On Monday night the seven candidates on the ballot for the office of mayor of Toledo debated at the Main Toledo-Lucas Country Public Library. The debate was sponsored by the Northwest Ohio Conservative Coalition, broadcast on WNWO, and moderated by Michael S. Miller and Jim Blue. It was a good civic exercise and almost all the candidates were at their best, including the perceived second and third tier candidates.
And yet, there seemed to be a lot of circling and bowing — like the royalty dancing in a period movie.
The event started with the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer. There were as many Tea Party members as there were Lopez supporters.
There was the irony that makes politics fun: We had candidates who were public employees for most of their lives, and who now wish to be the chief public employee, talking about how government is too fat and should be cut back.
We had all the candidates pretty much agree that the mayor should promote public schools, though he really can't change them much; that poverty is our biggest problem and we need more jobs though government doesn't create jobs; and that regionalism is a good thing, especially where water is concerned.
We had some humorous interaction between candidates, such as when Opel Covey commended the mayor. Or when Joe McNamara managed to jump to the microphone before Mike Collins in a mock touche moment. Or when Anita Lopez said the city would never be the same, “after I get through with it.” As they say, “If you liked Carty, you'll love Anita.”
There was even a bit of drama: The mayor seemed to leave the door open to a right-to-work law in this state, which was either a classic political error, or a moment of courage, or both. And Ms. Lopez and Mr. McNamara made strong defenses of collective bargaining. But the guy who made the most eloquent plea for unions was Mr. Collins, who earlier in the debate sounded quite culturally conservative. That's because he is. Mr. Collins is an interesting mix of strong union man and old- school Marine and cop. He has run a becoming campaign, partly because he has run as himself: independent, compassionate, prickly. And specific, even when he may be wrong.
Specifics are what we need now. The debates must go to the next level — more than talking points and concerns. Now that we have agreed that poverty is a key issue, maybe the key issue, what do we do about it? The truth is that being mayor is an administrative job and the way to better administration is to find and adopt best practices. How do we do that in a debate? Let the candidates interact with each other; even go after each other. Walking out and trying to put my finger on what was missing, three Lopez supporters did it for me: Let the candidates confront each other. “This” said one man “was a forum.”
Enough with the forums. Time to mix it up.
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6266.