Finkbeiner taking flak over Marines


They were gone but not forgotten.

A day after Mayor Carty Finkbeiner ordered 200 Marine Corps Reservists out of downtown Toledo, residents here and elsewhere expressed disappointment, disbelief, and even outrage.

His last-minute call Friday resulted in the unit canceling its planned training exercises and returning to Grand Rapids, Mich.

And by yesterday afternoon, the mayor's reaction had become a national news story picked up by Internet blogs along with the popular Web site, The Drudge Report. Media phone lines and e-mail boxes kept busy as keyboard-tapping critics sounded their opinions on what some have billed the "Carty vs. Marines" controversy.

Some compared the flap to the one Mr. Finkbeiner set off during his first term in 1994, with his proposal that the city move its deaf population to land near Toledo Express Airport.

"It makes Toledo look like a national disgrace," said Steve Baxter, 47, of Columbus, who learned of the ordeal through a national political blog. "And it reflects poorly on your mayor."

Former Marine Brian Thompson, 40, of West Toledo said he was in disbelief when he first picked up the newspaper. Soon his feelings turned to anger.

"My perception now is that Carty feels it is OK for Marines to die in Iraq, but just don't come to Toledo," said the 13-year Marine Corps veteran. "The better trained the men and women are, the better chances that they'll come home alive."

In response to his critics, Mayor Finkbeiner declared his absolute support for the Marines Corps as well as all of the nation's armed forces - yet still defended his decision to send the Marines packing.

"No matter how much I respect, love, and appreciate the military, there are better places to conduct military planning and staging sessions than the central business district," Mayor Finkbeiner told The Blade. "I think the military brass would understand and appreciate that."

On Friday, a five-bus convoy carrying about 200 members of Company A, 1st Battalion, 24th Marines of Grand Rapids, was just minutes from Toledo. A city employee informed a unit leader that the mayor opposed their plans for another three-day urban patrol exercise on downtown streets, working from the Madison Building, a mostly vacant structure that is city-owned.

Some Toledo police officials had been aware of the Marines' training plans for weeks. The mayor said that he did not learn of them until reading a news item in Friday's Blade.

Mayor Finkbeiner, a Democrat, said yesterday that he ordered the Marines out because he did not want a repeat of the last time the Marines' battalion trained downtown in May, 2006.

"I saw the military with guns drawn emulating warfare, and I observed the expressions of citizens who happened to just be coming down the sidewalk that particular Saturday noon in wonderment, asking, 'What have I found myself in the middle of?'•" the mayor said. "There was a look of wonderment on some people's faces, and there was a look of fear on other people's faces."

While glancing about a downtown nearly empty of people yesterday afternoon, Douglas Finch, Sr., 55, of West Toledo, said he found the mayor's concerns unbelievable.

Mr. Finch recalled witnessing the camouflaged and rifle-bearing Marines in downtown two years ago. He said the sight was attention-grabbing, not scary.

"We have enough empty buildings here, so why not let them train in one?" he asked.

At VFW Post 2510 in East Toledo, men and women gathered around glasses of beer as they discussed whether their mayor acted appropriately. Their verdict was a unanimous no.

Dwight Griffin, 68, a former Army National Guardsmen, said the Marines became the unwitting scapegoat for whomever failed to keep Mayor Finkbeiner informed.

"Somebody dropped a memo and the Marines got caught in the middle," Mr. Griffin said.

City Councilman Frank Szollosi said he was "dismayed" by the mayor's actions. He said he would support organizing a council-led apology next week to the Marines on behalf of the city.

Mr. Szollosi likened Toledo's present image to that of Berkeley, Calif., where City Council passed a measure urging Marine recruiters to leave a downtown office, citing the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

After some California lawmakers threatened to cut $2 million in federal funding to that California city and its university campus, Berkeley's mayor apologized to U.S. servicemen.

"This might be a situation where the City Council has to apologize for the mayor's actions," said Mr. Szollosi, a Democrat. "I would certainly hope that the city of Toledo's federal funding is not put in jeopardy."

Among the few office workers downtown yesterday was Bob Gardner, an owner of the Miller, Gardner and Co. accounting firm, 500 Madison Avenue. Mr. Gardner said he and other employees witnessed the Marines 2006 visit, and recalled seeing camouflaged figures firing blank ammunition rounds.

"It scared the heck out of us, until we knew what was going on," Mr. Gardner said.

Mr. Gardner, however, said he doesn't oppose the Marines returning downtown. Prior notice is good for residents who would be caught in their mock crossfire. This year we were aware of [the exercise], and it wouldn't have bothered me one way or the other," he said.

Mayor Finkbeiner said if there is one major regret of this ordeal, it is the lack of communication to his office.

The mayor said if he had known of the Marines plans ahead of time, he could have arranged for the city to open the vacant North Towne Square mall or the former Jones Junior High School for their training.

Staff writer Bridget Tharp contributed to this story.

Contact JC Reindl at: or 419-724-6065.