The Blade/Channel 13 debate Wednesday night was easily the best mayoral debate of the season.
The candidates got to interact and mix it up. They were revealed rather than diminished.
The lion awoke. And roared. Mike Bell was a commanding presence. And he did a good job of asserting that the city was in very bad shape when he inherited the job and that his opponents don’t really know what the day-to-day task of being mayor is about. He looked sharp, sartorially and mentally.
In past debates, the mayor seemed almost disdainful of the process. There was none of that here. He channeled Ronald Reagan’s “there you go again,” and, most effectively, said “go to a Mud Hens game” and tell me Toledo is miserable.
Mayor Bell had a very good night.
Councilman D. Michael Collins also did well. He went into policy and legislative detail. He showed he could think on his feet. He showed he knows city government and has thought about ways to fix things that are broken. As Mr. Collins would be the first to admit, he is charisma challenged. But his job here, politically, was to try to catapult himself past Anita Lopez and Joe McNamara and become the prime challenger to Mr. Bell. If one debate could accomplish this, and it probably can’t, he would be well on his way. Many a watcher must have thought: The race should be the two Mikes. Certainly Mr. Collins makes a better union candidate than Ms. Lopez. He is not only a former union leader, but he can actually articulate the union position without seeming like a stooge.
Joe McNamara’s job politically was, first, to stay relevant and, second, to try to take down Ms. Lopez. His performance was not definitive in either respect. At times he seemed lost in his own policy wonk rhetoric.
A wag once said that hell is when you can’t connect. Not connecting is certainly hell for a politician. And Mr. McNamara often seems to be in a disconnected political hell. But he made a case against Ms. Lopez that would probably look quite good on paper.
Ms. Lopez has one claim to fame: Being county auditor. She talks about her tenure as if it were FDR’s first 100 days. Mr. McNamara made the case that, far from employing brilliant management techniques in an essentially ministerial function, Ms. Lopez has filled her office with hacks and cronies.
It is possible that Mr. McNamara will help to discredit Ms. Lopez, but to Mr. Collins’ benefit.
But mostly Ms. Lopez discredits herself — with her complete inability to answer a question or engage an issue or a thought.
Listening to her free-associate and blather about the challenges of being auditor, as if the job were planning the landing at Normandy, is mental torture. Extended exposure would surely break the will of many a terrorist.
If enough people watched and paid attention to this debate, it will change the mayor’s race.
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: email@example.com or 419-724-6266.