For many years now, I've watched Carty Finkbeiner's political career. Anyone who knows anything about him will say that he truly loves this city and he is known for being the #1 Cheerleader for Toledo.
But a closer look at his career will also show that, on any given day, 40-45% of the people love him, 40-45% hate him and the other 10-20% switch back and forth, depending.
We were both elected to office in 1993 - he as the first strong mayor and me as the Clerk of Toledo Municipal Court. I've always had a cordial, professional and often friendly working relationship with him, despite our disagreements on various issues. Like everyone else, I've heard the stories about his language and behavior, but nothing 'on the record.'
And right about now, you're probably wondering where this post is going. So let me get to the point.
Recently, he took exception to the Shriners wanting to move to a more economical building than the one they've occupied for decades in downtown Toledo. Carty characterized their financial decision as "abandoning" the city - "running away" from the city - among other things.
Today, on WSPD 1370 AM, there are clips of his town hall meeting last night, in which he 'passionately' (he likes to use this term) defends the job the police department is doing. I wasn't at the meeting, but from the discussion on the morning show, it appears he was responding to a question about crime.
In both these instances, his 'passion' has gotten the better of him. His reaction to the decision of the Shriners to move was one of saying 'shame on you for this decision.' I don't know if he met with them to offer a location within the city limits that might meet their need - although, that's what I would have done. But I do know that his criticism of them was severe, public and personal - certainly not the way to generate goodwill.
But generating goodwill is really hard to do when you see a financial decision as a personal affront.
At the meeting last night, when asked about increased patrols, he changed the subject to say that crime is down and that he thinks the police are doing a very good job. He got defensive about the job the police are doing despite the fact that no one said that individual officers weren't doing a good job.
He saw this as a personal affront to the police department and reacted to defend them. However, he missed the critical point. The concern wasn't the individual actions of all the officers, but rather the management of the department - which is his ultimate responsibility.
I've got to hand it to him, though...taking such a position in defense of the police officers was an effective way to shut down the criticism. All of a sudden, the 'complainer' finds him/herself in a defensive mode. Some may see this as a good political strategy, but I don't ... and the danger of such a 'strategy' is that it leads the public to think you are just deflecting the issue and not really answering the question.
These two incidences draw a clear distinction.
In the first case, the Shriners' decision wasn't personal and shouldn't have been taken as such. The mayor of a city should understand why people/businesses move into a city AND why they move out. This was an opportunity to look at factors within our limits that encourage or discourage such decisions. It was also an opportunity to see if we could have met the needs of an organization that needed to make a change. Had the mayor not issued such a scathing personal attack, there might still have been an opportunity to keep the Shriners in Toledo - but I believe that opportunity has now passed.
In the second case, Carty should have take the criticism of the management of the police department personally. He should have explained what decisions he was making regarding staffing levels, why he hasn't brought them up to the number he identified while campaigning, why citizens wait hours, sometimes, for an officer to respond and what he plans to do about it. He even could have begun the discussion of setting priorities with the budget - something he says he wants to do anyway with performance-based budgeting.
But he didn't do any of these things. He chose, instead, to 'interpret' the public comments as a slam on the officers, apparently in the hope that it would eliminate the need for him to account for his mayoral decisions regarding the department. And then he responded 'passionately.'
Passion in politics or leadership can be a good thing. But as these situations demonstrate, 'passion' falls short - when it's all you've got.