Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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Our independent streak

MAYOR Mike Bell. It has a nice ring, even if it won't be official until 5 p.m. on Jan. 4.

Mr. Bell's come-from-behind victory in his first-ever election try over long-time politician and endorsed Democrat Keith Wilkowski was a clarion call for change. Toledoans are hungry for hope, aching for anything that's not business as usual in a city where business has been awful for a long time.

Mr. Wilkowski ran a good race and could have made a good mayor but in the end he fell victim to a growing anti-incumbent mood here and across the nation.

Witness, for example, New Jersey, where voter anger helped Republican Chris Christie defeat Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine despite being outspent by $12 million. Meanwhile, billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, spent $90 million of his own fortune to win re-election by just 5 percentage points against a largely unknown, underfinanced Democratic challenger.

Toledo was lucky to have two credible candidates, though neither had concrete solutions to the city's many problems. But when it came time to choose, voters tapped Mr. Bell because of his long, successful career as fire chief and, perhaps more important, because he isn't a politician.

Mr. Wilkowski, even though he had largely reinvented himself in recent years, still was closely identified with the politics of the old Democratic political establishment. The local Democratic Party sneered at Mr. Bell for not seeking its endorsement and running instead as an independent, but in the end it was Mr. Bell who better understood the changing political climate.

The outcome was in accordance with Toledo's reputation as a city with a politically independent streak on that goes back to Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones and Brand Whitlock, independent mayors of Toledo between 1897 and 1913. Mr. Bell is the latest beneficiary of that tradition.

Mr. Wilkowski may also have been hurt when he essentially put his tail between his legs and wouldn't take an aggressive stance on the controversy over Lucas County's dog warden. Mr. Bell proved to be the alpha dog on that issue, undoubtedly winning the support of voters concerned about animal welfare.

For Mr. Bell, the road of governance ahead is, like many Toledo streets, dangerous and full of pot holes. It will test the former fire chief's ability, patience, and good humor. He must, therefore, surround himself with talented people who share his commitment to honesty and service so that when Mayor Carty Finkbeiner hands over the keys to the 22nd floor of One Government Center, he and his crew will be able to begin immediately to douse the fires that threaten Toledo.

We believe he is up to the job. For Toledo's sake, he has to be.

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