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Published: Thursday, 11/10/2005

Mayor Ford's team of advisers warned about revised plan

BY JIM TANKERSLEY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
A victorious Carty Finkbeiner accepts congratulations from well-wishers. A victorious Carty Finkbeiner accepts congratulations from well-wishers.
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The poll results came back to Jack Ford in February and they spelled trouble.

Voters were upset with the city's direction and Mr. Ford's performance as mayor. Friends were questioning whether he should seek re-election. Advisers said Mr. Ford needed to broker a bold, high-profile economic development plan. When he did not, they saw only one path to victory in November, and they warned the mayor it could fail.

"You had to make the race about Carty," said Jim Ruvolo, a Ford campaign strategist.

They tried. They lost.

Carty Finkbeiner beat Mr. Ford by 24 percentage points Tuesday to return to the mayor's office after a four-year, term-limit-induced absence.

Friends and allies of both men said voters rejected four years of Mr. Ford's low-key, deliberate, communication-challenged leadership, and embraced a former mayor who buried his rocky past in campaign discipline and anger management.

"What everybody around Carty tried to help him do, and what I think he did well, was stay on message," said Mike Hart, president and CEO of Hart Associates, who ran Mr. Finkbeiner's media campaign. Later, he added: "While his passion hasn't changed, he knew he had to change and control his actions."

Eight years of Mr. Finkbeiner's volatile personality left voters weary in 2001. More than three-quarters liked where Toledo was headed, a Blade poll showed, but less than half liked Mr. Finkbeiner and his history of outbursts, finger jabbing, and one alleged assault with a coffee cup.

Jack Ford Jack Ford
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Mr. Ford, a soft-spoken state representative, positioned himself as a more serious successor - an image his allies said played well in the weeks following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Mr. Ford handily beat Ray Kest, the Lucas County treasurer, to become the city's first African-American mayor.

In office, Mr. Ford focused on managing a lean city budget. He settled a long-standing, multimillion dollar legal fight with the federal government and launched diversity initiatives for city hiring and contracts.

He also watched Toledo lose thousands of jobs in a sinking economy, most notably last summer, when Owens-Illinois announced it would move its headquarters and 340 employees from downtown Toledo to suburban Perrysburg.

Mr. Ford offered the company tax incentives to stay. Critics said he should have campaigned harder to keep it, as Mr. Finkbeiner successfully did with Jeep's Toledo Assembly Plant while in office. It was a style difference that hurt Mr. Ford on several occasions, friends said.

"Should Jack Ford have marched over to O-I, cameras in tow?" Mr. Ruvolo said. "Maybe. But Jack Ford would never do that. He understands that a mayor's control over an economy is precious little. But what that breeds is a sense of 'there's not much I can do about it, so I won't even try.' "

Mr. Ford was also reluctant to try policy initiatives that could backfire, Mr. Ruvolo and others said. He once considered, then discarded, proposing a tax on alcohol and cigarettes to finance a new sports arena. He nixed a development plan in the Marina District that he questioned long-term.

Friends say Mr. Ford also struggled to communicate his relatively unsexy accomplishments, such as the balanced budget, to voters, staff, or fellow politicians.

"In difficult economic times, people always look to charismatic leaders," said Wade Kapszukiewicz, the new Lucas County treasurer and a Ford ally, adding: "One of his strengths is not his charisma."

Mr. Finkbeiner has never struggled with charisma, just his temper.

But close associates say they saw him change last year, after undergoing heart surgery. Mr. Finkbeiner began to practice anger management techniques, they said, and he worked to avoid stress. He publicly drew strength from his faith.

Since the operation "I've seen a spiritual side to him I'd never witnessed before," said Dennis Duffy, a longtime local politician, union leader, and friend of Mr. Finkbeiner's.

Five years ago, Mr. Duffy added, "I couldn't reason with him about his behavior. There wasn't any control there. It's definitely different today."

Mr. Finkbeiner entered the mayor's race in July and began what advisers called the most-focused, hardest-working, best-organized campaign of his 31 years in politics. The former mayor knocked on doors for hours nearly every day, smiling, reintroducing himself.

He picked a campaign theme, "Carty Gets Results," that emphasized the part of his record that Toledoans liked best - and the part of Mr. Ford's that they questioned most. He revolved his campaign around it, with great results.

An August Blade poll showed Mr. Finkbeiner enjoying the highest popularity of his career.

Mr. Ford entered August sweating just to make the nonpartisan mayoral runoff. One of his longtime supporters, former County Commissioner Keith Wilkowski, had entered the race after conducting a poll that showed Mr. Ford facing an uphill re-election battle.

The mayor slipped into the runoff thanks to strong turnout from his central-city base. But in the weeks before the primary election, he refrained from attacking Mr. Finkbeiner, fearing he would drive voters to Mr. Wilkowski - and giving Mr. Finkbeiner weeks more, unfettered, to buff his image with voters. Minutes after learning he would advance to the general election, Mr. Ford attacked.

In the parking lot outside an election party, Mr. Ford compared Mr. Finkbeiner's ethics to embattled Gov. Bob Taft, who pleaded guilty in August to four misdemeanor counts of failing to disclose gifts while in office. It was the first of a string of assaults.

None stuck. A late October poll showed Mr. Finkbeiner's popularity - and his lead over Mr. Ford - sky high.

"There were no downsides about Carty Finkbeiner that Toledo didn't already know," Mr. Hart said "There were no surprises."

Mr. Ford took a final, perhaps fatal hit when a planned Neo-Nazi march sparked a riot in North Toledo on Oct. 15. The mayor tried to calm rioters, but the event upset voters, Mr. Ruvolo said.

"It was a perception of, who's in charge here?" he said. "While a lot of people didn't like what Carty did, they knew who was in charge."

Mr. Finkbeiner kept calm publicly through it all, including two contentious televised debates in the campaign's final weeks. "It was very hard for him, personally," Mr. Hart said. "I know it was."

When final results showed a 62 to 38 percent Finkbeiner victory yesterday morning, some of Mr. Ford's friends said privately they had failed, by not talking the mayor out of the race months before. Mr. Ruvolo said it was infeasible for Mr. Ford.

"Being the first African-American mayor in Toledo meant a lot to him," he said. "I think it would have been impossible for him not to run for re-election, in his own community.... He was a role model. And to walk away from it - truthfully, in some ways a defeat was more understandable."

At a victory party late Tuesday night, advisers said they expected to see a matured - if not entirely even-tempered - Mr. Finkbeiner in his new term.

"He's older, and a lot more experienced, and a lot more patient," said Pat Nicholson, Mr. Finkbeiner's finance chairman. "But ... he's still the old football coach. He still thinks he's [Vince] Lombardi reincarnated."

Contact Jim Tankersley at:

jtankersley@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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