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La Liga de Las Americas



Toledo Mayor Ford beats back old school challenger in heated mayoral debate on minority issues

 

Commentary by Alan Abrams
La Prensa Senior Correspondent

 

Like a boxing champion seeking to maintain his crown, a leaner, meaner Jack Ford emerged from behind his mayoral podium Monday evening in his debate with former mayor Carty S. Finkbeiner on minority and urban issues at the University of Toledo.

Ford’s one-two punches before the crowd at Nitschke Auditorium heated up the audience and reinvigorated his supporters. That’s because unlike previous mayoral debates between the two Democrats, this debate was much more than just a sparring match.

 

Ford took full advantage of the opportunity to launch a more aggressive and vigorous presentation of his record as mayor and his vision for the city’s future. 

Some of Ford’s best points were scored on fresh issues, which he vigorously presented with confidence. But as Finkbeiner acknowledged in his closing remarks, neither candidate probably succeeded in swaying any listener into their camp.

Why? The audience of 288 appeared to be equally divided into highly vocal partisan camps. The old adage of preaching to the converted is probably appropriate to invoke, although both candidates succeeded in rousing their supporters to near-fever pitch, a valuable tool in the home stretch of the campaign.

 

 Plagued at first by microphone feedback and other technical problems, the debate didn’t miss a beat as it covered the campaign’s familiar refrains of jobs, development, and education, laid out at the start by former mayor Finkbeiner. But many of Ford’s responses on education and community development covered new turf for the mayor.

 

Yet, there was some irony in the fact that Ford scored his most visible TKO in response to a question from the audience that appeared to be only peripherally a minority issue. 

 

Asked whether he would agree to a joint appearance before a Lagrange community group, a request first made on Sept. 14, Finkbeiner hemmed and hawed, saying he received many such requests and had to coordinate his calendar.

 

But Ford seized the moment replying: “He’s ducking you, I’ll be there.”

 

Assumptions can be deceiving, and the Lagrange appearance is indeed an important urban-related issue. There was a lot at play in Finkbeiner’s waffling. Ford supports an ordinance calling for mandatory home examinations before their sale.

 

Finkbeiner, who has accepted donations from predatory lender the Westhaven Group, opposes the ordinance. The Westhaven Group and its founder John Ulmer, one of the biggest beneficiaries of coin dealer Tom Noe’s largesse in doling out loans using public funds, is often at odds with the Lagrange Development Corporation CDC. During the last mayoral campaign, Ford, to his credit, publicly refused to accept donations from Westhaven.

However, Ford may have missed another opportunity to deliver a direct hit to Finkbeiner’s solar plexus. Acknowledging the support his administration received from Democratic president Bill Clinton, Finkbeiner also stressed he had a friend in Columbus in the person of then-Republican Governor (and now U.S. Senator) George Voinovich.

 

However, as the Toledo Blade has often pointed out in their coverage of the Coingate scandal, then-Gov. Voinovich was also the angel in high office who helped launch Maumee coin dealer Tom Noe’s foray into the world of political play-for-pay.

 

The mayoral debate was sponsored by the Northwest Ohio Black Media Organization (NOBMA), the University of Toledo Alumni Association, Minority Affiliate and the Latino Affiliate of the UT Alumni Association. NOBMA is the Toledo-based affiliate of the National Association of Black Journalists.

 

NOBMA and the UT Alumni Association have organized debates on urban and minority issues with Toledo mayoral candidates since 1991. Clyde Hughes, urban affairs and minority issues reporter for The Toledo Blade is president of the Toledo chapter.

 

The debate was moderated by Efrem K. Graham, morning news anchor at WTVG-TV, who managed to keep both partisan placard-waving camps under control. Brandi Brown, midday air personality from WIMX-FM, served as emcee and handled audience questions from the floor.

 

Media panelists were Geneva Chapman from The Sojourner's Truth, Shenikwa Stratford of WNWO-TV, Artisha Lawson of the Toledo Journal, Schylar Meadows from WJUC-FM, and the sole Latino community representative, Joe Balderas of El Tiempo. Balderas replaced the originally scheduled television and radio personality Tony Rios, who had a conflicting engagement. Balderas is the director of the Sophia Quintero Art and Cultural Center and has been active for years with the folkloric dance group, Imagenes Mexicanas.  

 

At the start of the program, political candidates in the audience were given one minute on stage to make their pitch to voters. Latino candidates among this group included Robert Torres, running under the “Vote 3 for Change” banner for the Toledo Public School Board.

 

Torres was the only candidate to address the audience in both Spanish and English.  Using his minute to peak effectiveness, Torres hit hard on his service to both former mayor Finkbeiner and Mayor Ford, as well as his service to church, community, and country as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, who served in the Gulf War during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

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Two other Latino-community candidates also shared the stage: Bob Vásquez, candidate for Toledo city council (At-Large) and Steven Steel, also vying for a seat on the school board. Steel, who teaches at Bowling Green State University, was once national communications director for Baldemar Velásquez’s Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC). He is married to a Latina.

 

Both mayoral candidates expressed their support for the Viva South redevelopment efforts in Toledo’s South End. Formerly known as Heritage South, the activist group has recently revitalized itself.

 

Again showing why he is the best candidate for Latinos to support in the election, Ford pointed to his advocacy of a plan to use the former South End library on Broadway as a cultural center for the community. He also reiterated his distinguished record of appointing Latinos to key positions in his administration.

 

Another question from the audience asked both candidates what they would do on making Wi-Fi coverage accessible throughout the entire city. Ford has already taken the lead on hooking up the city, but the question appeared to leave Finkbeiner technologically challenged. His reply focused on using empty Champion and other industrial plants in Toledo that he thought could be converted into high-tech research facilities. However, the issue goes far beyond bricks and mortar.

 

At times, Finkbeiner showed signs of what has become known as “The Old Carty,” the vintage shoot-from-the-lip responses, leading credence to the cries of his supporters that “It’s Carty Time.” Case in point, Finkbeiner proposed the creation of an artists’ colony in downtown Toledo. He suggested the artists receive one year’s free rent while they create artworks for public places.

 

A full transcript of the debate will be posted by Thursday on NOBMA’s redesigned Web site, www.nobma.org, promised Hughes.

Aida Maxsam of Soujourner's Truth and free-lance reporter, Alan Abrams.

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