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Published: Sunday, 12/12/2004

Progress takes both parties

It's an often-heard complaint that I initially dismissed as Republican whining, but I'm starting to think there's something to the grumbling.

The reason Toledo has been mired in mediocrity for decades is because of what amounts to single-party rule.

That I no longer scoff at the above statement must mean I'm close to completing a 180-degree turn.

Why the reversal? Two things: 1) a Dec. 1 e-mail from loyal reader Joe; 2) an article in Wednesday's paper.

After I lamented about the Toledo Sports Arena's 57th anniversary, Joe said I sounded like "one of those pessimistic lifelong Toledoans."

"Now you're beginning to feel the same despair as the rest of us."

If was as if he nudged me and whispered, "Welcome to the club."

One of his observations, which he said was based on living in the area for 52 years, provided one of those light-bulb moments for me. He blames the city's stagnation on the Democrats' domination.

"One would think that with this kind of power, they would ram through anything they wanted," Joe said. "Fifth Third Field would be 15 years old instead of three. The Sports Arena would be a distant memory. Southwyck [Shopping Center] would either be robust or gone."

The reason those things haven't happened, he explained, is because when one Democrat comes up with a plan, another Democrat offers a different plan. (There's no better example than the debate over the location for a new arena. Toledo Mayor Jack Ford wants it on the East Side; former Lucas County Treasurer Ray Kest said it should be built near the baseball stadium.)

To avoid a public fight and promote a perception of party unity, Joe said, the competing proposals are studied by committee, which offers a solution that neither side wants. So it's back to Square One.

"With a stronger Republican presence, each side would offer a plan. Both sides would jump all over the other's plan with their own self-righteous proclamations and eventually a compromise would be reached," Joe said.

Say it again, Joe: "Eventually a compromise would be reached."

I can't recall a Republican pitching an arena plan. They've shown just as much disinterest as some of their Democratic counterparts. So, just like Joe said, we're back at Square One.

Now to Wednesday's paper and an article that provided a good example of how single-party rule stifles growth.

Mr. Ford met with two fellow Democrats, Tina Skeldon Wozniak and Pete Gerken (a Lucas County commissioner and a commissioner-elect, respectively), to discuss merging city and county economic development departments.

The merger is a great, forward-thinking idea. But there's a big problem, one which zapped all of the positive vibes: Maggie Thurber, the only Republican commissioner, was not there.

This was the second time in as many weeks that Ms. Wozniak and Mr. Gerken did a tag-team job on Ms. Thurber, effectively squelching any GOP input and, therefore, the need to strike a compromise.

And as Joe pointed out, single-party rule isn't unique to Toledo.

"If you think I'm only bashing Democrats, look no further than Columbus [and the Republican-dominated state government]," he said. "Same old, same old."

The spirit of finding common ground is virtually nonexistent at every level of government.



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