Many people in Lucas County are sorry that former Toledo mayor Mike Bell and incumbent County Commissioner Pete Gerken are running against each other.
They are both able men.
In fact, they have run a civil campaign of gentlemen.
When the two came to The Blade for a joint endorsement interview, they came with no aides, together — chatting amicably the whole way. They have worked together in the past and no doubt will do so again.
Our U.S. Senate candidates and presidential contenders should take a lesson.
Not that the two did not debate each other fiercely. Mr. Gerken believes firmly in county government as planner and guide to economic development. Mr. Bell believes in lower taxes and unburdening business. He thinks government has just not been listening to the people who can actually drive our economy — large business and small.
Mr. Gerken’s advantage is that he has 12 years on the board of commissioners and eight before that on Toledo City Council. He knows the ropes.
That is also his disadvantage. The last 20 years in Lucas County haven’t been that great.
Mr. Bell’s disadvantage is that he is not a politician. When he tries to be one, he is terrible — uncomfortable and unconvincing.
That is also his advantage — in four years of elective office and three runs for mayor, he was straightforward and outspoken. As mayor he had the courage to deal with a structural financial crisis and tell public employee unions they would have to be part of the solution. Everyone knew it had to be done. No one else had the guts. Mr. Bell paid a price for standing up and doing the right thing, somewhat to his surprise. “I thought they wanted to fix things,” he said.
Mr. Bell has failed in this campaign to make significant hay out of what to us are the two big county issues: We need a new dog pound and we need a new jail. But he is far more a change agent than Mr. Gerken, and he is right that we need fresh blood, ideas, and courage in county government. These, Mr. Bell possesses.
Mr. Bell also has the respect of leaders throughout the region and in Columbus and could help us achieve real progress with regional co-operation on water and economic development — not just for downtown Toledo, but for the whole county.
In a “change year,” Mr. Bell is the more likely agent of reform, partly because he is so bad at politics and so much better, as he puts it, “at being real” about our problems and our possibilities.
County government should not be a honeypot for those in power or those in favor. And for too many years, that has been the approach in Lucas County government. Mike Bell is a public servant and an outsider. Maybe he can “drain the swamp.” He has earned a chance to try.
Mike Bell is The Blade’s choice for county commissioner.
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