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Published: Thursday, 11/3/2005

Foes say Finkbeiner s passion is really just abusive behavior

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner s behavior made national news.
Former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner s behavior made national news.
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Carolyn Smithers settled for $35,000 after she claimed then-Mayor Carty Finkbeiner hit her with a ceramic mug. Carolyn Smithers settled for $35,000 after she claimed then-Mayor Carty Finkbeiner hit her with a ceramic mug.
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Restaurateur John Skiadas, left, listens to his lawyer, John Potts, in the course of his unsuccessful lawsuit. He claimed that Mr. Finkbeiner, right, caused an angina attack by poking him in the chest in 2000. As mayor, Mr. Finkbeiner was known for his volatile temper. Restaurateur John Skiadas, left, listens to his lawyer, John Potts, in the course of his unsuccessful lawsuit. He claimed that Mr. Finkbeiner, right, caused an angina attack by poking him in the chest in 2000. As mayor, Mr. Finkbeiner was known for his volatile temper.
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As mayor, he yelled at employees, community activists, and citizens, and a couple times landed himself and the city in court.

What former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner calls his passion Mayor Jack Ford has labeled abuse.

Mr. Finkbeiner s conduct before and while he was mayor generated abundant newspaper headlines, and has provided grist for Mr. Ford s negative campaign ads and great one-liners in Tuesday night s live televised debate.

Unfortunately, the old Carty still stands Mr. Ford said to the cheers of his supporters and the boos of Carty boosters in the audience at the Stranahan Theater for The Blade, WTVG-TV Channel 13 debate.

Mr. Finkbeiner has provided much fodder for the Ford campaign to bring up in its attempt to remind voters about the old Carty.

In March, 1999, Mr. Finkbeiner called for a boycott of Little Caesar s Pizza because the franchise owners involvement in a proposed Rossford sports arena. Some Little Caesar s stores renamed their Crazy Bread Carty Bread.

Months before he left office, Mr. Finkbeiner threatened to hold up city employee contributions to the United Way of Greater Toledo to pressure the YMCA of Greater Toledo to build a downtown branch.

Mr. Finkbeiner s staff the next day clarified that employees contributions to the United Way would not be interfered with.

Mr. Finkbeiner embroiled the city in a lawsuit after John Skiadas, the owner of an Erie Street Market restaurant, accused Mr. Finkbeiner in 2000 of poking his chest, yelling at him, and causing a bout of angina. In February, a Lucas County Common Pleas judge ruled that Mr. Finkbeiner did not assault Mr. Skiadas, and that there was not evidence that he suffered injury or emotional distress.

Joann Vanderpool, a longtime community and Democratic Party activist, said the mayor was abusive verbally during a conversation she had with him in the Government Center parking garage in 1998.

Ms. Vanderpool had approached Mr. Finkbeiner to discuss plans for a drugstore on Broadway at South Avenue that she favored, she said, and got a profanity-laced tirade in response.

In the middle of his second term, he banished the city s then-real estate manager, Rick May, from a Wednesday staff meeting because Mr. May was a few minutes late. Mr. May ended up sitting in a nearby conference room, by himself, for the several hours that the staff meeting lasted.

I never sent anybody to another room. I d just dismiss them from the meeting for the day, Mr. Finkbeiner once explained, joking, for some of them it might have been a reward.

In 1999, when the head of ProMedica Health System sent a vice president in his place to a luncheon meeting of CEOs at the Toledo Club, Mr. Finkbeiner banished the woman from the room and wrote the company president a letter accusing him of a lack of leadership.

More in the nature of an insensitive gaffe was Mr. Finkbeiner s willingness in 1994 to pass along a suggestion from a neighbor that the airport, then under criticism from neighbors for loud jets, offer to sell homes at low cost to deaf people. He continued to defend the idea for several days. I said I didn t think it should be out of hand dismissed, Mr. Finkbeiner recalled.

The situation earned Toledo a spot in a book called The 176 Stupidest Things Ever Done and as a question in the board game Trivial Pursuit.

