To the winners, and losers too

Democracy is messy at the grass roots. Also pretty great.


I went to a candidates’ night at Point Place a few days before the primary. “Point Place,” said a friend, “does not really consider itself a part of Toledo. It’s its own thing.”

Democracy is messy at the grass roots. Also pretty great.

The candidates for mayor got three minutes to speak that night. The candidates for City Council got one minute each.

Mike Bell was in “game on” mode. Mike Collins prepared a mini-master plan for Point Place he distributed to the audience.

The candidates for Council were articulate and sincere. Larry Sykes, after many years of service, still wants to help the young men of this city who are not getting a break. Newcomer Sandy Spang told the story of how she built a small business and with it a neighborhood. Powerful stuff. The voters were impressed too.

I was impressed by Alfonso Narvaez, a 22-year-old Republican who cares deeply about his neighborhood, riddled with crime and poverty.

Sean Nestor, another young man, a Green Party member, has more ideas than most members of Congress. He too has seen the poverty and random violence, but he loves the city and wants to stay here and help it.

Neither did well in the primary. I hope they don’t give up.

A candidate who was not there, Ernie McCarthy, is a working man who wants to give back in retirement — not a pol, just a neighbor.

Jack Ford was there and, in one minute, elevated the whole event — intellectually and morally, as he always does. He said an interesting thing. He said he’d heard politicians denounced that night. “I am a politician,” he said. Mr. Ford said he viewed politics as an instrument of justice and progress, however imperfect and halting.

It made me think of John Gilligan, the former one-term Ohio governor who died a few weeks ago. I remember him coming to my home town when he was governor — an utterly charming and urbane Irishman in a farm town that had gone big for Barry Goldwater.

Gilligan did a lot of interesting stuff in his life: He served in three different theaters in World War II and won the Silver Star. He served on the Cincinnati City Council, in the U.S. House, and late in life, on the Cinci school board. He ran foreign aid for the State Department, taught at Notre Dame, and authored the peace plank at the 1968 Democratic convention. What a life.

But he is mostly remembered in Ohio political history as a great loser. His four years of thoughtful, progressive, reform were, in his word, “repudiated” by the voters. For a couple of decades, Democrats ran from Jack Gilligan, and even the mention of his name.

But thanks to a politician whose political life ended in failure, the state avoided a permanent Detroit-like state of fiscal coma; there is a state EPA; and the mentally ill, instead of being warehoused in horrific dungeons (which is what was happening), are treated, hospitalized, and respected. Democracy is messy. Politics is honorable.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: or 419-724-6266.