State Rep. Jack Ford seems lost in thought as consultant Jim Ruvolo and Sally Oberski of Fruchtman Marketing discuss his makeup prior to the mayoral debate at the Valentine Theatre.
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Jack Ford's head was too shiny. This would require some makeup.
“We're going to try to blunt that a little. I don't know if we can,” aide Jim Ruvolo said with a sigh.
“Lipstick?” Mr. Ford responded with a slight grin.
With the possible exception of a drag show, the exchange could mean only one thing: It was time to debate politics on TV.
Mr. Ford, a state representative, and Ray Kest, the Lucas County treasurer, squared off last night in the first live televised debate of Toledo's general election.
Each arrived at the Valentine Theatre with entourages of family members and political strategists. Mr. Ford arrived with his people - including strategist Ruvolo - about 6 p.m., an hour early. Mr. Kest arrived with his people about 15 minutes later.
And there was no time to dawdle.
Each had to take a “practice stand” at his podium so the Channel 13 TV crew could check camera angles while the political aides could check makeup needs. It was where Mr. Ford and Mr. Ruvolo agreed on the need for makeup.
Lucas County treasurer Ray Kest is made up by Theresa Pollick of Maumee before the televised debate as Dave Huey of Sylvania reviews the mayoral candidate's opening statement.
After all, makeup hasn't been a laughing matter to politicians since 1960, when Richard Nixon's macho shunning of some coverup made him look so pasty on TV that pundits said it cost him the presidential election.
Then each was escorted back to the theater's basement to his two-room suite, complete with a snack tray. For less than an hour, Mr. Kest and Mr. Ford had use of suites that have hosted such stars as Chubby Checker and Gordon Lightfoot.
There, surrounded by campaign strategists, they had final run-throughs of responses to questions they thought they'd be asked. It capped hours of practicing that each candidate had done in the past week.
For Mr. Kest, there was a quick wardrobe fix. His wife, Sherry, spotted a small but suspicious stain on his suit coat. It came out with a quick rub of an ice cube.
“That usually works,” she explained with a nod.
In the meantime, guarding the basement hallways was Valentine volunteer David Mittman, a retired city accountant. He was part of a security contingent that included a mix of other volunteers and off-duty city police officers guarding access to secure parts of the theater - common for any show.
The Valentine's executive director, Dale Vivirito, explained it this way: “There are rabid fans. There are stalkers. There are ex-wives.”
Last night, if there were any, none made it past security.
By 6:45 p.m., Mr. Kest's entourage was led back up the elevator to the theater, where he was fitted with a microphone on stage. Minutes later came Mr. Ford and his entourage. He was fitted as well.
For five minutes, it was lights and camera, but no action. Channel 13 first had to finish broadcasting ABC national news and a series of commercials. The candidates just stood there, jotting down notes, occasionally looking at the audience.
Then came the action. Each candidate introduced himself to hoots and hollers from the crowd - a habit that continued throughout the debate. There were few jeers - except when raucous Kest supporters drowned out a question from a Blade commentary writer about Mr. Kest's personal finances.
In an hour, it was over. The candidates shook hands, with Mr. Ford giving Mr. Kest an affectionate pat on the arm.
The candidates then took questions from reporters in another part of the theater while audience members filtered out onto Superior and Adams streets. There to greet them was a woman who had once shared the stage with the candidates during a primary TV debate: Opal Covey.
Ms. Covey, a self-described “prophetess/evangelist,” held a placard protesting the primary election results, in which she finished sixth of six candidates. Because of the confusion surrounding Sept. 11 - the day of the terrorist attacks and the primary election - she wants a new election.
Still, she had a pleasant smile for audience members, reporters, and even the candidates. She and Mr. Kest shook hands, and for a moment, the tension of the night evaporated.
“God bless you,” she offered.
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