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Published: Saturday, 10/24/2009

Televised forum aims to help the undecided

BLADE STAFF
Independent Mike Bell, left, and Democrat Keith Wilkowski will face off in the debate at 7 p.m. Monday, televised on WTOL-TV Channel 11. Independent Mike Bell, left, and Democrat Keith Wilkowski will face off in the debate at 7 p.m. Monday, televised on WTOL-TV Channel 11.
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Toledo voters will get to see the two men who are vying for mayor of Toledo in a televised face-off Monday night.

WTOL-TV Channel 11 and The Blade are sponsoring the debate between independent Mike Bell and Democrat Keith Wilkowski.

The debate, originating from WTOL's studio, takes place from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

It pits novice politician Mr. Bell, 54, a former city fire chief and state fire marshal, against Mr. Wilkowski, 53, a lawyer who was elected to city and county offices in the 1980s.

The candidates will likely try to project the qualities they feel make them the most capable of leading Toledo out of its financial and economic doldrums — Mr. Wilkowski for his background in job creation and Mr. Bell for his record of regional coordination.

They will be questioned by WTOL news anchors Jerry Anderson and Chrys Peterson and Blade politics writer Tom Troy.

Mr. Bell said that with the size of WTOL's viewing audience, it will be like performing in a coliseum with 70,000 spectators, “and I look forward to that.”

“We're down to the last ... days. The voters will get a good look at the way the candidates deal with the issues and actually get a good sense of their personalities,” Mr. Bell said yesterday. “There are a lot of dimensions that people judge leadership on.”

Mr. Wilkowski said that, “given how close we are to the election, this will be a forum where we will have lots of people tuning in.

“I'm very much looking forward to the opportunity to continue to talk to people about the most important issues facing Toledoans. We need to have a mayor who can focus on economic development and job creation,” Mr. Wilkowski said.

Bob Chirdon, vice president and general manager of WTOL, a CBS affiliate, said the goal is to give viewers enough information to move from undecided to the decided column. “If you watch, you will know who to vote for when it's over,” he said. “The people I've talked to who are politically astute believe it's a dead heat. When it's a dead heat, it's the undecideds who determine the results of the election.”

Mr. Chirdon said 75,000 adults typically tune in during that time period for Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! He said there's no way to know how many will watch a Toledo mayoral debate instead.

Frank Szollosi, a Democratic city councilman who works as a marketing consultant for candidates, said debates make a difference when there's a high number of undecided voters. Whether that's the case here isn't known.

“The number of undecideds gets smaller as you get closer to the election. Later debates only impact if the race is close, or if the front-runner makes a major gaffe,” Mr. Szollosi said.

Mr. Wilkowski and Mr. Bell were the top vote-getters in the six-candidate Sept. 15 primary, but were separated by only 613 votes, with Mr. Wilkowski on top.

The televised forum on Channel 11 comes in a campaign that some believe is unusual for the number of joint appearances.

In addition to numerous appearances before neighborhood and association panels, the two have faced off in live debates on Christian channel WLMB-TV, Fox affiliate WUPW-TV, and public television station WGTE-TV.

WTVG-TV Channel 13 will broadcast a live mayoral debate from 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesday from Bowsher High School. The event is free and open to the public.

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



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