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Published: 10/26/2013 - Updated: 5 months ago

COMMENTARY

Courage or smear?

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

On Thursday, Councilman Adam Martinez stood next to Mayor Mike Bell and endorsed him for re-election.

Already on the outs with his party (the Democrats) and labor unions, this act provoked the wrath of both. Mayor Bell is seen as a pal of Gov. John Kasich and a supporter of union busting (exigent circumstances; Senate Bill 5; right to work). The Dems stripped Mr. Martinez of their endorsement, and one union asked that a small contribution be returned.

Many have seen Mr. Martinez's act as one of courage, and the unions and the party's behavior as thuggish.

I only half agree. I'm not in favor of stripping people of endorsements because they dare to think for themselves. So yes, the party and union reaction does seem like thuggery.

But here is what Mr. Martinez said in endorsing Mayor Bell: “I cannot in good conscience support a candidate who does not recognize the racial concerns that many in our community have ... Councilman Collins vehemently denies that racial profiling and inequality exists.”

That is worse than thuggery to me. That's race baiting. It's demagogic. It's fundamentally manipulative and dishonest. As in, “Tell us, senator, when did you stop beating your wife?” The totally unproven accusation is out there. And the victim must somehow disprove it.

First, I was at the NAACP debate, and I too gasped. But let's be clear about what Mr. Collins said. He did not deny the existence of racial profiling. He denied that the Toledo Police Department engages in the practice as a matter of course. He certainly did not deny the existence of inequality. Second, Mr. Martinez's statement injects racial suspicion squarely into the center of this contest. What candidate wants to be in the position of denying he is a racist two weeks before an election? How does he do that?

Mr. Martinez and Mayor Bell also have to know that there is a whispering campaign — that Mr. Collins is a racist — going on right now. This endorsement bolsters a campaign of slander.

So while I admire Mr. Martinez for taking on his union and his party, and being loyal to his friend Mayor Bell, I think he should have endorsed the mayor on the basis that Mr. Bell has been a good mayor and would make a better mayor than Mr. Collins. Instead, he makes Mr. Collins and race the basis of an endorsement of Mr. Bell. Was the point not to boost Mr. Bell, but smear Mr. Collins?

Let me add that I think Mr. Martinez is a bright young man and a good councilman. And I think that Mr. Collins, a 69-year-old, Irish, ex-cop, could probably stand to learn more about what it means to be young, broke, and black in Toledo in 2013. Most of us could.

But to say you are endorsing Mr. Bell because Mr. Collins is racially insensitive, or worse, seems to me the lowest and most loathsome form of politics — the politics of innuendo and the big lie. And a gut blow to Mr. Collins, who wants above all else to be an honorable man.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

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



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