Ravi Perry, a former Toledoan who is now an assistant professor at Mississippi State University, focused his new book, ‘Black Mayors, White Majorities,’ on the first black mayors of Toledo and Dayton.
The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
More than eight years after he left office, former Toledo Mayor Jack Ford is the focus of a new book by former Toledoan Ravi Perry: Black Mayors, White Majorities: The Balancing Act of Racial Politics.
Published by the University of Nebraska and written in scholarly style, the book examines whether black voters’ high expectations of black politicians are being fulfilled through a close look at two black Ohio mayors: Mr. Ford in Toledo and Dayton’s Rhine McLin.
Mr. Perry, 31, who graduated from Central Catholic High School in 2001 and is an assistant professor of political science at Mississippi State University, said much has been written about the first black mayors in cities with black majorities or near-majorities.
During Mr. Ford’s administration, Toledo’s African-American population was 27.1 percent.
“Of course, you’d expect black mayors in those cities to represent the majority,” Mr. Perry said. “I wanted to know what black politicians can do in a largely white city for African-Americans.”
Mr. Perry finds Mr. Ford’s accomplishments for black voters to have been “substantive” — especially his backing of administrator and contractor employment for blacks and the CareNet health-care program. But he says Mr. Ford’s low profile and some backlash against his policies, contributed to his loss to fellow Democrat Carty Finkbeiner in 2005.
The book provides a summary of racial issues that percolated in Toledo since its founding and then expanded on those that developed after Mr. Ford emerged as a city council candidate in 1986, his service on council from 1987 to 1994, his eight years in the Ohio House of Representatives, and then through his term as mayor, 2002-2006.
Focus on contracts
Mr. Perry devotes a chapter to Mr. Ford’s creation of the Center for Capacity Building, a program based at the University of Toledo to help minorities learn how to apply for and win construction and engineering contracts. The Center for Capacity Building was matched with another innovation of Mr. Ford’s — combining the city offices of Affirmative Action/Contract Compliance with Purchasing — which gave the Ford administration leverage in forcing white contractors to provide a share of city contracts to minority firms.
The center involved the movers and shakers of the white business community, including a cocktail reception at the Toledo Club. Thanks to Mr. Ford’s connections in Columbus, then-Gov. Bob Taft provided $1.4 million and the Associated General Contractors of Toledo put up $340,000 of in-kind support.
The city of Toledo provided $257,000 to fund a second year. The 45-week program graduated 53 entrepreneurs in its first class, most of them black, as Mr. Ford intended.
The book concludes that the program didn’t live up to its high expectations, in part because of the black public’s misunderstanding of its purpose, which was to train disadvantaged people to become entrepreneurs, not to get people jobs.
Concluded Mr. Perry, “Although many African-Americans may have gained skills from the program, most blamed the mayor when they did not receive contracts.”
Mr. Perry found that blacks’ employment in the city administration increased under Mr. Ford and declined after he left office.
“In Mayor Ford’s years in office, 27 percent of the administrators were black. Near the end of Mayor Finkbeiner’s last term in office, only 21 percent were black,” he wrote.
Though Mr. Perry is careful in his conclusions, he agrees that Mr. Ford’s emphasis on affirmative action turned some in the business and contracting community against him — mainly because it “temporarily dismantled the good ol’ boy network” that some contractors had relied on.
Said Mr. Perry: “Ford’s efforts to hire more blacks in key administrative roles at city hall, who then assisted in the hiring of more black contractors, were not well-received by everyone.”
Mr. Perry also found that the 2005 neo-Nazi march in North Toledo, which triggered rioting and neighborhood looting, put the final nail in Mr. Ford’s political coffin. Mr. Perry theorizes that the white-supremacist group was invited to Toledo specifically to embarrass Mr. Ford, but Mr. Perry couldn’t prove it.
In the incident, Mr. Ford and then-Fire Chief Mike Bell confronted an angry crowd and tried to explain that the white supremacists had a Constitutional right to march.
