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Published: Saturday, 10/16/2004

Ford has 41% job approval, poll says

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

This week The Blade will report the results of a local Zogby International poll. Today's story is about how Toledoans rate Mayor Jack Ford.

Toledoans like Mayor Jack Ford as a person, but aren't satisfied with the job he's doing as mayor, as more people than not think it's time for someone new in the corner office on Government Center's 22nd floor, a new poll shows.

But locals aren't enamored of potential replacements, either. In head-to-head match-ups against leading Republican figures - and former Democratic Mayor Carty Finkbeiner - Mr. Ford still wins.

But the Ford-Finkbeiner contest, favoring Mr. Ford, 42 percent to 40 percent, is within the margin of error.

The Blade/Zogby poll, conducted Sept. 30-Oct. 4, shows 61 percent of likely voters have an overall positive opinion of the mayor, but just 41 percent approve of the job he is doing as mayor. The survey included interviews with 603 likely voters, and carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percent.

The mayor said he thinks the poor job performance rating is because of the lingering effects of the economic recession.

"I think that's pretty consistent around the country," he said, adding that colleagues around the country face similar poll numbers. "You don't remain in high favor when you tell the people no all the time. It's something I didn't realize when I sought the job. I have lost some folks that I thought were pretty good friends because I've had to tell them 'No.' "

"People tend to look for someone to blame, and the mayor is a pretty good-sized target, and I'm a pretty good size anyway," he said, adding that his job approval numbers displease him. "The social worker in me wants people to see that this guy works hard and tries to do a good job. But these are tough times."

Asked whether the city is moving in the right direction, 41 percent said yes, while 49 percent said the city is on the wrong track. Among those who said things are off track, most appear to blame Mr. Ford. Just 14 percent said he deserves re-election next year. But Mr. Ford does not get all the credit among those who say things are going well - 66 percent said he deserves re-election, while 22 percent said it is time for someone new. Eleven percent were unsure.

Those living in West Toledo, who have watched the daily progress of a multi-million dollar renovation of the Westfield Shoppingtown Franklin Park mall and improvements to the city storm water system, were most upbeat about the direction of the city - 49 percent said they are pleased with the city's progress. Those in North Toledo, who have watched the nearby Northtowne Mall close, are most pessimistic - just 41 percent said things are headed down the right road.

Mr. Finkbeiner, who now works as a political commentator for WTVG-TV Channel 13, said he was heartened by the poll results showing him in a dead heat with the incumbent.

"It's nice to know I'm not forgotten," he said.

The former mayor said he is contemplating a return to mayoral politics, but added, "I have not come close to finalizing my own position."

That won't come until after Jan.1, at the earliest, he said.

Mr. Finkbeiner, a two-term mayor known for a hands-on management style, said he can relate to the low favorability ratings from which Mr. Ford now suffers.

"All you do is the best you can do with the hand you are dealt, and trust that, in the final analysis, you have a fighting chance. Some fight harder when their backs are against the wall, and as a result they improve their acceptance rating. Others tend to see it go in the other direction, if they don't see it as a battleground," he said.

The poll showed that against Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber, Mr. Ford would win 50 percent to 33 percent.

Ms. Thurber, perhaps the most prominent Republican in Lucas County, noted that her numbers against Mr. Ford are better than her 2002 poll numbers against former county Commissioner Sandy Isenberg before she entered that race. But Ms. Thurber said she has no interest in running for mayor.

"I am on the record as saying it is not in the plans for me in 2005," she said. "Party leaders promised they would not come to me and ask me to run for mayor in 2005, and they are standing by that promise."

But Ms. Thurber, who defeated Ms. Isenberg by a comfortable margin two years ago, said Mr. Ford's poor job approval ratings make sense to her.

"As a resident of the city of Toledo, not as a county commissioner, those numbers do not surprise me. As a person who works with people on the 22nd floor, those numbers do not surprise me," she said.

Both Mr. Finkbeiner and Ms. Thurber said they think Mr. Ford's "dour" demeanor might be contributing to his low job approval numbers, but the mayor said he's not about to change.

"If it was in my nature to be more convivial and jovial, I would guess that would bump those kinds of numbers up a little bit, but I tend to smile and laugh more in private than in public," Mr. Ford said. "If you worked on the 22nd floor, you would see a lot of humor. Life is humor, and I don't project that very well."

Mr. Ford would win easily against Republican Councilman Rob Ludeman, 51 percent to 29 percent.

Mr. Ludeman, who represents the far south end and part of West Toledo, is the only person who has announced the establishment of a mayoral exploratory committee. He said the numbers are "not too bad," considering that he has "not actively campaigned for mayor yet."

Mr. Ludeman said the mayor's approval rating "rings true to what I am hearing out on the street."

People, he said, "are disappointed" with Mr. Ford.

The mayor would also easily defeat Republican George Sarantou, a first-term councilman who has also toyed with pursuing the city's top job. Mr. Ford would win 54 percent support, compared to 18 percent for Mr. Sarantou, with 28 percent either favoring another candidate or uncertain how they would vote.

Mr. Sarantou said though he would one day like to be mayor he has not begun thinking seriously about running next year. Others, however, have thought of a Sarantou candidacy.

"For the past several weeks, I've been approached by Democrats, by Republicans, and by independents who asked me to consider running for mayor," he said.

"At this time, it's a bit early to be making plans, the at-large councilman said. "Once we're past the [presidential] election, I plan at looking at all of my options." Like Mr. Finkbeiner, he said a decision could come early next year.

Tomorrow: The races for Lucas County commissioner.

Contact Fritz Wenzel at:

fritz@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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