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Published: Sunday, 10/13/2013 - Updated: 9 months ago

Commentary

Ford emerges as ‘the dean’

BY KEITH BURRIS
BLADE COLUMNIST

I attended an event for former Mayor Jack Ford on Sunday last. It was held at a place called Club Evolution. Someone told me that there would be a live jazz singer. That sounded good.

But that’s not how it was. The music was piped in. It was fine, but it was loud, and I had a hard time hearing people speak. When I could hear, I heard some pretty interesting things. The room was full and the mix was eclectic: young African-Americans dressed to the nines, labor leaders, and old Toledo pols.

Three people, other than Mr. Ford, a current candidate for Toledo City Council, spoke. One was Republican judge Josh Lanzinger. One was independent candidate for mayor, D. Michael Collins. One was council candidate Theresa Gabriel, also an independent and a former Republican.

Someone told me that Jack Ford might endorse Mr. Collins this night.

But that didn’t happen either.

What did happen is that Mr. Ford talked about housing and homelessness in Toledo. He said he would team up with Ms. Gabriel to tackle those issues if they are both elected to city council.

And what he said about Mr. Collins is that while he was not endorsing him, he liked what Mr. Collins has said about returning the mayor’s attention to neighborhoods and totally revamping city housing policy and the neighborhoods department. Mr. Collins has said that the city has “lost its sense of compassion.”

Mr. Collins spoke briefly at the Ford event. He talked about right-to-work laws, which Mayor Mike Bell says he would consider, and which his political patron, Gov. John Kasich, may yet try to bring to Ohio.

Mr. Collins said such laws are actually a right to work for less — for unlivable wages — and that they represent the destruction of what is left of the middle class in Toledo.

He then endorsed mayors Finkbeiner and Ford, saying that he would imitate them.

Meanwhile, the mayoral contest has taken a nasty turn. Mr. Collins is being called a racist in two-push polls and on an utterly scurrilous Web site. A push poll makes an allegation, usually unsubstantiated, in the form of a question. I don’t think anyone who knows Mr. Collins, knows his career as a policeman, or has observed him in the campaign and at events like this one, would call him a racist. The notion is offensive. The worst kind of politics.

Does Collins know there is racism in Toledo? Yes. Has he got a lot to learn about what black people experience? Like most of us who are not African-American, yes.

Mr. Ford was called by many at his event the other night, “"the dean of Toledo politics.” I think he is. Even more than Carty Finkbeiner, the dominant political force in Toledo politics of the last 30 years, who was also at Club Evolution that night.

Ironically, Mr. Finkbeiner is the guy who is not running. but who shook every hand in the place. Mr. Ford is the guy who is running. Yet he sat in a quiet corner with his granddaughter and received the faithful.

Mr. Finkbeiner is still controversial, while Mr. Ford is, increasingly, a unifying, transpartisan force.

The rap on Ford is that he was an ineffectual mayor and now, in old-age, he wants a comeback, a chance to relive his glory days. But, as usual, I think the conventional wisdom is wrong. Something else, something very different, is going on here.

I go to a fund-raiser for Bethany House, there is Jack Ford making the money pitch. I go to a reception to celebrate the 10th anniversary of CareNet, which provides health care for those who have none, and there is Jack Ford, who founded it. Was he merely a figurehead? No, it was his idea, and Mr. Ford pulled Toledo’s two major hospitals together to make it happen and get it up and running in seven months.

Mr. Ford invites me to an event at Gesu Church today. Another fund-raiser? Yep. This one he has organized for the Padua Center, which, among other things, provides after-school for inner-city kids. The Club Evolution event results in a contribution to St. Paul’s Community Center.

Toledoans tend to take the city’s assets for granted. I look at Jack Ford and see a giant of a human being, such as I seldom saw on the east coast or in the nation’s capital.

Mr. Ford told me a while back: “I am 66, and my heart has stopped. I don’t have to kiss anyone’s ring. What I am doing at this point doesn’t have much to do with ambition. I figure I have been given one more chance to be of service.”

Sometimes we want to think less of people when we should actually think more.

A man called me the other day and said, “let me tell you about Mike Bell.” He told me he was in a restaurant after his wife died. He said, “I was hurting.” He said the mayor came in, waved at him, but never spoke. And when the man went to pay his bill, it had been paid by Mr. Bell -- a private, ungushing act of kindness.

I think by inviting Mr. Collins to speak, Mr. Ford was saying: Let’s look at actions rather than trying to judge other men’s hearts. Mr. Collins has championed the homeless and the helpless. That ought to trump, indeed obliterate, vicious innuendo and dark suspicions. By their actions shall we know them.

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



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