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Published: Sunday, 10/28/2001

Poll: Ford ahead by 14 points

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

Jack Ford has staked out a 14-point lead over Ray Kest in the race for mayor of Toledo heading into the home stretch, but 1 in 5 likely voters say they have yet to make up their minds, a new poll shows.

Ten days before the election, Mr. Ford has 46 percent support, compared to 32 percent for Mr. Kest, with 19 percent still on the fence, according to a poll commissioned by The Blade and WTVG-TV Channel 13, and conducted Thursday through yesterday by Zogby International of Utica, N.Y.

Three percent said they would vote for another candidate if possible.

The poll surveyed 606 likely Toledo voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

“He is not at 50 percent, which means [Mr.] Ford is not a lock here,” John Zogby, president of Zogby International, said. “But he is ahead by a comfortable double-digit lead.”

The poll shows that the two men are generally well-liked by the city electorate, but that they have more confidence in Mr. Ford.

Nearly 74 percent say they have a positive opinion of the state representative, while 62 percent said they have a positive view of Mr. Kest, the Lucas County treasurer.

Both candidates are Democrats.

Half of those questioned for the survey said they believe Mr. Ford would be an effective leader, while 1 in 3 said the same about Mr. Kest.

Mr. Zogby said if Mr. Ford wins the race, it would be largely because of his personality.

“Jack Ford is very well liked, “ Mr. Zogby said. “His favorable rating is huge. And while Ray Kest is no slouch, the fact that only a third of respondents are ready to commit to him is a problem.”

Mr. Kest said he is not disturbed by the new poll numbers.

“I was behind in the Zogby poll, and it ended up just about even on [Primary] Election Day. The only poll that counts is the one on Election Day. That's the only comment I am making,” Mr. Kest said.

An issue that has surfaced in the campaign recently - credit-card debt - may have hurt his standing with voters.

Forty-eight percent of poll respondent said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who carried a “substantial amount” of debt on his personal credit cards.

Earlier this month, credit reports released by the candidates showed that Mr. Kest and his wife had $81,000 in credit-card debt, while Mr. Ford and his wife had about $11,500 in credit-card debt.

Seventy-one percent of likely voters said they believed it is important “to compare how a candidate manages his personal budget to how he will manage city funds.”

The first Zogby poll, conducted before the Sept. 11 primary election, went into the field after a televised debate between the candidates, but before the advertising campaigns hit local airwaves. It showed Mr. Ford with an 11-point lead.

Both men are Democrats.

Mr. Ford ended up narrowly winning the primary by 41 votes out of more than 46,000 cast.

The voting in that election proceeded even as terrorists were crashing airplanes into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, and a field in southwestern Pennsylvania. It is unclear how the tragedies affected local voter turnout.

The latest poll began after both candidates began their advertising campaigns.

In 1993, Mike Ferner lost a 17-point lead in the last two weeks of the Toledo mayoral campaign as intense publicity was focused on his role as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. He had written about his experiences in a book that came to light late in that campaign.

Carty Finkbeiner squeaked by in that race, winning by less than 1,000 votes. That poll was conducted by the Gallup Organization.

Mr. Ford said it is not surprising so many voters are undecided just over one week before the election.

“We're both longtime officeholders, and some folks have loyalties that kinda make it clear cut,” he said. “Then there is another group that is trying to make up its mind. I think there's a lot of uncertainty generally in the country and the community right now, and people aren't able to make decisions quickly. “

Mr. Ford said the poll results will have little effect on what he does in the last days before polls open.

“We are continuing to campaign very hard. We are just going to keep going,” he said.

Mr. Zogby said Mr. Kest may be singing the wrong song to Toledo voters. The poll shows that the biggest issue facing city residents is the state of the economy and the future of their jobs.

Mr. Kest has been emphasizing public safety over the last two weeks, and has proposed spending more than one-third of Toledo's $14 million reserve fund to pay for officers at a time when poll respondents say they are most worried about money matters.

The poll shows the candidates are evenly split when it comes to helping the local economy. Forty-three percent said they believe Mr. Ford would do a better job, while 42 percent said Mr. Kest would manage the economy better. Fifteen percent are unsure.

On the question of public safety, half of those questioned said they think Mr. Ford would find more success, while 32 percent said they would favor Mr. Kest.

When Mr. Kest released his plan recently to hire 40 police officers, the idea was attacked by some on council and by outgoing Mayor Finkbeiner, who said it would be “irresponsible” to spend the city's reserve fund in that way.The proposal became a budgetary issue instead of a safety issue.

The poll indicates Mr. Kest's proposals did not help his campaign.

An issue that has brought Mr. Ford a clear-cut advantage, the poll shows, is urban sprawl. By a 53 percent to 22 percent margin, respondents said Mr. Ford would be more successful keeping development in the city, not spreading to surrounding farmland.

The two candidates have differed on the question for weeks, with Mr. Kest saying he could approve of suburban growth as long as Toledo receives some tax revenue from it. Mr. Ford has said his first priority is to push for development of sites inside city limits.

Mr. Ford has his strongest support among women, where he leads Mr. Kest, 50 percent to 28 percent. He is even stronger among women who work outside the home - as 57 percent support him compared to 24 percent for Mr. Kest.

Mr. Kest has won the support of many labor unions in his mayoral bid, but the poll shows a big chunk of the rank-and-file are supporting Mr. Ford. In households with at least one union worker, Mr. Ford wins 49 percent support, compared to 30 percent backing for Mr. Kest.

Mr. Kest is strongest among Republicans, where he leads Mr. Ford, 49 percent to 28 percent. Democrats favor Mr. Ford, 58 percent to 24 percent.

Among independent voters, Mr. Ford holds a slight edge, 36 percent to 32 percent.

Despite the terrorist attacks on Election Day, Toledoans said they still feel good about their city. Nearly eight of every 10 - 78 percent - said they believe the city is moving in the right direction.

The poll taken before the attacks showed the same level of support for the direction of the city.



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