“Just as it seemed that Mayor Ford would calm the audience, isolated protesters began to set fire to nearby businesses and to loot,” Mr. Perry wrote. “Ford’s handling of this episode ... overshadowed his historic mayoralty and re-election effort.”
Mr. Perry blamed Mr. Ford’s “seeming disinterest in developing his own coalition while mayor” for his defeat.
An example cited in the book was Mr. Ford’s loss of majority support in the Lucas County Democratic Party by not ensuring allies on the party’s precinct central committee were re-elected in 2002. As a result, the central committee was overtaken by supporters of former Mayor Finkbeiner, who in 2005 made a political comeback.
Mr. Perry said he had the idea for his book as an undergraduate and nurtured the concept all through his graduate program at Brown University.
He obtained his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and master’s and doctoral degrees in political science from Brown.
“Once I went to graduate school, I had a good idea of what I wanted to write about already. I came across the theory of targeted universalism. The idea is that you can in fact represent the interests of people who are, we might consider, on the margins of society while attending to the needs of the broader population,” Mr. Perry said.
Mr. Perry learned much about Mr. Ford’s administration from the inside. As a young man, he worked on both of Mr. Ford’s mayoral campaigns. During his first campaign, he said, he was coordinator of youth volunteers and yard sign director. In Mr. Ford’s second campaign, he quit early in 2005 to start on his postgraduate program at Brown. He said he also volunteered for Mr. Finkbeiner in 1997, when he won a second term.
To research Mr. Ford’s tenure, he interviewed 53 people, including John Robinson Block, The Blade’s publisher and editor-in-chief.
Mr. Ford, who has since been elected to the Toledo Board of Education and now sits on Toledo City Council, is proud of Mr. Perry’s book.
“If I had known I had done all that stuff, I probably would have run a better re-election campaign,” Mr. Ford joked. “He cataloged a lot of stuff I never touted during the campaign.”
Turning serious, Mr. Ford said, “I thought he gave me a fair treatment in that he talked about some of the positives but also some of my deficits — my kind of wooden manner. He pointed out that I tried to do some things that needed to be done for the central city and that kind of went unappreciated, I guess. It’s tough sometimes when you’re in a locale where the numbers are not necessarily supportive of a minority leader.”
Mr. Ford also said Mr. Perry didn’t give enough credit — or blame — to ire generated by an anti-smoking ordinance that Mr. Ford supported starting in 2003. The issue, which had nothing to do with race, is barely mentioned in the book, but Mr. Ford said it was a major motivator for many of his detractors.
Mr. Perry said his interviews with business leaders found that they respected Mr. Ford’s efforts but found him a poor communicator who did not actively champion business interests. Not only that, according to Mr. Perry, the hard-charging style of predecessor Carty Finkbeiner was a tough act to follow.
“Community members viewed Finkbeiner as more direct and confrontational than Ford,” Mr. Perry wrote.
“Because of Ford’s style, the community’s perception was that not much was accomplished during Ford’s term.”
Mr. Perry analyzed Mr. Ford’s State of the City speeches for “race coding,” and found that Mr. Ford spoke less about race as his term went on.
Mr. Perry found racially coded references in nine of Mr. Ford’s sentences in his 2002 speech and in 10 sentences in his 2003 speech, but none in 2004 and 2005.
Mr. Perry grew up in Toledo’s Westmoreland neighborhood, the son of D. LaRouth Perry, a retired Toledo Public Schools teacher who was active in the African-American Legacy Project and the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo, and Robert L. Perry, who founded and chaired for 27 years the Ethnic Studies department at Bowling Green State University and was head of African-American Studies at Eastern Michigan University for six years.
He said he’s particularly interested in black politics, minority representation, urban politics, American public policy, and lesbian-gay-bisexual-and-transgender candidates of color.
Mr. Perry is also a blogger with Huffington Post’s Gay Voices and said he was one of the first openly gay branch presidents of color in the history of the NAACP. He is also a “licensed wedding officiant” with the Universal Life Church Monastery.
Contact Tom Troy at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6058, or on Twitter @TomFTroy.