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Published: Monday, 10/7/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

COMMENTARY

A bare-fisted mayoral debate

Both men, the ex-firefighter and the ex-cop, came out swinging in first televised debate

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE
Keith C. Burris Keith C. Burris
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Monday night's mayoral debate on Channel 24 was a doozie. Both men, the ex-firefighter and the ex-cop, came out swinging. And both landed some punches.

Mayor Mike Bell showed that he is engaged, funny, and proud of his record.

But he can't always dig into an issue or defend specific policies.

Councilman Mike Collins showed that he always does his homework.

But sometimes, he knows too much and over-explains.

And, oh yeah, they don't like each other much. Both men called the other, in effect, a clueless doofus at various points.

Let's score some rounds:

On creating jobs for Toledo. The mayor said he has turned the city around. Mr. Collins said, baloney. The UAW did that. Point to Mr. Collins.

On how large Toledo's deficit was when the mayor took office — $48 million or far less — I think it was a draw. The mayor kept saying he made tough decisions, which he did. Mr. Collins made a good case that the mayor's number was inflated.

On the marina district and a lack of information, I thought the mayor's answer was incredibly lame. He said, “When the Chinese are ready to tell us, we will know.” He said that's how economic development works: When any business is ready to tell us, we know. In short, we are at the mercy of plutocrats.

Since his whole model of being mayor is based on economic development, it seems to me this is an admission of powerlessness. Business is in charge, the mayor, the government, and the citizens are merely pawns. To me, that's pathetic. But maybe it sounded plausible or realistic to viewers. This should have been Mr. Collins' round, but I don't know that it was.

Is there a gang problem? Here too the mayor was on astonishingly shaky ground but I am not sure Mr. Collins exposed it. The mayor's position seems to be that we don't have much of a problem but that it got worse when the newspaper revealed it. Mr. Collins pounced on this but was perhaps too sarcastic.

On whether crime is getting worse or better, Mr. Collins won, big time. He had data and a cogent, disciplined argument. The mayor had assertion and boosterism for his police chief. Mr. Collins showed that homicides, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults have increased.

Homelessness and shelters. Point to Mr. Collins, again. I got deeply into this issue, when I at first knew nothing, he said. I learned, and helped helpless people. Mr. Bell, “misunderstands” the whole issue and does not want to learn, he said.

The mayor said “it's a money issue.” No, it isn't. It's a moral issue.

Mr. Collins killed on trust in government being destroyed by corruption and ineptitude. And on the mayor and his top aides failing to sacrifice anything themselves when city workers took it on the chin.

Yet, Mr. Bell was standing tall at the end of the fight and Mr. Collins looked tired. Was he using the old “rope-a-dope” tactic? Don't try to beat the other guy on points, just keep moving and wear him out.

The mayor made two big mistakes at the very end of the debate, however. He said Mr. Collins was nothing but a complainer. That was personally insulting and unworthy of the mayor and us all. And then he said this is because he was a union president, which goes beyond writing off unions to insulting them. Rich Trumka may be here soon.

This was fun, but not very enlightening or dignified.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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