Mike Bell is not not a man who holds a grudge, which I think is a blessing for a politician. But a couple of things have gotten to him of late.
One is that he is a black man who has “forgotten where he came from.” That really bugs him.
Sometimes someone comes up with a charge that is a gut blow: Say a jazz musician can’t swing. Or a poet is banal. Or a football player has no heart and you insult the person at his core.
Mr. Bell takes this “not black enough” charge personally and he drove around Toledo with me last week trying to show me how his vision will do more to cure urban poverty than all the compassion pimping in the world. His plan is two-part and simple: Get the city’s fiscal house in order and create an atmosphere that welcomes business development. He thinks he’s done the first part and wants to finish the second. He keeps saying, “these things take time.” He thinks the city is on the verge of breaking through in economic development. His implicit message: Let’s not screw this up.
Mr. Bell believes his approach will yield more practical results. He took me to Collingwood Green, public housing for seniors that is just beautiful. What it replaced was ugly, old, dirty, and “close” (in the mayor’s word). Collingwood Green today is a place where any person would be proud to live. The mayor says of his two predecessors: “We are are actually doing it. They didn't.” He says Mayor Carty Finkbeiner was a micro-manager who chased business away and that he learned from him what not to do. He hints that a Mayor Mike Collins would be another Carty.
Fighting words? Probably to Mayors Finkbeiner and Ford, as well as Mr. Collins. But Mr. Bell deserves this: His approach may be wrong, but he is not lacking in compassion. I have seen that first hand. I see it in the way he treats people, from august to simple. But his compassion is personal and, to him, pragmatic. He likes to, he says, “be real.” And, as mayor, he pays particular attention those those who have, because they can invest.
“I am not a Republican,” he told me, with some force. That's the second thing that really bugs him.“I have never been a Republican. I used to be a Democrat. I am an independent.”
Point taken. But, ironically, he had just spent 90 minutes saying, in effect, the business of Toledo is business and that a rising tide lifts all boats. He has also told me, more than once, about the savvy millionaires he knows and how much more money he could make in the private sector. He cited a home-grown millionaire pal in a debate this week. To Mike Bell, most problems, and solutions, are financial. The guy is a capitalist. He thinks you solve poverty by allowing business to prosper.
His mother told me after the Walbridge Park debate that she is happy when Mr. Bell shows the compassion she knows he feels. Mr. Bell wants credit for understanding the world as it is.
Compassionate capitalism. Wouldn’t many Americans be pleased to vote for Mr. Bell’s not-Republican old-school Republicanism? Whether most Toledoans will think this is enough for the mayor of a struggling city, we shall soon know.
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6266.