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Published: Sunday, 6/16/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Lopez sticks to script with the media

Auditor, mayoral hopeful makes staff use form so she’s prepared

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez, a Toledo mayoral candidate, says she relies on the 17-question list so she can be ready. She says, ‘Nothing comes out that is not based on my thought and input.’ Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez, a Toledo mayoral candidate, says she relies on the 17-question list so she can be ready. She says, ‘Nothing comes out that is not based on my thought and input.’
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Toledo Mayor Mike Bell sometimes has bullet points prepared before speaking publicly or with reporters, but rarely uses them and instead falls back on a number of comfort phrases.

“From the standpoint of” and “playing within the perimeter,” are two of his favorites often uttered during speeches and interviews.

Democratic Councilman Joe McNamara said he writes his own statements when needed and simply answers reporters’ questions.

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Independent Councilman D. Michael Collins, who is known for sometimes being verbose, said he too is available to reporters and answers questions extemporaneously as they are posed.

But a fourth Toledo mayoral candidate created a process that includes a form staffers fill out after questioning reporters about interview requests. The goal is to get Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez as prepared as possible when the media comes looking for answers.

The form, titled “Media Interview Form,” has 17 questions, starting with the name of the reporter and ending with “desired headline.” Among the information Ms. Lopez wants in advance is a list of the reporter’s questions; if anyone already has been interviewed; who else will be interviewed; what the other sources said to the reporter; if she can use visuals, and if the reporter is knowledgeable.

Ms. Lopez also wants her staffer to somehow determine if the reporter has an “apparent point of view.”

For this story, Ms. Lopez’s campaign spokesman initially declined to make her available for an interview about how she gets ready for media interviews and public speaking engagements. But on Friday, Ms. Lopez called The Blade and said she has instructed her staff to press the media for their questions so she is prepared.

Incumbent Mayor Mike Bell sometimes relies on bullet points during interviews. Incumbent Mayor Mike Bell sometimes relies on bullet points during interviews.
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“Nothing comes out that is not based on my thought and input,” she said. “Anyone running for public office should be prepared to answer questions.”

A review of media interview forms provided by the auditor’s office shows that her staff is instructed to gather as much information as possible before Ms. Lopez speaks to the press. Lopez campaign spokesman Billy Benner confirmed Ms. Lopez’s remarks are scripted beforehand but stressed that she has input.

“She has full control over the process,” Mr. Benner said. “Sometimes she makes revisions and sends it back. Other times, she makes revisions on the spot and proceeds with the interview from there.”

One of the media interview forms, which was filled out for Ms. Lopez to use during an interview with The Blade, included a staff-written script regarding pay raises in a new union contract.

“We are the first, the innovators, in the COUNTY — we are partnering with our Unions (UAW) to change a culture with merit pay,” the script read.

Ms. Lopez repeated that comment three times during an interview with a Blade reporter, even when it was not germane to the question that was asked.

Another example of Ms. Lopez’s media form provided by her office includes a list of “bridging and steering” phrases. The list includes “The real issue is...,” and “It’s too early to talk about that, but what I do know is ...”

If Ms. Lopez doesn’t like these so-called bridging and steering statements, she also could say: “It’s important not to overlook...” or “The most important thing to remember ...”; or if she wants to avoid answering a question, she could say: “I am not sure about that, but what I do know is ...”

Mr. Benner said the list of phrases Ms. Lopez is armed with before an interview was developed last summer at a County Auditors’ Association of Ohio conference.

Mayoral candidate Joe McNamara says his talks with the media are unrehearsed. Mayoral candidate Joe McNamara says his talks with the media are unrehearsed.
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Ms. Lopez said the media-request form was devised to hold employees accountable regarding requests for public records.

“Nothing should fall through the cracks when it deals with public information,”she said.

“I think based on my experience as an elected official, you must be concise in your response, and transparency is fundamentally important and in compliance with the FOIA [Freedom of Information Act],” she said. “In no way, any of those documents are not without my final say. Anyone who knows me knows Anita Lopez runs this office and runs it with an iron fist.”

The other major candidates in the mayor’s race this year said they don’t go to lengths to prepare for interviews and don’t intend to do so.

“Hopefully when I am asked a question, I am already prepared, and if I am not, I ask for some time to research the answer,” Mr. Collins said.

“Candidates shouldn’t present a rehearsed statement,” he said. “That is a tailored response, and the truest one is one that is extemporaneous.”

Mr. McNamara said his talks with the media and public are candid and unrehearsed.

“I usually just answer whatever question a person has, including reporters,” he said. “Sometimes, I may want to think about it or research something, but I think most reporters think I am accessible and have my cell number.”

Jen Sorgenfrei, Mr. Bell’s spokesman, said the mayor does not ask for questions in advance, but he has asked for a topic before an interview.

“If he feels he needs more information, he may ask for more information,” Ms. Sorgenfrei said. “If he is doing a media interview, the mayor feels it is best to be honest.”

With three months before the primary election on Sept. 10, the candidates are all clamoring for time before the public with the media or at festivals and parades. They also are careful to avoid any embarrassments.

The mayoral campaign of former Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop four years ago received some unflattering attention locally and nationally with the appearance of a YouTube video showing him being repeatedly heckled during a campaign news conference. He then participated in a subsequent video intended as a spoof of that episode. That video, produced for a comedy show, showed Mr. Konop karate-chopping and smashing a picture over the head of a man, with whom he wrestles on camera. During the action, a U.S. flag is thrown to the ground and kicked around.

D. Michael Collins, Toledo city councilman and mayoral candidate, said candidates should not 'present a rehearsed statement.' D. Michael Collins, Toledo city councilman and mayoral candidate, said candidates should not 'present a rehearsed statement.'
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Mike Hart, president of Maumee marketing firm Hart & Associates — which is not representing any of the current mayoral candidates — said some people are naturally more comfortable dealing with reporters.

“Some people are very savvy and comfortable dealing with reporters and some are just not used to it, and we will coach people on the right things to say and what not to say,” Mr. Hart said. “Some people are really great at it. … Our general approach to media is, ‘Tell the story, tell the truth, tell it your way, tell it first.’ ”

Mr. Hart said it is beneficial to have a prepared statement when speaking publicly.

“I read at Mass on Sundays, and when I read, I will always go online three or four days beforehand to make sure I have comfortableness with the reading,” he said. “You always like to be well-prepared before you go before any audience … but you still have to be comfortable speaking off the cuff.”

Also in the race this year is Opal Covey, Republican evangelist; Michael Konwinski, a retired city worker and Libertarian, and Alan Cox, a political independent who is a city neighborhoods specialist and union president.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.


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