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Published: Sunday, 4/10/2005

Ford announces bid for new term; battle with Finkbeiner is possible

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

Surrounded by friends and family, Toledo Mayor Jack Ford announced yesterday that he will seek another four years as the most powerful public figure in the city.

Taking the microphone at the front of a large white tent pitched in a parking lot behind his campaign headquarters on Adams Street downtown, Mr. Ford talked of hope, promise, and greater things to come for Toledo in a second Ford administration.

"I need your help," the city's first black mayor said to hundreds of supporters. "I need your help to keep the faith with what I set out to do all those years ago. I'll never forget it if you do what you can do. If you help the way you can help, at the end of the day, I'll be the kind of mayor that you want, you respect, and you deserve."

Amid a sea of campaign signs, balloons, and the wafting aroma of grilled hot dogs, the Democratic mayor touted his accomplishments: balancing the city budget during tough economic times without a tax increase or police layoffs, creating a health-care program for 5,000 low-income residents, and developing a "small business initiative" that has been praised by the federal government.

He also promised more to come: "We're going to get the Marina District done, finally, and no one's going to be gladder than me."

He also pledged a renovated mall in South Toledo, saying "Southwyck is going to come back. It's not going to fall down." He said he has successfully pressured its absentee owner to sell the ailing mall on Reynolds Road.

In the weeks leading to yesterday's campaign announcement, Mr. Ford has also touted an expanded Jeep plant and Franklin Park mall, a burgeoning warehouse district around the Mud Hens stadium, and a smoking ban in restaurants he pushed hard to see enacted.

These projects - done and undone - provide the tangible backdrop against which the city's fourth race for strong mayor will take place.

But Mr. Ford's re-election fortunes may hinge on none of those but an intangible that has dogged him throughout his political career: his leaden leadership style.

It's something for which the incumbent makes no apologies.

"We've taken a lot of what I call big steps. It's just not my nature to necessarily have a press conference and say, 'I'm doing this and I'm doing that,'‚óŹ" he said in a recent interview in his 22nd floor Government Center office downtown.

"It may cost me politically, but I'm not going to do a whole lot of hyping," he said. "That's just the way I operate."

The mayor's low-key style will certainly be used against him politically, and most likely by a man who has all but announced he's running for mayor - former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner.

Mr. Finkbeiner was more than happy recently to talk about how Jack Ford has run the city and his reluctance to act as Toledo's head cheerleader - his biggest problem, according to the man who ran the city from 1994 to 2001.

"If it isn't his style and he wants to become a successful mayor, it needs to become part of his style," said Mr. Finkbeiner, 65, who like Mr. Ford, 57, is a Democrat. "The people I talk to don't feel that much is getting done."

Mr. Ford said people's perception is less important than his accomplishments.

"I'm not flashy. I'm just kind of a steady, some would say 'dull,' guy, but sometimes you still get the job done, and you get it done correctly the first time," he said.

Mr. Ford talks of team-building. Mr. Finkbeiner talks about the role of mayor as one part Marine Corps sergeant, one part salesman, and one part football coach.

"A mayor has got to show victories," he said.

Mr. Finkbeiner, who has worked as a television commentator since leaving office three years ago - including a segment named, "It's just not right" - says he is seriously mulling a comeback challenge to Mr. Ford this year.

Those who have watched his long political career are convinced he will enter the race, but he contends he has not yet made up his mind.

"Early June. That's when I hope to have a decision," he said. "Nobody's going to push me."

A Ford-Finkbeiner contest would pit two of the biggest public figures in Toledo against each other.

Add to the mix an intraparty fight that has badly split local Democrats, and this would be the race to watch at the November election.

Mr. Finkbeiner is backed by those Democrats who control party headquarters on Monroe Street - the so-called B-Team - while Mr. Ford is the head of the Democratic contingent at City Hall, which controls City Council - the so-called A-Team.

There are others considering the race. Two Republican councilmen - Rob Ludeman from District 2 and at-large Councilman George Sarantou - have said they may run.

But in the event of a Ford-Finkbeiner race, Mr. Sarantou said, the two Democrats would consume so much political oxygen there would be little left for other candidates.

Mr. Ludeman said a Finkbeiner candidacy "wouldn't have any impact on my decision at all."

He expects to make up his mind by early May, which he said would still leave him plenty of time to mount a competitive challenge.

"Maybe a shorter campaign is the way to go. Hit it hard, and hit it fast," he said.

Mr. Sarantou said last week that he is thinking the same thing.

"There's still plenty of time" before the July 15 candidate filing deadline, he said. "I am carefully considering it. A lot can happen between now and then."

If more than two candidates run for the city's top job, there will be a primary election in September, with the two top vote-getters facing in off in the November election.

Mr. Finkbeiner, first elected in 1993, governed during a national economic boom.

Mr. Ford's term has been dogged by recession and declining tax revenues. Keeping the city afloat has consumed most of his time.

"This has been a different kind of economy. I think it's been not only because of the aftermath of 9/11 and the war and the technological changes that have come on," Mr. Ford said. "Ohio, particularly in Toledo, and Michigan, particularly in Detroit, and areas like that, you've had this loss of manufacturing jobs, which we have clung to over the years. It's been hard for us to rebound."

