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Published: Monday, 11/25/2013 - Updated: 11 months ago

ECONCAT88

City critic’s videos spark calls for action, agreement

BY TOM TROY AND MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
The ruins of the Toledo Edison Acme power plant in the Marina District. The ruins of the Toledo Edison Acme power plant in the Marina District.
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Toledo is a great place to live — not the urban wasteland portrayed on YouTube by “EconCat88” — was the message from prominent Toledoans contacted Sunday after the videos were featured in a Blade story.

That was also the view of many who commented on The Blade’s story, although many commenters agreed with EconCat88.

RELATED ARTICLE: Toledo must be defined by those who build

EconCat88, apparently a Toledo man with a definite attitude about Toledo, has filled YouTube with hundreds of videos, which he narrates.

As EconCat88 might well expect, his videos drew a lot of tut-tutting from local officials, many of whom have the job of trying to promote Toledo as a great place to live and do business in.

“That’s one of the biggest issues our community has. We tend to focus on the negative and not on the positive,” Councilman Adam Martinez said. “Blasting it to the rest of the world doesn’t say much for this person — or the city of Toledo.”

Toledo Mayor-elect D. Michael Collins said the impact of social media cannot be underestimated because of its prevalence as a form of communication among those younger than 35.

“Having said that, the pictures that were found in The Blade certainly have to be defined as accurate, and they do exist. However, I would take that in a different direction. Defining our problems is one thing, but it is shallow if there are no efforts to correct them,” Mr. Collins said.

“It would be my hope that this could create within that same group, who find social media as their primary source of information, to energize them and come forward. And let’s only not correct what EconCat88 has defined as issues for Toledo, but let’s take on all the issues, and let’s make Toledo a city that is refreshingly clean and the city that engages problem-solving as opposed to the chronic answer, which is acceptance,” Mr. Collins said.

One of Mr. Collins’ campaign themes in the Nov. 5 election was a volunteer project called Tidy Towns. The initiative will be part of Block Watch and will give individual neighborhoods — and the development corporations within them — more active roles in cleaning up blight, such as mowing lawns and cleaning up trash.

Former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner speculated the man hiding behind the video camera is knowledgeable about real estate, based on his not-entirely-negative description of the Westmoreland neighborhood featured in one video. Mr. Finkbeiner said he would like to issue to the author of the videos a personal invitation to accompany him on a tour to point out the city’s “dynamic improvements,” including the campuses of the University of Toledo and University of Toledo Medical Center, which is the former Medical College of Ohio, the Jeep plant, the Museum of Art, and the many vibrant residential neighborhoods that dot the city.

“If one is to be critical of that community that you are part of ... go roll up your sleeves and go out and improve the quality of the community or environment,” Mr. Finkbeiner said. “It is easy to fault, but sometimes it shows a lack of thorough knowledge of the entity you are criticizing.”

The Blade’s story received 92 comments as of late Sunday. A person identifying as Adam Smith said, “So what is it that Econ is wrong about. Thousands of empty houses in neighborhoods the government has poured tens and hundreds of millions into over the last 20 some years to prevent decay?”

Mr. Smith got challenged by Joe Napoli, president of the Toledo Walleye and Mud Hens, who ran through a list of Toledo attributes — “affordable housing, great schools (public, private, and Universities), fishing and kayaking on the Maumee River, hiking and biking in the Metroparks, and amazing salt of the earth people with impressive midwestern values.”

Christine Weber Bailey of Maumee tended to agree with Mr. Napoli. “All of the negativity gets tiresome. This region deserves to be the best it can be. Anonymously trashing our region accomplishes little,” she wrote.

Robyn Hage wrote that she tried to take EconCat88 to task. “I responded to one of his posts since he took video of our house while creating one of his diatribes on Toledo and needless to say, his response to me was extremely rude,” she wrote.

Eric Soleau wrote that only a “moron” would base a decision about where to live on a YouTube video. “Im making a major life decision i better check to see what Youtube says. Lol i mean really,” wrote Mr. Soleau, obviously not overly concerned with punctuation in making his point.

After publication of a story about the EconCat88 videos on YouTube, The Blade on Sunday received what appears to be a good tip as to the author’s identity, as well as a tip that he is an acquaintance of Toledo City Councilman Steven Steel. Mr. Steel said he knows of the individual through his past work as a referee for high school athletics in Toledo and promised to reach out to the man and encourage him to call The Blade.

A photo on AREIS, the Lucas County Auditor’s Web site that officially records property addresses, shows a vehicle parked in the man’s driveway that appears identical to one seen in a reflection in one of EconCat88’s videos. Another AREIS photo shows Mr. Steel’s campaign sign in his yard. The house had one sign saying “Welcome” and another saying “No Solicitors.”

Mr. Steel said he has not viewed the videos his friend has posted, so it would not be appropriate for him to comment. However, he said he doesn’t share the man’s opinion of the community that he expresses in the video presentations.

“I don’t agree with the negative information about Toledo,” he said. “I can, as a council member and person who has lived in Toledo and intends to live the rest of my life here, say I want the best of Toledo to be put forward as much as we can. We have the same challenges as any aging industrial city in the Midwest. ... However, I have seen a lot of positive things.”

Of course, the man is far from the only person taking videos and posting them to provide online surfers with a glimpse of life in Toledo, Ohio.

No city that claims the label is free of critics. Perhaps the best video of the genre is “Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video: 2nd Attempt,” which says Cleveland’s main export is “crippling depression,” but “at least we’re not Detroit.” That video on YouTube has received more than 5 million views since it was uploaded in 2009.

The Toledo Community Foundation is in the process of putting up feel-good videos about Toledo. Its first effort, titled, “Toledo: Better Together,” published in April, 2013, has received 1,673 views. The message from “Toledo: Better Together” is “we live in a great community. Toledo is a great place to work, live, and raise a family. And we are creating a better home and community — together.”

Among the civic stars are Mr. Napoli and musician Crystal Bowersox, as well as Mayor Mike Bell.

Keith Burwell, president and chief executive officer of the Toledo Community Foundation, said three more videos are on the way.

“It’s always 10 times easier to be negative than positive,” said Mr. Burwell, who supports the ongoing effort to “brand” Toledo in a positive way.

As someone who moved to Toledo about 10 years ago, Mr. Burwell said he’s noticed that transplants seem to be bigger admirers of the city than are the people who grew up here, including, apparently, EconCat88.

“Talk to people who didn’t grow up here they’ll tell you it’s the best place to live. From what I read, he lives here and grew up here. He should go away and come back and see what he’s missing,” Mr. Burwell said.

However, he did not encourage further publicizing of EconCat88 as it just “gives them more credence.”

Staff writer Tom Henry contributed to this report.

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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