The candidates for mayor of Toledo wrapped up a virtual marathon of joint appearances last night in a debate on WTVG-TV, Channel 13, for a face-off that was largely cordial and ended with a hug.
Endorsed Democrat Keith Wilkowski and independent Mike Bell have become so used to almost daily forums in the last month that they've sort of taken over the format.
When moderator Diane Larson tried to get the candidates to stick to the plan of having Mr. Bell answer the questions first for the first segment, the candidates mutinied and decided to let Mr. Wilkowski answer one first.
"From the standpoint of the video portion of the formula we're pretty much done and to get this far is actually a compliment to both individuals, so what we were doing was just sticking to the points," Mr. Bell said afterward while mixing with well-wishers and campaign staff members.
Mr. Wilkowski said he felt good about making his points.
"I did feel like I got a chance to fully express my beliefs and plans and hopes for the city of Toledo," Mr. Wilkowski said.
The convivial back-and-forth, played out in front of about 150 people at Bowsher High School, didn't mask the differences.
Asked the biggest mistake Toledo has made in its recent history, Mr. Bell named the city's lack of coordination with the region. "This idea of going it alone, we cannot afford to do that anymore," he said.
Mr. Wilkowski said, "We failed to change when times were good.
Now we're suffering when times are bad."
Asked to name something they admire and something that ticks them off about the other guy, Mr. Bell said he admired Mr. Wilkowski for running again after having done so unsuccessfully in 2005.
"What I don't like is the occasional sucker punch," Mr. Bell said. "He calls me Tax Hike Mike and I've never raised a tax in my life."
For his part, Mr. Wilkowski lauded Mr. Bell's willingness as a firefighter and fire chief to risk his life for other people, and said, "He's been a genuinely friendly and nice person throughout my entire experience with him, starting back in the cafeteria at Woodward High School in 1969."
The two graduated together from Woodward in 1973.
He told Mr. Bell, "I wish your platform was more specific and not as general as it is."
Asked to come up with a question for Mr. Wilkowski, Mr. Bell asked why he always uses the word "I" rather than "we."
Emphasizing the pronouns in his answer, Mr. Wilkowski said, "This campaign is about trying to share ideas and letting people know what we're about before they make a very important decision."
Mr. Wilkowski's question was if Mr. Bell appoints a "business advocate" in place of an economic development director, who would look out for middle-class Toledoans.
Mr. Bell said, "If we don't have businesses in our town, we don't have the middle class coming home with paychecks."
The election to replace Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, who decided not to seek a fourth four-year term, is Nov. 3.
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