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Published: Sunday, 3/2/2003

Southwyck puts glitter on Ford's first year

Some items while hoping Mother Nature realizes that the Mud Hens' first home game is a month from tomorrow:

TURNING POINT?: Toledo Mayor Jack Ford did not generate any “buzz” during his first year on the job. Depending on your perspective, that was either a good thing (he didn't embarrass the city like his temper-challenged predecessor, Carty Finkbeiner, did so many times) or a bad thing (he didn't seize the opportunity to build upon the momentum from the Finkbeiner administration, particularly after voters gave the green light for the Marina District).

It's hard to fault Mr. Ford for taking advantage of his “I'm Not Carty” pass as he learned the ins and outs of his $136,000-a-year position. Still, “The Lost Year” of 2002 could come back to haunt him if he runs for re-election.

I consider the e-mail I receive from readers to be a pretty good gauge of public opinion -- and it was clear that Mr. Ford's “approval rating” had fallen considerably in recent months. An excerpt from one that arrived Monday: “Congratulations to Jack Ford for bringing back the dull and stagnant Toledo that I grew up with. Business as usual, and it feels right. We are again on our way to being part of the armpit of the Midwest.”

Kris sent that e-mail one day before what may be remembered as the turning point of the Ford administration. On Tuesday, Westfield America Trust -- which owns the mall formerly known as Franklin Park -- rescued Southwyck Shopping Center from death row, promising to pump $50 million to $60 million into redevelopment.

Mr. Ford made a huge political investment by promising that Southwyck would be saved and, to his credit, it will be. (That's assuming, of course, Westfield -- which has quickly become one of Toledo's finest corporate citizens -- follows through with its commitment.)

On Mr. Ford's to-do list, he can put a big checkmark by Southwyck.

And with it comes the city's first “buzz” on Mr. Ford's watch.

Even without Southwyck factored in, it was a great week for the Ford administration. First, snow crews did a terrific job of clearing the main roads after a 9-inch snowfall. Then, in a test of his leadership skills, he addressed how the city is going to close a $12.1 million shortfall in the 2003 budget. Then, in a smart public-relations move, he said he no longer needed a full-time bodyguard and, in effect, put the Toledo police officer back on the streets.

Wait a minute. Without Southwyck I guess it would have been a rather mundane week. Effective, but mundane.

It appears that the “Southwyck effect” added a little glitter to Mr. Ford's week. That's OK, though. Glitter is the first sign and, therefore, a key component of momentum.

TWIN PACK: Two slanted questions this week. To commemorate the amount of snow that we received through the end of February, I'm offering 52 points for each correct answer. (Click on the link below and check out reader response to last week's questions.)

1) Given that the projected cost of a war with Iraq works out to $320 per citizen, shouldn't President Bush suspend all tax-cut proposals until he submits a balanced budget?

2) Encore question (from Feb. 17, 2002): If we are going to invade Iraq, as reports suggest, don't you wish we'd do it sooner rather than later? (Yes, we've been in “war” mode for more than a year. I've softened my stance since then -- how about you?)



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