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Published: Monday, 11/7/2005

Finkbeiner for mayor

Only two men have served as Toledo's executive-style strong mayor since Toledoans changed their government 13 years ago. These two.

Only two men have experienced the intense demands of the job, the pressures that come with leading a city of 304,000 people and a $230 million budget. These two.

As a result, Carty Finkbeiner's eight years in office and Jack Ford's four provide a number of side-by-side comparisons of two "incumbents," each with strengths, each with flaws. Analyzing it all, we reach the conclusion that Toledoans would be better served by electing Carty Finkbeiner.

It's a tough call.

This is a race in which substance has taken a backseat to style. Both men have substance - they are political pros who understand how municipal government works. Where they differ most is in how they govern.

Consider the lessons of history. Two of World War II's most celebrated generals, George Patton and Omar Bradley, could not have been more unlike each other. General Patton was the in-your-face hard-charger; General Bradley the quiet, dignified man of military bearing.

We suggest that in 2005, Toledoans seem to want, and probably need, a mayor more in the mold of Patton. They want a leader for difficult economic times, a man whose "ready, fire, aim" mantra occasionally gets him in trouble but who is at least out there, noisily pushing ideas and initiatives and visibly fighting the good fight. A Carty Finkbeiner, in other words.

In that sense, perhaps Toledo got it backwards. Mayor Ford, certainly a Bradley type, might have been better suited for the Toledo of the 1990s, quietly and efficiently keeping the engine of city government humming during a time of economic prosperity.

Instead, during the recessionary times of the last four years, what appeared early on to be calm, steady resolve on the 22nd floor of Government Center was betrayed by the passage of time as the absence of any real plan for the city's progress. When Toledoans tried to put a face on the Ford years, it was the face of a man who found it difficult to smile in public, a man perceived as dour and sullen. It's an image he has never been able to shake.

Mr. Ford was a natural in a legislative role - as president of city council, as a state legislator, as a savvy, politically skilled minority leader in the Ohio House of Representatives - but he is miscast as a CEO in a down economy. He will be much better appreciated in the future, we predict, than he is now.

The man is a thoroughly decent human being with uncompromising compassion for others, and a man who showed considerable political courage when he pushed for and got a ban on smoking in public places, making his city a true pioneer in Ohio.

But he was unable to sustain that momentum and ultimately seemed to abandon the effort when the ban was watered down by the voters - narrowly - after an intense campaign by bar and tavern owners.

Also, five years after the grand announcement that an exciting project called the Marina District would be the salvation of the downtown riverfront's east bank, Toledoans wonder if they will ever see it happen.

Certainly the mistakes of the Finkbeiner years remain fresh in the minds of most Toledoans. The notion of moving deaf people to the airport became a national joke. Even though the suggestion was not Mr. Finkbeiner's idea, it stuck to him like gum on a shoe.

Often during his eight years as mayor, we took note of the Good Carty-Bad Carty phenomenon, an acknowledgement that when he was good, he was very, very good, but when he was bad, he was horrid. It was a description he hated, but the Bad Carty had a problem recruiting and keeping talented people around him.

However, in an era when there are no sure things in the business world, and Toledo worried about losing its corporate giants, Carty responded to The Blade's New Year's Day challenge in 1997 and led a spirited and successful civic effort to keep Jeep in its hometown. Consider the financial and psychological blow to this community had that effort failed.

One other aspect of this contest that voters must consider is the matter of health. Each of these men has had significant health and medical issues. Mr. Finkbeiner underwent quadruple coronary bypass surgery last year, perhaps the inevitable consequence of what he admits was an unhealthy lifestyle.

Cardiovascular disease is serious business, but between his medication, a much healthier diet, and the loss of 40 pounds, he looks fitter and says he feels better than he has in many years.

Mr. Ford is a diabetic, though he is able to treat it medically without insulin injections. He also is seriously overweight. That is a dangerous combination, and his refusal to release his medical records for the public's consideration and scrutiny is troubling.

Our concern that either man could have trouble serving out a full four-year term is unsettling, but Mr. Ford's reluctance has managed to negate whatever advantage he may have once had over Mr. Finkbeiner on that score.

Four years ago, race was not an issue in the mayoral election. It would be regrettable if it has become one this time, fanned perhaps by the Oct. 15 riot in the North End. We are also mindful that four years ago we endorsed Ray Kest for mayor over Jack Ford. That was a mistake, and we hope we are not making another.

But serving Toledo as its strong mayor defines Carty's life. Provided that his serious health scare has truly motivated him to soften the rough edges, give others a meaningful role in his administration this time, and get back to work for the city he loves, we recommend the election of Carleton Finkbeiner.

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