To deal with a stagnant tax base, he said he has tried to find new revenue and cut city expenses.

"Folks like to say they are conservative and that they believe in less government," the mayor said. "We've actually done it, even though I ran pretty much as a populist and as a labor Democrat."

Mr. Ford said he is proud of the indoor clean air act, better known as the smoking ban, that passed during his term, even though it "used up a lot of political capital and created a lot of enemies."

"I lost a lot of friends, but it was the right thing to do," he said.

The mayor took credit for the resolution of three legal problems that had nagged the city for years, including a case involving the city's decrepit sewage and storm drain system.

Also settled were cases dealing with minority hiring on the police and fire departments and with the city's failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Ultimately, Mr. Ford said, the region must move toward unified governments to gain efficiencies.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he wants to bring a new sense of "passion and energy" to City Hall, promoting downtown development, neighborhood improvements, and renewed economic development.

He has been meeting every other Saturday with a growing group of supporters at the Teamsters Local 20 hall to explore a mayoral candidacy.

He said he is aware of complaints by Mr. Ford that some of the financial problems facing the city were caused by decisions he made with developers when mayor, but, he said, that is part of the political game.

"Whenever anybody has not done a lot or accomplished a great deal, it is normal in politics and life for that person to point the finger at somebody else who may have been before them and say, 'Look at this situation. That didn't work out the way he thought.'" Mr. Finkbeiner said. "To that I would say, 'You are absolutely right. It didn't.' But on the other hand, would the warehouse district be where it is today - something Jack will point to with pride - if we hadn't filled up the Commodore Perry, the Macy's building, the old Toledo Trust building, and the Hillcrest Hotel?"

"The residential living in place [downtown] right now started with the Finkbeiner administration," Mr. Finkbeiner said.

He also takes credit for the continuing expansion of the Jeep plant, including the influx of automotive parts suppliers who sell to DaimlerChrysler AG.

"Whatever the critiques, whatever the criticism, I'll take them. That is part of the daily duties of a mayor," the former mayor said. "You won't find me apologizing for mistakes because they were all made as acts of commission, where you are committed to doing something, rather than omission, where you are afraid to do anything for fear the criticism is going to come from doing it."

Both men have strong personalities and are used to making tough decisions, but they also say they have people they turn to for advice.

And in both cases, the advisers span a wide range of experience in the worlds of business, education, organized labor, and politics.

Mr. Ford says he confers mainly with businessman Bob Savage; friend Weldon Douthitt; political strategist Jim Ruvolo; businessman George Isaac; Dan Johnson, president of the University of Toledo; state UAW leader Lloyd Mahaffey, and John Robinson Block, editor-in-chief and publisher of The Blade.

"I always thought John probably had about the best world view of anyone in Toledo, with the exception maybe of Bob Savage, because they both travel a lot, and they both think about policy a lot," Mr. Ford said. "I don't call him every week, but if I have a major idea that I am thinking about, I call him. I don't see anything wrong with it. He's usually right 85 percent of the time."

Mr. Finkbeiner said he confides with businessman Pat Nicholson; political strategist John Irish; retired city executive Bob Reinbolt; Dennis Duffey, leader of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 8; Bill Lichtenwald, president of Teamsters Local 20; attorneys Tom Palmer and Bob Kaplan, and former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Andy Douglas.

Both are heavy news consumers, getting most of their information from newspapers.

Both said they read several per day, including the major papers of the region, plus nationally distributed editions.

Neither turns to the Internet to get their news. Mr. Ford said he helps his daughter do school research online at home, but otherwise seldom surfs the Web for himself.

Mr. Finkbeiner does not own a computer.

Mr. Ford has become a powerful financial force in local politics, quietly breaking fund-raising records and dishing boatloads of cash to other candidates for local office.

Less than a month into his first term, he hosted a fund-raiser at the University of Toledo that shattered all the records for local public officials by raking in nearly $160,000. His first year at the top of Government Center, he raised $282,210.

By the end of last year, he had collected a total of $662,969 but had spent more than half of it on such things as donations to other candidates and to the local Democratic Party.

He reported $309,976 cash on hand heading into his re-election year.

Mr. Finkbeiner said that because both men are so well known to voters, money would not be a big factor in the mayoral contest.

His annual finance report, filed in January, showed a balance in his campaign account of $745.

Mr. Finkbeiner was the first person to win the mayor's office after voters gave the city charter a dramatic overhaul in 1992.

That charter amendment eliminated the city manager and installed what has been called a "strong mayor" form of government, which grants the mayor sweeping powers over City Hall.

Mr. Finkbeiner narrowly won a second four-year term in 1997 but was preventing by term limits from seeking a third term in 2001.

Mr. Ford, then a state legislator, ran and won the post.

Mr. Finkbeiner was paid $75,000 per year while in office, but a charter update approved by voters increased the pay to $136,000 when Mr. Ford took office on New Year's Day, 2002.

Contact Fritz Wenzel at: fritz@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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