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Published: Sunday, 11/4/2001

Tomorrow the voters will be heard

It all comes to a close tomorrow, as the candidates for mayor of Toledo - state Rep. Jack Ford and Lucas County Treasurer Ray Kest - become silent and voters are heard.

The final days of the campaign have found the candidates finally coming to grips with a near-constant media presence. At almost every stop they have been greeted by a television camera from this or that station. Newspaper reporters have become tagalongs that both Mr. Kest and Mr. Ford have taken to calling their “shadows.”

It has been clear that neither candidate really understood ahead of time what it would mean to be in such a media spotlight. Every word is heard by someone who can spread it across the city, so every word has to be watched. Occasional slips are quickly retracted with a quick “That's off-the-record,” though such small-talk has seldom been worth jotting down.

While Toledo is really small potatoes in the media world, intense coverage has taught the candidates to always be “on” - not bad training for someone whose every move will be scrutinized as mayor. Along with the power of the most influential political job in northwest Ohio comes constant attention.

Just ask Carty.


THOUGH THEY ARE both lifelong Democrats, Mr. Ford and Mr. Kest have never run in the same circles. They have probably seen more of each other in the last 10 weeks than in all the years they have known each other put together.

They don't seem to be enjoying it.

Which is something they used to hide, being careful not to say something too tough about the other guy while he was within earshot. In the last week, that has changed. At joint appearances, they have just let go with their best shots, even as the other stands no more than an arm's length away.

Not that it has been overly nasty. Just very confrontational. Neither backs down. Those who witness their encounters for the first time develop peculiar facial expressions, as if to betray the thought that these guys could use a session with Montel or Oprah.

Or both.


CINCINNATI voters are going to the polls tomorrow to follow in the footsteps of Toledo, as they elect their first “strong mayor” in many decades.

Well, they call it a strong mayor, but it's nothing like Toledo, where incumbent Carty Finkbeiner has wielded wide-ranging power at city hall since he won the office eight years ago.

In Cincy, considered the birthplace of the city manager form of government, voters gave the mayor slightly more power than the city council in that he will be able to hire and fire the city manager, but the manager still maintains control of some city operations.

The race there has been as interesting as any in Ohio, as two television anchors - who used to work side by side delivering the evening news to viewers - have been gunning for the job.

Charlie Luken, the incumbent, is white. Courtis Fuller, the challenger, is black. That wouldn't be important, except that race and rioting have been at the center of the campaign. Mr. Luken was widely criticized for his handling of the race-related rioting in a central city neighborhood last spring.

The social upheaval occurred after a white officer shot and killed an unarmed black man in a dark alley. Officers had been chasing the man, and they maintained in court proceedings that they had tried to get him to stop running.

The officer who pulled the trigger went to court on minor charges this fall, and was found not guilty just as the mayoral campaign was heating up. What resulted was days of new anxiety, as blacks demanded that someone be punished for the death of the black victim, and whites fretted that their city might be permanently scarred as a racist haven.

As the incumbent, Mr. Luken found himself in a tough spot. For a time it looked like he was beginning to wobble and might lose control of the city and his re-election effort. But he found his footing and things quieted down.

Mr. Fuller, who appeared to draw political strength from the controversy, has since faded with the passions. It now looks like Mr. Luken will keep control of city hall.


IF YOU ARE registered to vote and have paid attention, remember to follow through and cast your ballot.

Much has been made about a resurgence of patriotism since the Sept. 11 terror attacks that interrupted the city's primary election. In fact, there is evidence that Toledoans, having caught their breath from the morning horrors on their television screens, went out to the polls in the afternoon in unusually strong numbers, perhaps in part to send a message that terrorism will not stop us from performing our most sacred public duty.

There is no less reason to vote tomorrow.

Fritz Wenzel covers politics for The Blade. Email him at fritz@theblade.com.



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