Thursday, Apr 19, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Keith Burris


Passion and brains, but can he connect?



Joe McNamara is an interesting cat. He is well educated, a lawyer, a young married guy who could be driving a Beamer and working in a big firm. Instead, he spends most of his time and energy on his job as a city councilman. Most people finds city council meetings about as fun as a tooth extraction. Mr. McNamara says he is a happy and lucky guy.

Mr. McNamara seems more thoughtful than your usual municipal politician. He is what is often called a “policy wonk” — a person who likes to study reports from the Brookings Institution in his spare time. But he is also thoughtful in an unusual way for a pol: He is self-aware and funny. And he listens.

Mr. McNamara is a reformer, despised by much of what is left of the old guard, though politics is in his blood. Some say his father was on his way to a seat in Congress when he died, too young, in a freak car accident. As a reformer, part of what Mr. McNamara wants to do is rid Government Center of most of its hacks and hire more high quality professionals, based on merit. Ya think?

He has been a prolific and constructive legislator in his six years on Council and paid particular attention to protecting local jobs and to alternative energy sources.

He has championed a Cleveland program called the Evergreen co-op, which is the first original idea for investing in inner city neighborhoods in 25 years. It works this way: A large city institution with a neighborhood presence helps to start a small business — say a dry cleaner or grocery store — and also commits to patronize it. Workers in the business, who are from the neighborhood, gradually gain ownership in the company through sweat-equity.

Think about downtown Toledo without a drug store. That's crazy. If it a pharmacy could be sustained, thanks to a built-in clientele, it would produce a few jobs and a better quality of life downtown.

Mr. McNamara is young. His bumper sticker could almost be “let's try some new stuff” (that's a little too Bill Murray but you get the the gist). Yet he also wants to get back to helping the neighborhoods and actually spending some time in them.

He works hard, truly loves the city, and has “the vision thing.” And even though vision may be easier articulated than executed, it sure beats “that will never work,” and a shrug.

Mr. McNamara also is not afraid to punch hard. He calls Mayor Mike Bell “arrogant” and he says his opponent County Auditor Anita Lopez just doesn't do her homework and is politically corrupt. She outdoes Mr. Bell in the cronyism department and has brought, he says, Tammany Hall to the office she promised to reform.

In local races, the most dynamic candidate — George Patton rather than Omar Bradley — tends to win the challenger slot. Right now not everyone agrees that's Mr. McNamara. But he's working on it.

Keith C. Burris is associate editor of The Blade.

Contact him at: or 419-724-6266.

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