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Published: Sunday, 3/18/2007

Are the mayor's objections to a Blade poll justified?

Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner thinks The Blade was irresponsible and "unconscionable" when it ran a front-page story that said a new poll showed that his "latest honeymoon with voters appears to be over."

In a letter to the editor published Tuesday, the day after the story ran, the mayor said the story "did nothing but inject petty politics and political speculation" into the serious business of trying to pass a city budget in tough times.

The mayor wasn't alone in his comments. "Phil of Perrysburg," wrote to say: "I'm not a Carty fan by any means. I bailed out of Toledo years ago. However, the good old mayor's letter was right on. I think your Toledo Blade should report the facts. And not get on an agenda."

Well, are Carty and Phil right?

Phil is certainly right when he says The Blade should report the facts. And you can make an argument that polls are overdone. Nevertheless, scientific opinion surveys are widely accepted snapshots of how the public feels about a particular issue or a particular politician at a certain point in time.

The Blade hired Zogby International, one of the most highly regarded firms in the business, to conduct the poll. Zogby was the only pollster to accurately predict that Al Gore would win the popular vote in the 2000 presidential election.

If Carleton S. Finkbeiner was a new face on the political scene, he might be justified in complaining that we were taking the public's temperature before he really had a chance to demonstrate who he really was.

But there is no politician in Toledo better known than Mr. Finkbeiner, who has been a household name ever since he was nearly elected to Congress in 1974. He was a Republican then; he also has been an independent and is now a Democrat. He has run for Congress, mayor, and City Council almost too many times to count. He is now beginning his third term as mayor.

Baby boomers sometimes joke that they are of the generation too young to remember a time before Carty and too old to think they'll ever see a time when Carty isn't in office or running for office. He is, in short, a known quantity.

Nor is he any stranger to controversy. At times, he seems to court it. What Mr. Finkbeiner didn't mention in his letter is that the poll came after reports that he spent $10,000 renovating his office bathroom. He also hired his chief of staff's brother-in-law at the same time he was laying off 23 city workers.

The story did quote the mayor as saying he was interested in doing what was right for residents, rather than trying to play to poll numbers, and also quoted Lucas County Democratic Chairman John Irish in support of the mayor.

You could make the argument, as the mayor did, that you shouldn't try to run a city with one eye on the opinion polls. Yet I do not recall Mr. Finkbeiner protesting in 2005, when this newspaper's polls showed that the voters were getting ready to dump incumbent Mayor Jack Ford and return Mr. Finkbeiner to office.

However, Mr. Finkbeiner had one valid criticism. He complained that any poll to determine who Toledoans might or might not want as mayor next time was meaningless "33 months before the next election." He is absolutely right about that.

Politically, things can turn around on a dime. Polls showed that President George H.W. Bush was unbeatable in March, 1991. He got 37 percent of the vote and lost badly in November, 1992. Few, if any, Ohio Democrats thought in 2003 that they would have a chance to defeat U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine in 2006, but Sherrod Brown defeated him.

The Blade story should have noted that the poll's question about who people wanted as their next mayor was historically meaningless.

Incidentally, if any local politician has a record of rising from the ashes, it is Carleton S. Finkbeiner. And while The Blade's news pages are entirely separate from the Pages of Opinion, this newspaper endorsed his candidacy for mayor each of the last three times he ran.

Anyone with a concern about fairness or accuracy in The Blade is invited to write me, c/o The Blade, 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660, or at my Detroit office: 189 Manoogian Hall, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202; call me, at 1-888-746-8610 or e-mail me at OMBLADE@aol.com. I cannot promise to address every question in the newspaper, but I do promise that everyone who contacts me with a serious question will get a personal reply.



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