Shelley Papenfuse, who is an activist for the disabled, said the episode horrified her. We re talking about segregating people, said Ms. Papenfuse.

In 1997, he phoned a 19-year-old West Toledo woman from his car to repeat what his subordinates had already tried to tell her, that she could not keep chickens in her West Toledo yard. The mayor not only denied the permit she wanted, but got very, very mad at me, the woman said.

The mayor denied he became angry. But he agreed his effort to solve a complaint from a constituent had not succeeded.

Mr. Finkbeiner, 66, said in an interview last week with The Blade that he will handle those kinds of situations differently, if elected either by returning the call at a time when he is unhurried and can make a constructive suggestion, or by delegating the job.

And in the Tuesday night debate he said he would again bring passion to the mayor s office, but he would temper that with more patience and being a better communicator.

Medically, he is under doctor s orders to keep his stress level down, having gone through heart bypass surgery last year.

And, he said, he wants to let a chief of staff handle much of the day to day details while he tries to function in the public realm to rally community and corporate leaders to improve the regional economy.

In the Tuesday debate, Mr. Ford chastised the former mayor for trying to justify his anger at a female city employee for her handling of an oversized crowd in the Erie Street Market in 1998.

In her lawsuit filed in 1999, Carolyn Smithers claimed that Mr. Finkbeiner accosted her with a ceramic coffee mug clenched in his fist and shouted, I ought to hit you with this! She contends the mug struck the side of her face.

Mr. Finkbeiner told The Blade he never touched Ms. Smithers, but only raised his cup a Styrofoam cup, he says, half-filled with tea in her direction.

That gesture, right there, was the throw that was alleged in the lawsuit, and it never took place, Mr. Finkbeiner said.

He said she mishandled an event in the Erie Street Market that caused a near-riot and then lied to him about the circumstances.

Mr. Finkbeiner signed the $35,000 settlement on Jan. 29, 2001.

Mr. Ford used the cup incident over and over in the debate. In fact, he mentioned it in his opening statement: You will not see a $35,000 settlement because I hit someone with a cup, he told the Stranahan Theater audience.

There is frustration among Mr. Ford s supporters that voters do not remember the behaviors that sometimes made Toledo a laughingstock and cost the city money.

City Councilman Frank Szollosi said Mr. Finkbeiner created ill will with suburban neighbors and with the Lucas County commissioners.

Finally, for the first time in 15 or 20 years the public sector and private sector have their act together. Going back to Carty would be a huge step backward, Mr. Szollosi said.

Paula Ross, a former Democratic Party chairman who supported Keith Wilkowski in the primary, said Mr. Ford needs to remind people of the side of Mr. Finkbeiner that has receded from memory.

In those four years Carty has been successful in recasting himself and causing many, many people to forget those reasons they had for not approving of him when he was mayor, Ms. Ross said.

Mr. Finkbeiner sees it another way. He believes that his activity in the community, such as his part-time job as a television commentator and as a member of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, showed people his better side.

People began to see that I wasn t just a candidate and a politician elected official that this guy really does love this city, Mr. Finkbeiner said.

He said the support he has received from six city unions ought to send a message that [he] was fairer and a lot more encouraging than he was ever given credit for being.

Nick Wichowski, an unknown Republican who ran against Mr. Finkbeiner for mayor in 1997, and nearly defeated him, said he thinks Mr. Finkbeiner is a changed man because of his heart surgery.

He s a great communicator, and he s a great leader, said Mr. Wichowski, who said he took on Mr. Finkbeiner because of the gaffes and tirades. Back then he was a little bit more rugged, his comments were rougher.

Mr. Finkbeiner doesn t claim he won t get angry if he wins.

The job of the mayor isn t to be the Pope, he said.

You ve got a lot of reasons for people to question whether they should do business with the city, he said, citing Toledo s high utility and health-care costs.

And there sits the mayor. Is the mayor going to be a guy who s going to let his employees dally when they should be busting their tail to get something done?

Contact Tom Troy at:tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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