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Published: Tuesday, 10/20/2009

Bad economy spells a decline in local mayoral signs, ads, polls

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

If Toledo voters are beginning to wonder what happened to the 2009 mayoral campaign, they can point the blame at the economy.

Campaign finance reports showed that overall campaign spending this year hasn't added up to what Toledo voters have seen in the past.

And that has meant less campaign literature, fewer signs, less polling, and less media advertising than in some years.

Democrat Keith Wilkowski and independent Mike Bell together had spent $119,601 so far in this year's campaign for mayor. The numbers are based on finance reports for the July 1-Aug. 26 period, the most recent available.

By that later date in 2005, candidates Carty Finkbeiner and Jack Ford spent $207,996. Four years before that, Mr. Ford and Ray Kest had spent a whopping $368,824.

Even adding the three other major candidates in the 2009 primary - Republican Jim Moody, independent D. Michael Collins, and Democrat Ben Konop - brings total spending in the preprimary report to $162,937. That's still less than just the two top primary finishers in 2001 and 2005.

The next set of campaign finance reports, for the period Aug. 27-Oct. 14, are due at the Lucas County Board of Elections on Thursday.

Jerry Chabler, a veteran fund-raiser for Democratic political candidates, said candidates are getting by with less cash just like everyone else.

"Since [the] strong mayor went into effect, this is absolutely the worst economy we've had, so raising money has been very, very difficult," Mr. Chabler said.

While some of the imbalance is because of the economy, it also can be attributed to the lack of incumbents in the race this year.

Indeed, Mr. Wilkowski so far has outpaced what Mr. Finkbeiner had raised at the same point four years ago, with $145,752 to Mr. Finkbeiner's $102,142 in 2005. Incumbent Mayor Ford had $400,179.

Mr. Bell, who entered the campaign late, had only $69,372 for the period.

"The economy is so far down that people aren't giving us as much," Mr. Bell said. He said he'll be on TV for the general election, but didn't need to in the primary because he was already well-known to voters.

"Their only issue isn't whether they know me or not. It's whether I'd be a good mayor," Mr. Bell said.

Mr. Wilkowski, who blanketed the TV stations with ads going into the primary, late Friday purchased about $97,000 worth of ad time from Channels 11 and 13, with ads scheduled to start today.

Of his fund-raising efforts to far, Mr. Wilkowski said, "We are in the midst of the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, and I am proud of what we have accomplished in this difficult climate."

Mr. Bell's campaign has inquired about advertising schedules but had not made a buy, sales representatives for both TV stations said.

With less money available to buy advertising, Toledo's candidates for mayor have been doing their talking in person instead.

In a series of breakfast, lunch, and dinner forums that began not long after they won the Sept. 15 primary, Mr. Wilkowski, the endorsed Democrat, and Mr. Bell, a registered Democrat running as an independent, have taken their campaigns to the people.

Mr. Bell and Mr. Wilkowski have talked to more than a dozen forums that have been publicized, and others that have escaped public notice. There also have been two televised debates - one on a religious channel, WLMB-TV, Channel 40, and the other on FOX, WUPW-TV, Channel 36.

The FOX debate may have attracted 10,000 to 12,000 viewers, General Manager Gary Yoder said.

It continues. Forums, in which the candidates take turns answering questions, are scheduled every day - or night - this week.

The candidates also will face off Monday night on CBS affiliate WTOL-TV Channel 11, in a live debate co-sponsored by The Blade.

"Those forums have been excellent. I've enjoyed every bit of it," Mr. Bell said. "I think people will be trying their hardest to see what the differences are between the two candidates, and I welcome those forums."

Mr. Wilkowski said the forums have given them exposure almost daily in The Blade and on television news programs.

"It's still a small enough city that people can come to know personally the mayor," Mr. Wilkowski said. "It does seem like there are a lot of [forums], but that's a good thing. I rarely see the same people at these, so those are all new and different people."

It's too early to tell whether the low key of the election campaign so far will have an effect on voter interest come Nov. 3.

Mr. Bell said he hopes that the low turnout of the primary - less than 20 percent of the city's registered voters - spurs voters to a strong showing on Election Day.

"I would hope that people will pay attention and it will be much higher this time around, just from the standpoint that it will be good to know that people care about their city," Mr. Bell said.

Mr. Wilkowski declined to predict turnout in the present election, and he said it would be a goal of his as mayor to show that voting is important.

"My task as mayor will be to show people that it does make a difference when you vote, that we can do things to turn Toledo around," Mr. Wilkowski said. "The obligation is on the public officials to produce better in order to generate larger turnout."

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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