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Published: 7/13/2009

Toledo mayor's decision to not seek re-election ends speculation as recall bid heads for ballot

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The Marina District project, topic of a 2007 news conference, is one of the projects that Mr. Finkbeiner will not be in office to see to completion. At right is Larry Dillin, the project developer. The Marina District project, topic of a 2007 news conference, is one of the projects that Mr. Finkbeiner will not be in office to see to completion. At right is Larry Dillin, the project developer.
THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER / JETTA FRASER Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said Sunday that he will not seek re-election this fall and insisted that three terms was his plan all along.

Mr. Finkbeiner, 70, whose term expires in January and is facing a likely voter recall election in November, has for months maintained that he was undecided whether to seek a fourth term.

That posturing, he explained in an interview Sunday afternoon, was an attempt to maintain "leverage" in his running of the city.

"I think the job of executive officer of the city is such that you wish to keep your cards as close to your vest as you possibly can as long as you can," the mayor said.

His announcement comes just days before a July 17 filing deadline and ends months of speculation on whether the mayor would press ahead despite a looming recall election coinciding with the mayoral election on Nov. 3.

The group Take Back Toledo, largely composed of area business people and WSPD-AM radio, collected 20,444 valid signatures, more than the 19,753 re-quired by the city charter to place the recall question on the ballot.

Members of the group contend that the mayor has mismanaged the city budget, driven away potential business investors, and generally embarrassed Toledo.

Mr. Finkbeiner, a Democrat, began over the weekend to send copies of a three-page letter announcing his decision to friends, associates, and select others, including Gov. Ted Strickland. The letter reflected on his nearly 12 years as mayor, which followed his 1993 election as the city's first "strong" mayor in modern times.

Mr. Finkbeiner served back-to-back mayoral terms from 1994 to 2002 until term limits forced him to the sidelines. He previously had served eight years on Toledo City Council and two years in the now-defunct post of vice mayor.

After undergoing quadruple bypass surgery in March, 2004, he returned to politics fitter and trimmer in 2005 to defeat incumbent Mayor Jack Ford.

In his letter, Mr. Finkbeiner recounted the promise he said he made to his wife, Amy, and other family members during the 2004 Christmas holiday, several months after he underwent his quadruple bypass.

"My daughters, their husbands, and my wife, all questioned my motivation," the letter read. "I felt terrific, but my family wanted no part of another mayoral term. We reached no conclusion that December, 2004, but I made one promise to them - 'If I run - and win, I'll serve but only one term.'•"

The letter continued, "Toledoans, I thank you from the bottom of both Amy's and my hearts for the opportunity to serve you While I have not yet finished the race, I continue to retain my passion for Toledo, and I always will."

Although Mr. Finkbeiner's letter suggests a fourth term was never in the cards, some of his close associates said they discussed the topic with him as recently as this month.

Jerry Chabler, a director of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority and past campaign fund-raiser for Mr. Finkbeiner, said he suggested to Mr. Finkbeiner that he not run this fall.

"I suggested that it was probably in his best interest because of the fact he served in that office for almost 12 years, and that it's time for perhaps somebody else to take over," Mr. Chabler said. "He certainly has given it a lot of thought, but I think his primary concern was his family."

Mr. Chabler also spoke of the mayor's enthusiasm, energy, and work ethic, and voiced a common refrain about Mr. Finkbeiner that is echoed by allies and critics alike.

"There's nobody that could ever deny the passion and the love that this man has for the city of Toledo," Mr. Chabler said.

"You can love him or you can hate him - and there are a lot of people on both sides of that ledger - but the one thing you can't question is his devotion to his beloved city," said Andy Douglas, a retired Ohio Supreme Court justice and a former Toledo councilman whom the mayor recently hired as special counsel for labor talks.

Lawyers for Mr. Finkbeiner have appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court to block the recall election, which could force him to step down from office during the final six weeks of his term once the vote is certified. In such a scenario, the mayor would be replaced by the president of city council until a new mayor takes office on Jan. 4.

Some of Mr. Finkbeiner's critics point to his unfinished economic developments, such as the Marina Project and failed initiatives at the Erie Street Market. Other have seemed more aghast at various highly publicized faux pas, such as when he barred a U.S. Marine Corps Reserve unit from training in downtown in 2008.

Asked whether he was bothered by the prospect of a recall election, Mr. Finkbeiner said he believes he has the support of true Toledoans.

"The vast majority of those who claim that they are the leaders of Take Back Toledo have not ever loved Toledo enough to live in it or have their major place of investment [in it]," Mr. Finkbeiner said.

In his letter, Mr. Finkbeiner listed 30 highlights of his 12 years in office, including the new Jeep assembly complex, the downtown Owens Corning headquarters, and the revitalization of once empty buildings such as the former Commodore Perry Hotel, Hillcrest Hotel, Toledo Trust building, Lasalle building, and One Lake Erie Center.

"I think he has done a number of important and positive things for this community and whenever he has run into difficulty it's always because he has tried too hard," said Tom Palmer, a longtime friend and a director of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.

Mr. Finkbeiner, who said he doesn't plan to endorse any mayoral candidate, told The Blade that things he will miss when he leaves office are seeing through the completion of the Marina District in East Toledo, the Airline Yard Intermodal development in South Toledo, and the rebuilding of the former Southwyck Shopping Center area.

He said his biggest regret of the past four years was the region's sagging economy, which undercut the city's economic development opportunities.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he looked forward to free time but didn't have any immediate plans for his postmayoral years.

He did express interest in helping raise money so that the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic could return to the Toledo area. When this year's LPGA event ended at Highland Meadows Country Club in Sylvania a week ago, organizers were uncertain whether the women's golf tournament would return.

In his letter, Mr. Finkbeiner urged Toledoans to keep a positive attitude. "There is ample room for improvement in our self-confidence and our positive vision of Toledo's full potential."

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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