Toledo's mayoral rivals to square off


Toledo's major mayoral candidates, who have been jousting in news conferences, online forums, and TV and radio talk shows for weeks, will face each other in the first major live televised debate of the election season Monday night on WTOL-TV, Channel 11.

The 60-minute debate, co-sponsored by The Blade, starts at 7 p.m. It will borrow from the freewheeling format used by WTOL in its Internet forums conducted earlier in the campaign, said Andi Roman, WTOL news director.

That means there will be more conversation among the candidates and the questioners, while still adhering to time limits for candidate answers.

"We feel it's important to get the information out to our viewers so they're as well informed as they can be when it comes to choosing the next mayor of the city," Ms. Roman said.

The candidates are Mike Bell, the former longtime city fire chief running as an independent; D. Michael Collins, Toledo city councilman from the 2nd District; Ben Konop, Democratic lawyer and Lucas County commissioner; Jim Moody, the endorsed Republican and a real estate agent, and Keith Wilkowski, a Democratic lawyer who leads the candidate field in fund-raising so far.

The two top vote-getters in the Sept. 15 primary will move on to the general election Nov. 3.

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner is not seeking re-election. Also on the Sept. 15 ballot is independent church minister Opal Covey, who ran unsuccessfully in 2005 and 2001, polling fewer than 400 votes each time. She was not invited to the debate.

Two local political observers with experience in running campaigns said the one-hour debate could prove to be a key moment in the 2009 campaign.

Fritz Wenzel, a former Blade politics writer who now runs his own political consulting business, Wenzel Strategies, said the city's troubles of the last couple of years combined with a strong mood for change promise a receptive audience for the candidates.

"I think this debate will be more closely watched than any in recent history because of the turmoil and transition I sense is going on in the city of Toledo," said Mr. Wenzel, who described himself as "right-leaning" and who is not working with any candidates in the Toledo mayoral race. "People voiced their desire for change last November and locally I sense that hunger for change," he said.

Frank Szollosi, a Democratic political consultant who is also not working with any of the Toledo mayoral candidates, said the primary voter turnout tends to be smaller in number but more clued in about the issues than the general election voters.

"This will be the moment of maximum exposure for all of the candidates before the primary so I'd say the stakes are pretty high," said Mr. Szollosi, an at-large city council member who is not running for re-election this year. "We haven't really heard from these candidates on what they would do to address the budget situation, so this gives them an opportunity to make their best pitch on how to address what has to be the No. 1 issue facing Toledo municipal government at this point."

The candidates said they are looking forward to getting their message out unfiltered to a large local audience.

Mr. Wilkowski, who came in third in the 2005 mayoral primary election, said, "I'm very much looking forward" to the debate.

"The more opportunities I have to talk about my plan for reviving our economy, the better," he said. He said voters are looking for candidates with leadership and ideas. "I'm comfortable in this point in the campaign that I've got substance to offer," he said.

"I'm excited about it," said Mr. Moody, who is in his first bid for public office. "It allows the voters to hear something besides sound bites. I'm hoping that there is a chance to respond to other candidates what they have to say and point out truisms and nontruisms."

Mr. Konop said the debate is a chance for voters to see the candidates in an unscripted format that isn't possible in news reports.

"It's a great opportunity to talk at a more substantive level and that's important because we're facing unprecedented challenges and we need real solutions that make sense," Mr. Konop said. "The more debates the better because I think there is a serious contrast between myself and my opponents."

Mr. Collins, the former city police patrolman's union president who was elected to council in 2007, said, "It's going to be an opportunity for me, having entered the campaign late, to demonstrate that there are differences between my platform and my philosophy when compared to my opponents."

Mr. Bell said, "It's time, as they say in football, to bring the heat."

He said the debate is an opportunity for voters to see candidates under pressure.

"They get to watch candidates answer questions possibly under a little bit of stress and see how they react," Mr. Bell said.

The forum will take place in the auditorium of the Fifth Third Center at One SeaGate downtown. It will be moderated by WTOL anchor Jerry Anderson, with anchor Chrys Peterson moderating questions from the voter panel and Blade politics writer Tom Troy also posing questions.

The audience will consist of invited guests and invited supporters of the candidates.

The Press Club of Toledo is holding a predebate social gathering in the Triple A Cafe on the Park Level of One SeaGate starting at

5:30. The reception is free and open to the public.

Contact Tom Troy at:

or 419-724-6058.