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Published: Wednesday, 5/31/2006

Carty s slip of the tongue

SOME things you just don t say. And anyone who has been around as long as Mayor Carty Finkbeiner ought to know better than to call an African-American King Kong. It s hard to believe, but that s how the mayor referred to Toledo Fire Chief Michael Bell at a staff meeting last week.

Not surprisingly, Mayor Finkbeiner denies that he intended to offend anyone, and on that point, he s probably sincere. Who among us hasn t spoken before thinking and instantly wished we could have the comment back?

But the mayor has been a public servant for decades, including two previous terms as mayor, and he has enjoyed substantial support in the black community along the way.

How could he not know how deeply insulting it always is to blacks to hear themselves referred to, even via a fictional character, as an ape? The mayor s office says the reference was to the fire chief s physical strength. So why not a less troublesome comparison, to say, Samson, or Hercules? Or better yet, just talk about the chief s strength in the abstract. No need to give it a name.

Why the mayor would use such a reference to compliment Chief Bell is incomprehensible. Even as a bad joke, it doesn t work.

The chief, who was on his way to the meeting when the remark was made, said that before he could consider whether the remark was intended as a racial slur, he needed to understand the context in which it was made.

While that s very gracious of the chief, the context shouldn t matter. The reference was insulting.

Toledo has been down this road before, and once again the city s image is hurt. Toledo has been fighting to attract jobs, gain respect, and stop the brain drain.

The last thing the community needs is for this to thrust it back into the national spotlight, making Toledo the butt of jokes again. City leaders will be hard pressed to tout Toledo as a progressive city and convince talented and skilled workers to make this their home when the mayor utters even unintended racial slurs.

The reference was disparaging. Mayor Finkbeiner needs to apologize to the chief and to the city.

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