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Published: Wednesday, 10/16/2013 - Updated: 9 months ago

COMMENTARY

Mayor Bell on the road

For a guy who isn’t a politician, he’s an awfully good politician.

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

I spent some time with Mayor Mike Bell a few days back — at a block watch meeting and then on a tour of housing initiatives with he and his Neighborhoods (housing) director the next day.

For a guy who isn’t a politician, he’s an awfully good politician. In fact Mike Bell is one of the smartest politicians I have ever met.

So why is he so cozy with Gov. John Kasich?

A good mayor has to have a relationship with the governor, no matter his party, Mr. Bell says.

It’s smart to know that and even smarter to say that if you are mayor of a Democratic town and the governor is a Republican occasionally held hostage by the Tea Party.

But if you really want to see what a good politician Mike Bell is, you need to watch him with a small group, like the neighborhood block watch group where I saw him the other night.

For one thing, the mayor understands the power of incumbency and how to use it.

There was a crowd that started with 19 people and grew, slightly. The mayor brought quite a posse. I counted four city directors, the police chief, the fire chief, and the mayor’s press secretary. That crowd was predominantly white and older. They started out skeptical. Asked about his honor’s appearance before them, one attendee said, “who cares?” Another said, “when was the last time this mayor came to a block watch meeting?”

But, after a warm up by the police chief, the mayor spent 90 minutes talking and taking questions. Every single complaint, from potholes to old tires in a neighbor’s yard, was assigned to a city director with the promise of action. Even a lady who had a problem with a contractor she believes damaged her home when the contractor was working on a school across the street was promised help connecting to the right folks.

The mayor made a persuasive case for his record. He eloquently described the balancing act that is running a city. He talked about his hopes for the city and how we are just coming into sight of an economic Promised Land. He believes the city is posed to grab new business, and if he can announce that before the election, he surely will.

The mayor was charming, unpretentious, funny, and, above all, in command. He left that room with at least 19 votes.

I have no doubt that he wants re-election. He wants it because he is competitive. He does not apologize for his command management style: Pick your deputies, trust them, and then back them 100 percent. Don’t hand-wring. “I’m a firefighter,” he told me “I fix things. When you flip back and forth, people get screwed up.”

Yes, and, sometimes, when you don’t change course, you steer into a perfect storm.

For all his charm, I’d feel better if the mayor showed just a little self-doubt. And if some of the assistants to whom he is so loyal seemed a little less sycophantic.

But, bottom line, many voters prefer stubborn or erroneous clarity to enlightened fog. Mike Collins must present a clear and compelling vision if he hopes to defeat the mayor. Many an election has been decided by less than nineteen votes.

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



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