COMMENTARY

The last debate

10/31/2013
BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

Before Wednesday’s Channel 11/‚ÄčToledo Free Press debate, Mayor Mike Bell said, “This is my last debate.” He meant ever. No matter the outcome of this election.

He seems pretty happy about that. Mr. Bell is fed up with debates, and it shows.

The subtext of “Oh, my God,” might be echoed by the brave viewers who tuned in — surely fewer by the end of the debate.

Basically, this was a replay of the debate the night before, but with less substance and more spasticity — interruptions and sudden shifts of subject by the host.

Mayor Bell tried to be high-energy because the previous debate had not gone well for him. But it was high-energy frustration. He is so over this. The mayor feels he rescued the city financially, he understands business and therefore knows how to attract it, he manages and delegates well, and he has set the city on a good course.

He all but says: If you don’t agree, whatever, I’m outta here.

His record on rescuing the city financially is fine, indeed outstanding. He has been a good fiscal steward.

The problem is that the mayor hasn’t attracted much business yet. Very little. And that’s his current claim to fame. Moreover, he hasn’t managed and delegated particularly well. Many feel the daily business of city government and public services have been ignored.

In a strong closing statement, Councilman Mike Collins said he would not go gallivanting around the globe but would stay home in Toledo and dedicate himself to safe and refurbished neighborhoods; repaved, clean and well-lit streets; and the parks.

That summarizes Mr. Collins’ campaign, and his appeal to voters across demographic and ideological lines. We are supposed to be surprised by his success, but, really, it only makes sense. He is running for mayor not king, rock star, or CEO.

Many issues were touched on without much information or insight in the debate:

Problems in the Police Department.

What are they, exactly?

Gangs.

Stop and frisk.

Privatizing the airport. That one could matter.

Ownership of the steam plant.

Mostly it was sound signifying nothing. For the candidates really didn’t have time to discuss or debate any of this.

The host and the panelists seemed to have just landed in a space capsule, like that old Gore Vidal play, and discovered an election was going on in Toledo. And so overwhelmed were they by this discovery that they were unable to stay on one subject for minutes instead of seconds.

The mayor had a good moment when he talked about downtown night life, what’s happening now and what could be.

Both men were good on the subject of domestic violence.

The most “real” issue (a favorite word of the mayor) of the night was whether to cancel Trick-or-Treat due to weather. This storm had been brewing for the mayor for hours. He doesn’t seem to want to cancel because he initially didn’t want to. This is what he calls decisiveness and his critics call isolation and stubbornness. He said he’d trick-or-treated in rain and cold. Man up, kids.

Mr. Collins position was: Why not take the precaution. It’s a no-brainer.

This may have been one debate too many. The two men began to squabble and bicker toward the end and Mr. Bell got in Mr. Collins’ face. It was unseemly. Gentleman, we don’t need to see that.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

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