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Published: Sunday, 6/3/2001

Countenance doesn't count

To be on the receiving end of one of Jack Ford's steely, cold glares can be unnerving.

Once unofficial results were in back at the 1993 election, per editor's instruction, I was to get a response from Mr. Ford about voters' obvious confidence in him. Of all the candidates for city council, he received the most votes.

Rather than automatically move into that spot, Mr. Ford had to garner the support of his council colleagues. He successfully became council president.

That was a big deal. It was important also to the minority community because Mr. Ford is a black man. If the mayor were unable to perform his duties, the president of council would step up.

I don't recall the exact question I asked Mr. Ford that election night. To the person being queried, the questions reporters normally ask often seem ridiculous. Occasionally they are, but they draw responses, which is the whole point. My question might have been on the order of something like, “So what's it like being the top vote-getter of all city council candidates?”

Mr. Ford didn't smile. His eyes didn't glint. His expression didn't even hint that he was pleased with the results, let alone excited about them.

Before he answered, he simply looked at me with a blank face, as if I'd just done the dumbest thing ever. To him, it probably was just that.

Much is being made of Mr. Ford's expressionless face now that he's thrown his hat into the mayoral campaign. Really it shouldn't be an issue.

But in this image-conscious age, it is a big deal. The public seems to want smiling, cheerful, charismatic politicians. Why? Because it's more appealing. So should Mr. Ford hire image consultants who can teach him how to endear the public with facial expressions?

Of course not. That's phony, and there's enough of that to go around. And after eight years of a forever-smiling-laughing-warm-and-fuzzy Carty Finkbeiner - when he wasn't upset, that is - a candidate for mayor with a plain face and lots of sincerity should be a welcome change.

Not everyone thinks so, which is no surprise. Former Mayor Harry Kessler frets about Mr. Ford's “inability” to smile, but Mr. Ford is able to smile. I've seen him.

Whether Mr. Ford smiles much or has the charisma of a Carty Finkbeiner shouldn't be the factor on which one decides whether or not to vote for him.

Mr. Ford has demonstrated that it's not smiles that necessarily get things done. He managed to garner enough support from Toledoans to get more votes than any other candidate in the city council campaign in 1993. He built a consensus with his council colleagues, who supported his bid for city council president. He held that position until he obtained former state representative Casey Jones' seat.

Mr. Ford's first term in the House was a quiet one. But when he won a second term, it was another story. He managed a coup by assembling a coalition from Cuyahoga County coupled with an alliance of women and other black legislators, and he became the House minority leader.

I wonder how much smiling mattered for that.

As a candidate for mayor, Toledoans may or may not get worked up over the fact that one of the candidates isn't terribly charismatic. What matters to most is that we get some of those potholes fixed, infrastructure updated, neighborhoods made safe, services continued, and the city improved.

Candidates don't need to smile to promise that they'll accomplish those and other tasks.

Rose Russell is a Blade associate editor.



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