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Published: Saturday, 2/16/2002

Why 'Smilin' Jack Ford is serious about Toledo

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toledo Mayor Jack Ford, with Ohio Gov. Bob Taft at a recent chamber of commerce luncheon, has taken over a city that is on the brink of major redevelopment. Toledo Mayor Jack Ford, with Ohio Gov. Bob Taft at a recent chamber of commerce luncheon, has taken over a city that is on the brink of major redevelopment.
ALLAN DETRICH Enlarge

In his inaugural remarks to Toledo City Council, Mayor Jack Ford promised to make Toledo a “a point of destination, not departure.” And he hit on a resonant word to define his vision of Toledo - “elegant.”

“When I talked in front of the mayors [at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington in January] I used the term `elegant city' three times,” Mr. Ford said. “And about a dozen mayors came up to me afterward and said `I've never heard Toledo referred to as elegant.'”

Nor had Mr. Ford ever been known as “Smilin' Jack” - but that was before last year's mayoral campaign.

The low-key Mr. Ford gave himself that nickname to puncture the critics who said he wasn't exciting enough to be mayor.

Mr. Ford went on to defeat Lucas County Treasurer Ray Kest by an overwhelming margin.

He took office in a city on the brink of major redevelopment.

Between projects initiated by his predecessor, Carty Finkbeiner, and those initiated by the state of Ohio, or forced on the city by a federal court suit, more than $1 billion worth of construction is in the pipeline.

Those projects include:

  • A new Maumee River crossing for I-280.

  • The Marina District - an arena, retail, entertainment, office, and residential development on the east side of the river.

  • A redone Toledo Hospital in West Toledo.

  • A sewer reconstruction project ordered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    This doesn't included the 10-year, $800 million school building campaign being planned by Toledo Public Schools.

    During the next few months, Mr. Ford will have several chances to show off the elegant side of Toledo:

    A new stadium for Mud Hens - the best-known minor league baseball team in the United States - opens in April in the city's charming Warehouse District.

    “That will draw a lot of people who have not been here heretofore,” Mr. Ford said. “I'm very excited about it because I think literally in one stroke we're going to take downtown from being moribund to having traffic jams.”

    And a few months later, Toledo will host hundreds of people for the International Sister Cities convention.

    The July event will draw 500 to 600 international visitors.

    “We have to put our best face on for that,” Mr. Ford said. “There's about a quarter of a million [dollars] that will have to be raised privately.”

    It's going to be a heady time in Toledo.

    “Those things will happen,” Mr. Ford said with confidence.

    But it's about youth that Mr. Ford has particularly big plans.

    “There are about a half dozen initiatives that I'm going to try to work through the Commission on Youth,” Mr. Ford said.

    He has created a task force involving the YMCA, the United Way, and other social service agencies to conduct an inventory of all youth programs in the city.

    “I want to know who's doing what, and which neighborhoods and groups of kids might be getting left out, and stop some of the overlapping and duplication,” Mr. Ford said.

    And despite some of the catcalls that greeted his plan to buy lawnmowers to help kids get started as entrepreneurs, Mr. Ford intends to push ahead.

    “We're going to find a pool of money. We're going to buy some tools for youngsters to do their own little minibusiness. They will pay over time for the equipment,” Mr. Ford said, adding that it won't be just for inner-city youth. “It's going to be for all youths who want to be enterprising.”

    He intends to inaugurate “Mayor's Time” - the hours after school until about 6:30 p.m. when youths are most prone to get into trouble with the law. He wants to encourage schools to make their gyms and other facilities available for youth. There will be people there, as well, to provide help with homework and proficiency tutoring.

    And finally, there will be the Youth Diversity Initiative.

    “I think there are a lot of young folk who are idealistic and would like to have an opportunity to reach out to youngsters of other ethnic backgrounds,” he said. “We're going to look at what we can do as far as getting youngsters to work with each other across color and ethnic lines.”

    “I don't have any problem with young folks taking on big chunks of responsibility because I think many can handle it,” he said.

    The mayor said he has no intention of neglecting the bread and butter of city operations -ensuring quick snow removal, running a balanced budget, and cutting down on time-wasting activities by employees like cruising the Internet and making excessive personal phone calls.

    Mr. Ford said he has a political obligation to fulfill.

    “The mothers and grandmothers supported me because I talked about their kids and their grandkids. I was the only candidate saying that I would devote a third of my time to young people,” Mr. Ford said.

    He is looking for these kinds of initiatives to work a quiet revolution in Toledo that will surpass the temporary glamour of breaking in a new baseball stadium. “If we are successful in these initiatives, some of the other mayors will send their staffs here,” he said.



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