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Published: Wednesday, 10/10/2001

Toledo mayoral candidates prepare to joust

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

The two candidates for mayor of Toledo will meet Oct. 23 at the Valentine Theatre to sell themselves to voters in what will be their first televised one-on-one debate.

The forum, sponsored by The Blade, WTVG-TV, and the Valentine Theatre, will be broadcast live on Channel 13.

It will mark the beginning of the end of an intense competition for the most important political office in northwest Ohio between two veteran Democratic politicians - state Rep. Jack Ford and Lucas County Treasurer Ray Kest.

The election is Nov. 6.

The debate will begin at 7 p.m. and run 60 minutes with no commercial interruptions. It will be hosted by Channel 13 news anchor Diane Larson. The panel of journalists will include The Blade's city hall reporter Tom Troy and editorial writer Marilou Johanek, and WTVG-TV news anchor Lee Conklin.

Unlike the six-way primary debate, the upcoming forum will include time for rebuttals.

The candidate to which a question is posed will be given 90 seconds to answer. The other candidate then will be allowed 60 seconds to respond to his opponent's answer.

Each candidate will be given 90 seconds for opening statements and another 90 seconds for closing statements.

Questions will be from the panel, from e-mails submitted to The Blade web site (www.toledoblade.com) and the web site of WTVG-TV (www.13abc.com).

In addition, Channel 13 will pretape questions gathered from voters at random locations around the city.

Free tickets to the debate are available to the public at both Kest and Ford campaign headquarters.

In the Sept. 11 mayoral primary election, the two were almost deadlocked. Out of nearly 47,000 votes cast, Mr. Ford won by 41 ballots.

Both candidates said then that the tragic Election Day terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, which occurred just two hours after polls opened in Toledo, stirred the emotions of most voters to the point that they forgot about the mayoral race almost immediately.

The two campaigns have been working overtime in the weeks since to re-establish a connection with voters and to try to get them to concentrate on local politics, even as armed forces have initiated counterattacks against suspected terrorist strongholds in Afghanistan.

The Valentine Theatre debate, they said, could be the best tool to reawaken voter interest.

“That would be the time when the media campaigns will start hitting for both campaigns. Those who have not yet made up their minds will be starting to pay attention,” Mr. Kest said.

“I think the issues will become clearer. It's just going to be Jack and me this time,” he said. “I'm not sure the public got a whole lot out of the first debate,” where six candidates shared the same 60 minutes of airtime.

Mr. Kest said there are not a lot of ways to prepare for the debate because the panel of journalists “determine where the questions are going to go.” But he said he tries to ready himself by fielding questions on the campaign trail from voters.

“The timing is about right” for the debates, Mr. Ford said. “A lot of folks don't start paying attention until about two weeks before the election.

“People have been stunned by what happened on Sept. 11, and it is going to take a long time for that to wear off.

“Voters are getting a sense that they have a choice. We are both staking out our positions a little clearer than we did in the primary,” Mr. Ford said.

The debate “will be an opportunity to flesh out our positions for a larger audience,” Mr. Ford said.

Mr. Ford and Mr. Kest are battling to replace incumbent Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, who is limited by the city charter from seeking another four-year term.



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