Ask around. No grizzled veteran can remember this many neighborhood forums in previous campaigns for mayor. Good or bad, the forums have changed local politics.
Take Thursday's debate in East Toledo. East Toledoans, feel, in Hank Williams’ words, “alone and forsaken,” by Toledo city government. That’s not new, and this long brewing grievance was the overriding issue for about 75 people gathered in the middle of the day.
The rap on East Toledo is “they don't vote.” And, by extension, they’d rather complain about things than try to fix them.
But East-by-God Toledoans tell a different story. They say they will come out if you give them a reason. Mike Collins was trying hard to give them one.
“You have my word,” he said, “you are more than part of our ZIP code. I will not forget you.” And then he gave his plan for reclaiming Toledo neighborhoods, block by block.
But he also talked about the Bell Administration’s closing of a beloved (and dilapidated) East Toledo pool.
He talked about the city’s plan to buy up homes on Collins Park Avenue to expand the water plant. He called the city’s efforts arbitrary, arrogant, and unnecessary. He said a neighborhood could be destroyed just to accommodate construction crews.
In short, he did everything he could to assure East Toledo that, under a Collins administration, it would count.
It was like watching a parent comfort a hurt child. Even if the child's pique and anger are not wholly justified, you put your arms around him.
Mayor Bell took a different approach. I guess I would summarize it as a mixture of “whatever” and “get over it.” Call it tough love. That’s better than indifference. He basically said the pool was not worth saving (which is probably true). He said Collins Park people could just say no to the city’s purchase offers. Or, they could ask for more money, he shrugged. He repeated what he often says in these forums: Lots of ideas are good ideas. But they take money. And only corporations have enough of it.
He said, finally: We treat you fairly like we treat every other neighborhood.
You get the same allowance as your brother.
How to move neighborhoods forward? “These things take time,” he said, for the umpteenth time. True enough, but small comfort if your neighborhood is blighted and unsafe.
“It’s not that I don’t care,” the mayor said.
Think about that statement.
Compare it to: I give you my word, I will not forget you.
Detachment versus passion.
The mayor says he has a mighty campaign machine and a big treasury. And he may. But he himself seems to be somewhere else. He was charming and funny in the North End the other night. In East Toledo he seemed merely bored.
Meanwhile, Mr. Collins projects one big thing: He really wants this job. He keeps putting more on the table. More ideas, more charges and criticisms, and more platform. His neighborhood ideas are solid and his notion of reducing bureaucratic silos and seeking government consolidation makes sense. Hard to do, but it makes sense.
Mayor Bell puts less and less on the table. Least of all himself. In his latest TV commercial he does not address the voter. He told the Broadway forum he does come around — he rides through on his motorcycle. But that's not what people in the neighborhoods are looking for. They want an active mayoral presence, not a drive-by.
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6266.