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Published: Sunday, 6/6/2004

Arena site should not be linked to 2001 vote

Some items while wondering whether George W. Bush or Bill Clinton would have more to fear if outgoing CIA director George Tenet wrote a tell-all book:

REVISIONISTS: Sometimes I wish I could walk around dressed like a basketball referee, complete with a striped shirt and whistle, and listen in on conversations.

Young boy: "Why did we invade Iraq?"

Parent: "Because Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, son. He is a bad, bad man."

Had I heard that exchange, I would have stopped in my tracks and blown the whistle. The parent committed a dialogue foul.

Yes, Saddam was a brutal dictator. But that's not the reason we were given for invading Iraq. President Bush told us Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and was "a grave and gathering threat to America and the world."

It's amazing how the biggest national story of the new century has evolved.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, then, that one of the biggest local stories in recent years has evolved in equally perplexing fashion.

I'm talking about the site for a new arena. To say that Toledoans voted to put the arena on the East Side is a misrepresentation of what took place on, of all days, Sept. 11, 2001. Voters were asked to waive Section 79 of the city charter, a provision that forbids the city from spending money on an arena, convention center, municipal theater, or exhibit hall.

The issue passed overwhelmingly.

What surprises me is how people forget the only reason Toledoans voted on it is because a developer said his proposed $175 million Marina District project depended on it.

Allow me to refresh your memory with the first two paragraphs of a story from May 15, 2001:

Columbus developer Frank Kass has issued a call for Toledo to change its charter to eliminate the need for a public vote before the city can build a sports arena.

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said he supports Mr. Kass' request, and the abolishment of charter Section 79 would be good for the city and the best way to advance Mr. Kass' proposed Marina District project.

Quite impressively, considering how long it takes for Toledo to move on major projects, the issue was on the ballot in less than four months. Mr. Kass got what he wanted, and the project appeared ready for takeoff.

By the end of 2002, however, Mr. Kass -- without offering a satisfactory explanation to the public -- walked away from the project.

Let's be clear: Toledoans merely gave the green light for an arena to be built on the East Side. In effect, it was a referendum on Mr. Kass' project. It was not a site-specific referendum for an arena.

With Mr. Kass no longer in the picture, the arena site should not be linked to the ballot initiative he pushed upon voters in 2001.

TWIN PACK: Two slanted questions this week. In honor of my niece Elizabeth, co-valedictorian of her high school's graduating class, I'm offering 4.0 points (based on a 4.0 scale) for each correct answer.

1) Inspired by a reader's observation of a bumper sticker: Doesn't the "Christian right" understand that the last time we mixed politics and religion, people were burned at the stake?

2) Isn't the murder trial of Scott Peterson an example of everything that's good about our legal system (looking at it objectively, how can you say the defense does not have a compelling argument?) and everything that's bad about the 24-hour cable news networks?

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