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Published: Monday, 12/13/2010

Finkbeiner to help launch centrist group

Mr. Finkbeiner said he intended to be on the Manhattan campus of Columbia University this morning, along with more than 1,000 other "citizen leaders" from all 50 states to take the newly organized No Labels group public. Mr. Finkbeiner said Monday morning his flight was canceled Sunday due to inclement weather and he is at home following the launch of No Labels on the internet.

No Labels encompasses politicians, commentators, and strategists of both major political parties who fear that extremists are keeping the nation from making the tough changes necessary to keep the economy and the republic strong.

"I think the voice of the reasonable has become diminished," said Mr. Finkbeiner, who was mayor for a total of 12 years, his final four-year term ending with the swearing in of Mayor Mike Bell in January.

He's been meeting with No Labels' Ohio organizers since September, attending a speech in Columbus and participating in a series of weekly phone conferences. He was recruited by Mary Sabin, director of advancement for Maumee Valley Country Day School, who was a fund-raiser for former Republican Gov. George Voinovich, now a U.S. senator, and former U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine (R, Ohio), now Ohio attorney general-elect.

The group says in its declaration: "We believe hyper-partisanship is destroying our politics and paralyzing our ability to govern."

Among the leaders of No Labels are Nancy Jacobson, a Democratic Party fund-raiser who worked for U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh (D., Ind.), and Mark McKinnon, a Republican strategist associated with former President George W. Bush and U.S. Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.).

While the group aims to be politically neutral, its list of speakers includes several who have been burned by the rising conservative Tea Party movement and its fellow big-government critic, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin; U.S. Rep. Mike Castle (R., Del.), and Republican Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, both of whom lost elections this year because of challenges from Tea Party-backed candidates.

Also prominently involved in No Labels is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a potential presidential candidate but one who has ruled out running in 2012.

Participants such as Mr. Finkbeiner say No Labels is not aiming to be a third party.

"We are not being asked to abandon our parties. What we are working to do is to work vigorously in support of centrist Democrats and centrist Republicans gaining strength and those persons continuing to reach across the aisle and work with the centrists on the other side of the aisle," Mr. Finkbeiner said.

A Democrat, Mr. Finkbeiner, 71, has a record of political independence. Some in the past have said his loyalty was to the "Carty party."

He was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for Congress in 1974 and 1976, was elected to City Council as a Republican in 1979, and ran unsuccessfully for mayor as a Republican in 1981.

In 1983, Mr. Finkbeiner led a new third party, Citizens Organized and United for a New Toledo (COUNT), winning election to council under that banner and becoming the first elected independent on council since 1959.

In 1985, Mr. Finkbeiner sought, but did not get, the Democratic endorsement for City Council, winning the election anyway. The political transformation was complete in 1987 when the Lucas County Democratic Party endorsed him for mayor. He lost to Republican Donna Owens.

Even after embracing the Democratic Party, it was not always a warm, affectionate relationship. During his 2006-2010 term, Mr. Finkbeiner governed with Republicans and conservative Democrats on council in a self-styled pro-business coalition.

This year, with no election of his own to worry about, Mr. Finkbeiner threw himself into helping three Democratic candidates — Virg Bernero for governor of Michigan (unsuccessful), Ted Strickland for governor of Ohio (unsuccessful), and Edna Brown for Toledo's 11th Senate district seat (successful).

Vietnam replay?

Mr. Finkbeiner said he remains a strong supporter of President Obama. Asked for examples of where he disagrees with the President's policies, the only area Mr. Finkbeiner said was the President's handling of the war in Afghanistan, which he said is starting to look like a replay of the Vietnam War.

"You can't go in without a goal of ultimately conquering the enemy. What worries me, of course, is the day after you pull out and you've lost those men and women and a ton of money, the enemy is still around and the enemy is undercutting all the good you did," he said.

On other issues, Mr. Finkbeiner said he would have supported the health-care reform bill, and agrees with Mr. Obama's compromise to allow a tax cut on incomes over $250,000 to make sure unemployment compensation is extended and the economy isn't damaged by an income tax increase.

He said the compromise shows Mr. Obama has learned that being too far left is not good.

"It does appear that Obama is now understanding that just being philosophically left isn't going to gain him the votes and the leverage to get things done that he wants to get done so he therefore must compromise with leaders on the other side," Mr. Finkbeiner said.

The No Labels group has tried hard to maintain a low profile leading up to their breakout session Monday in New York.

Kevin Freeman, an Ohio State University academic program manager who is organizing the Ohio branch of No Labels, said about two dozen people are going to the launch from Ohio.

‘Very inclusive'

"We're going to have a good couple dozen folks — from all the major cities, one from southeastern Ohio. No one who is a notable politician. We hope to get the politicians in the state of Ohio to be part of No Labels," Mr. Freeman said. He said people who want to believe it is a liberal or conservative movement are wrong.

"It's something that is very inclusive, to which everyone in the political spectrum is welcome," Mr. Freeman said. He said No Labels might endorse candidates in the primary elections, but is unlikely to do so in the general election.

He said Ohio is a particular target of No Labels because of its role as a swing state in presidential elections and because Ohio is one of 10 states in which registered independents outnumber either Republicans or Democrats. Mr. Freeman said his work for No Labels is not connected with his job at the university.

Mr. Finkbeiner said meetings will take place in classrooms and conferences centers at Columbia, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. "It's just one day, but I think that day will go very well because they probably put nine months to a year in planning this," Mr. Finkbeiner said. Mr. Finkbeiner said he is paying his own way for Monday's event in New York. The group has raised $1 million.

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



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