The new breed and the old pro

  • Keith-Burris-Column-Mug-Shot-10-3

  • Toledo City Council member Sandy Spang is the new “it” person of Toledo politics. “It” meaning the one, the new star, the person people are talking about.

    Rob Ludeman
    Rob Ludeman

    Ms. Spang is sometimes stunned, sometimes overwhelmed, by what people seem to expect of her. She is, after all, in office for only days now.

    Sandy Spang
    Sandy Spang

    And there is a limited amount a single council member can do.

    Yet she is a local celebrity, and people she has never met come up to her and tell her they believe in her.

    As Murray Kempton said of John Lindsay when he first ran for mayor of New York City: “He is fresh, and everyone else is tired.”

    What Ms. Spang thinks people want from her is leadership — a willingness to take on problems long forgotten and to think about public policy in an unfettered way. She wants to be free of ideology, knee-jerk positions, old political loyalties, and even ego. She wants to be able to look at policy without blinders. She hopes people will see her as someone who will do her homework and go where the evidence leads.

    She told her Government Center aide, whom she shares with two other members of council, she will have three rules during her term: be transparent; do the right thing; and let others take credit. So what problems is she thinking of taking on?

    Ms. Spang is not ready to say yet because she doesn’t feel she is ready. She has been told it takes six months to a year to really learn the job. “That seems like too long,” she says. She tells me that government is like a rolling river: You jump in, and you had better be ready to move at the pace of the current.

    She does know she wants to champion small business. And she hopes she can be a bridge builder. She thinks she can help connect members of Council with each other and those working in city government. She hopes she can work with former Mayor Jack Ford, for example: “He’s interested in neighborhood housing, and I am interested in neighborhood businesses. They go together.”

    I met Ms. Spang at her coffee house, Plate 21, which is fast becoming Toledo’s hot political and social media hangout. I think Ms. Spang represents a shift in Toledo politics toward independents and youth. She is germinating a new political force around herself and that demographic.

    But ask President Obama, ask Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Romules Durant, high expectations can be a burden. When people expect you to save them, you are bound to disappoint.

    Yet Ms. Spang has a secret weapon: longtime Councilman Rob Ludeman.

    He also is a long-standing friend of Ms. Spang’s and can mentor her and maybe steer her away from political potholes. I met him the same day at Plate 21. He has never been considered anyone’s savior. And yet, to me, he is an inspiration in his own way — a totally sound and sane man; a fine public servant; the ultimate good burgher of Toledo.

    Mr. Ludeman is just a darned good guy, decent, and wise, and with Toledo voters good guys finish first, not last.

    Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

    Contact him at: or 419-724-6266.