Toledo's two mayoral candidates went at each other with tough criticism in a live televised debate last night on WTOL-TV, Channel 11.
Mayor Jack Ford raked challenger Carty Finkbeiner over accusations that he once hit a city employee with a coffee cup, and hammered away at a connection with disgraced Republican fund-raiser Tom Noe.
Mr. Finkbeiner fought back, accusing Mr. Ford of making excuses, hiring political appointees, and having his own connection to Mr. Noe.
Moderated by news anchor Jerry Anderson, the debate started off amicably, but the two veteran Toledo politicians quickly tangled over personal, political, and policy differences.
Asked to comment on a Ford TV ad alluding to Mr. Finkbeiner's alleged physical and verbal assault on Carolyn Smithers, who was manager of the Erie Street Market, Mr. Finkbeiner sought to put his well-known temper into perspective.
"I don't think there's any question that my passion has accomplished a lot of good for our city," Mr. Finkbeiner said. "I don't want to lose that passion. At the same time, there's a place to be more temperate."
The response drew a rebuke from Mr. Ford.
"I don't think Mr. Finkbeiner quite gets it. He threw a cup at a female employee, hit that employee, and the employee then sued," Mr. Ford said. "I don't think anybody has the right to abuse a female employee."
Mr. Finkbeiner said the cup was made of Styrofoam and never left his hand, nor did it touch Ms. Smithers. He said the confrontation was over a "near-riot" that occurred the previous night in the market.
Ms. Smithers sued Mr. Finkbeiner for $1.2 million in 1999, and the case was settled out of court with a payment of $35,000 to Ms. Smithers.
When Mr. Ford mentioned the challenger's endorsement of an idea to offer homes near the airport to deaf people, a grim Mr. Finkbeiner stopped him, saying: "He's playing a political game right here on TV."
Mr. Ford stuck by claims made by one of his supporters that Mr. Finkbeiner sought Mr. Noe's fund-raising skills.
The Clean Campaign Committee, created to enforce the clean campaign pledge both candidates signed in September, ruled on Oct. 4 that the mayor's supporters had overreached in trying to connect Mr. Finkbeiner to Mr. Noe - indicted yesterday by a federal grand jury for allegedly laundering campaign cash to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.
Mr. Ford noted Mr. Noe's presence at an April 27 breakfast that was paid for by Mr. Finkbeiner's political committee.
"What you're saying is, 'Tom, get excited about my candidacy, hopefully raise money for me,' because that's what he's known for," Mr. Ford told Mr. Finkbeiner. "I never invited Tom Noe to do anything for me, ever."
Mr. Finkbeiner said 115 business people came to the event, which he denied had a political purpose.
Mr. Finkbeiner accused Mr. Ford himself of accepting money from Mr. Noe to help finance a memorial for the late Ohio Gov. Jim Rhodes. Mr. Ford said the Rhodes memorial was a bipartisan effort, and Mr. Noe's money was solicited by someone else.
The two continued to disagree about the state of the city budget when Mr. Ford took over in January, 2002.
Mr. Ford said he was stuck with a $15 million deficit that took two years to recover from. He said that deficit was aggravated by Finkbeiner housing deals that left the city with debts adding up to $20 million over 20 years.
Mr. Finkbeiner said the tax benefits of having people living downtown would more than pay for the city's costs.
On jobs, Mr. Ford defended his record, saying the 3,600-4,000 he says were created during the first 3 3/4 years of his term was comparable to the 16,000 claimed by Mr. Finkbeiner over eight years, when the better economy of the 1990s and the support of Bill Clinton in the White House were factored in.
The mayor defended his failed efforts to keep Owens-Illinois' headquarters downtown, saying the move to its Perrysburg campus was inevitable after the plastics division at the Perrysburg campus was sold.
He said the loss of jobs to Arrowhead Industrial Park started "years ago" when the city agreed to provide water to the suburbs.
Mr. Finkbeiner characterized Mr. Ford's responses as "excuse-making - something he's good at."
The two are scheduled to face each other again at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in the last live televised debate before the Nov. 8 election.
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