As you know, I ran for mayor on the stated platform of serious leadership for serious times. You will never see me substitute frantic ravings in place of thoughtful, planned-out action."
Speaking of "planned-out action," it looks like Mr. Ford tried to slip funding for the publicity campaign past City Council by breaking it into smaller segments that didn't require council approval.
A key reason the campaign appears so awkwardly self-promoting is that it is, for Mr. Ford, out of character. As mayor for the past three years, he has assiduously maintained a low profile, seldom tooting his own horn. To change tactics abruptly - seven months or so before election day - only invites cynicism.
And that's too bad, because the mayor's message is a strong one, a positive reflection on Toledo's well-trained work force. Toledoans themselves often complain that the city has an inferiority complex, with the result that positive developments are overlooked.
Had he started the publicity campaign a year ago, Mr. Ford might have been able to justify it but, in an election year, such self-aggrandizement can only be viewed as an unseemly expenditure of scarce city funds.
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