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Published: Sunday, 9/18/2005

Mayoral candidates follow classic script

BY JIM TANKERSLEY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
Mayor Jack Ford, shown after casting his ballot Tuesday, must
show  sharp contrasts  with his opponent, advisers say.
Mayor Jack Ford, shown after casting his ballot Tuesday, must show sharp contrasts with his opponent, advisers say.
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There's a basic script in politics, as applicable to a presidential campaign as it is to the Toledo mayor's race: Those who trail, attack. Those who lead, ignore.

Jack Ford and Carty Finkbeiner are playing their parts already.

Mr. Ford, the incumbent and the underdog in the eight-week mayoral runoff, began gunning at Mr. Finkbeiner literally moments after final results late Tuesday showed he'd survived the primary.

Friends and advisers say the mayor must continue to draw "sharp contrasts" with his opponent, who was mayor from 1994 to 2002, to win the Nov. 8 vote.

That includes questioning Mr. Finkbeiner's record and apparently linking him - however tangentially - to as many scandal-plagued politicians as possible, including Gov. Bob Taft, Republican fund-raiser Tom Noe, and former Lucas County Treasurer Ray Kest.

Carty Finkbeiner, at a post-primary party with his wife, Amy, plans to focus on achievements and economic development.
Carty Finkbeiner, at a post-primary party with his wife, Amy, plans to focus on achievements and economic development.
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"The mayor's got to go after Finkbeiner on jobs," said Frank Szollosi, a city councilman who managed Mr. Finkbeiner's re-election campaign in 1997 but now supports Mr. Ford. "And he has to go after him on ethics and trustworthiness There are a web of connections here that I think can be explored."

Mr. Finkbeiner said this week that if he's attacked, "We'll answer." But he plans to stick initially with a message focused on his accomplishments in office and his vision for the city - emphasizing economic development in both cases.

That includes detailed plans for developing a new sports arena and the Marina District; revitalizing Westgate Village Shopping Center and Southwyck Mall, and diversifying Toledo's economy.

"Our gameplan is lift this city up," Mr. Finkbeiner said. "And you're not going to do that Nov. 9 if you don't do that when the campaign's at its heat."

Mr. Finkbeiner enjoys a sort of luxury of positivity, thanks to his 11-percentage-point victory over Mr. Ford in the primary and polls that show him more popular with voters than he's ever been.

He also sees room to grow on the election map. Mr. Finkbeiner won 17 city wards to Mr. Ford's six. He hopes to improve in his strongest areas by courting voters who on Tuesday chose attorney Keith Wilkowski or City Councilman Rub Ludeman, who failed to make the cut.

Mr. Ford's strategy, meanwhile, might be characterized as negative by necessity.

The mayor slipped narrowly through last Tuesday's primary election; nearly three-quarters of voters picked someone other than him. Pre-primary polls showed more than half of voters viewed him unfavorably.

Mr. Finkbeiner's media consultant sees it more cynically.

"If I was 12 or 15 points down in the election," said Mike Hart, president and CEO of Hart Associates, "I would pound on someone else's record, too, if I didn't have a record of my own to stand on."

Mr. Ford mostly avoided criticizing Mr. Finkbeiner during the primary. His advisors feared attacking the former mayor would only send voters to Mr. Wilkowski, who came within 3 percentage points of edging Mr. Ford for the runoff.

The dtente lasted only a few minutes on Wednesday.

Soon after midnight and the release of final election results, Mr. Ford told reporters he'd focus on ethics in the runoff.

"With what's going on in Columbus, what Tom Noe has been involved in, I think it's going to be on the minds of the voters and we need to have an ethical government," Mr. Ford said. "We're going to talk about that."

Mr. Szollosi said evidence links Mr. Finkbeiner to Mr. Noe, a former Lucas County GOP chairman who is accused of stealing millions of dollars state officials gave him to invest in rare coins.

As examples, Mr. Szollosi cites campaign finance records showing Mr. Finkbeiner bought Mr. Noe lunch this year, and Hart Associates' production of advertisements for Republican candidates when Mr. Noe ran the party.

Mr. Hart said it was "ludicrous" to suggest either instance linked Mr. Finkbeiner to Mr. Noe's alleged wrongdoing.

Mr. Finkbeiner was convicted in 1998 of a misdemeanor ethics violation for failing to report $10,000 he earned through a city-brokered real estate deal to state officials. Mr. Szollosi and other supporters of Mr. Ford have said the conviction puts Mr. Finkbeiner on par with Mr. Taft and Mr. Kest.

Mr. Taft plead guilty to four misdemeanor ethics counts this summer after failing to report gifts on state disclosure forms. Lawmakers and citizen groups have urged him to resign as a result. Mr. Kest resigned from office last year to avoid a felony theft charge.

Mr. Finkbeiner's spokesman has called the comparisons baseless.

The mayor's advisors would not say specifically how they plan to contrast Mr. Ford and Mr. Finkbeiner. Campaign manager Megan Vahey said the message wouldn't be all aggressive, and that Mr. Ford's plans for the future, particularly economically, would be "a big part of the campaign."

Both candidates signed clean campaign pledges this month, which include promises to refrain from personal attacks, avoid half-truths and innuendo, and disavow any supporters' comments or ads that violate those terms.

Contact Jim Tankersley at

jtankersley@theblade.com or

419-724-6134 or



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