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Published: Saturday, 11/12/2005

Ford, Finkbeiner campaign basically clean

BY GARY BLAINE
Gary Blaine is the spokesman for the Citizens' Clean Campaign Committee and senior minister at First Unitarian Church. Gary Blaine is the spokesman for the Citizens' Clean Campaign Committee and senior minister at First Unitarian Church.
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SEVERAL people have asked me if I thought Toledo had a clean campaign in the 2005 mayoral election. I answer unreservedly, yes.

Indeed, both the Ford and Finkbeiner campaigns filed complaints against each other with the Citizens' Clean Campaign Committee.

The charges typically had to do with innuendo or comments that were a gloss or misrepresentation of each other's records. There was no real muckraking or mudslinging.

The committee spent much of its time discussing language, phrases, hyperbole, and factual information versus assumptions. Both campaigns deserve credit for honoring the Clean Campaign Pledge.

That is not to say that the Clean Campaign Pledge and committee cannot be improved. And the first place I would begin is the organization of the committee at least six months before the primary.

This year we organized the day after the primary. We agreed to a very narrow definition of our work. We agreed that we would only mediate alleged violations of the pledge. I think we were successful in doing that.

But the effectiveness of a clean campaign process would be enhanced if the committee had more time to organize. Early organization would also allow time for training, not only of new members to the committee but also of campaign staff.

The Clean Campaign Pledge includes not only the candidates but their staff and supporters as well. Candidates could avoid some Clean Campaign Pledge issues if their staff and supporters understood its ramifications.

The signing of the pledge is a process that should be conducted by the Clean Campaign Committee. The committee should have the original copies of the signed pledges.

In the three clean campaigns that I have served, signing the pledge turned into a photo opportunity for many candidates. This was often done independently of the Clean Campaign Committee. I think that weakens the little authority that the committee commands in the first place.

I have heard some complaints that the committee is really powerless and that it "does not have any teeth." On the face of it that is quite true. The committee has neither budget nor investigative staff. The committee has no power to subpoena, indict, or try. Nor should it. The real power of the Clean Campaign Pledge lies with the candidates and their campaign staff.

The real issue, and therefore the real strength of the Clean Campaign Pledge, is the integrity of candidates with regards to the pledge. The committee cannot make them faithful to the pledge.

I do think that because the candidates sign the pledge and because there is a committee to monitor the races the candidates are more mindful of their conduct.

I also find it interesting that some of the people who declare the committee too weak to be effective then bring a complaint to the committee a week or so later.

I understand that every candidate will interpret the committee's decisions to his or her own political advantage. Bringing a complaint before the committee is itself a political act, as is the response to the committee's work.

It is the nature of politics to seek advantage over one's opponents. The challenge for the committee is to maintain neutrality and offer a decision that is as fair as possible.

People do not seem to understand that the Clean Campaign Pledge is binding on the committee too.

Thus the work of the committee is limited to public record or documentation that is often provided by the politicians themselves. The committee would be at fault to make decisions on the basis of assumptions, innuendo, rumor, or intuition.

Matters of character are important to the political process and the institutions of democracy. But what we really know about a candidate is dependent on public record. And even that does not always reveal a candidate's true character. Credit card debt, bankruptcy, or a failed business may not reflect on character so much as on a health crisis or economic recession.

I sometimes have had the feeling that political campaigns hoped the Clean Campaign Committee would malign their opponents or somehow cast doubt on their opponent's character.

The French essayist, Montaigne, once said, "I never met a man who did not deserve to be hanged - at least once."

But it is not the function of the committee to cast judgment on any candidate's character.

The committee can only render a decision about compliance with the Clean Campaign Pledge.

In the end the public will have to decide the quality of moral character and its role in the potential leadership of a candidate.

The place of media and press in an election is one that is fraught with potential problems for the committee. The committee issues a press release detailing its decisions. These are sent first to the respective campaigns and then to the media.

These are sometimes very involved decisions.

I do not expect the newspapers or television or radio stations to print or read the entire decision. But the reporting often is distilled to what the reporter believes was the outcome of the committee's decision. The logic or rationale behind the decision gets lost. I think that the citizens ought to have access to the full report.

Perhaps newspapers and radio and television stations could post the entire report on their Web sites.

The media hold real power in terms of the efficacy of the Clean Campaign Pledge and committee. In fact, the media could under-report or fail to report on the proceedings of the committee.

Understanding that newspapers and radio and television stations are also political agents in every community, the work of the Clean Campaign Committee depends on straightforward reporting.

I have seldom experienced bias by members of the press or electronic media and would hope that coverage of the Clean Campaign would continue to be as objective as possible.

It would also be helpful if less time were spent on the effectiveness of the committee and more time spent on issues and decisions.

I have enjoyed working with committee members over the years. Everyone has tried to be as fair and as objective as possible. Each serves in good faith.

In dealing with representatives of Jack Ford and Carty Finkbeiner I found them always to be polite and respectful of the committee.

It has been a real privilege to serve Toledo and Lucas County in this capacity and I am deeply thankful.

Gary Blaine is the spokesman for the Citizens' Clean Campaign Committee and senior minister at First Unitarian Church.



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