I never really realized one of America’s most revered presidents was Ronald Reagan, until he passed away a couple of years ago. For several days, it seemed like everything came to a halt in the good ol’ U.S. of A., as we paid homage to the man who defined the 1980s, stared down Communism and made Americans feel good about themselves again.
Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner showed shades of the Teflon president last week when he addressed news that the Glass City’s population had dipped below 300,000. To the mayor’s credit, he called it just a number. But it’s more than that: a psychological barometer that’s one more blow to a city with an already fragile psyche.
The mayor pointed out that quality of life means more than that number. He also tried to point out that losing population could be a good thing for that fragile psyche, because Cincinnati lost more — and we could become Ohio’s third-largest city as a result.
Reagan had a way of doing the same thing, diverting our attention from serious problems like inflation and nuclear threats. With a smile and a story, the old actor could make an entire country feel like there was nothing to worry about.
A lot of people feel Mayor Finkbeiner is a closet Republican anyway. Just look at the Carty Coalition on city council: four members of the GOP, plus two Democrats he helped get seats — Mark Sobczak and Lourdes Santiago. (Yes, I know that sets up a 6-6 tie vote on council, but guess who holds the tiebreaking vote in those instances? Yep, the mayor.)
Then look at the three top officials in each administration and compare notes. If Carty could be Reaganesque, second-in-command council president Rob Ludeman could be like Reagan’s vice president George Bush (the older one). They’re both stoic, quiet, calm and could use a little infusion in the personality department.
Spend five minutes with mayoral Chief of Staff Bob Reinbolt and tell me if there isn’t the slightest bit of Alexander Haig in the guy. Heck, just after Carty got elected to a third term as mayor, Reinbolt, who served as Finkbeiner’s campaign chairman, openly told reporters that he was really in charge. I think Reinbolt meant that he would be in charge of the city’s day-to-day operations, but the quote was almost verbatim what got ol’ Alex in so much trouble 20-some years ago.
I just don’t think you’ll ever hear our mayor say something profound like “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” I think it will come out more like “Mr. Reinbolt, build me a bike path!” (Or a shower or lights on trees, take your pick).
But a lot of people had a love-him-or-hate-him feeling about Reagan, much like our city does with our fearless leader. After all, we ended up missing Carty so much, we brought him back for another round. Now, just a few months into office, many people are wondering what they did and why they did it.
There’s one big difference between Ronnie and Carty. The former president had a reputation for letting his people handle the details while he took frequent naps. Some may accuse the mayor of falling down on the job, but never falling asleep at the wheel. Whatever high-energy, caffeine-laden cocktail it takes, the mayor is a 100-mile per-minute guy and his staff won’t dare do anything without a stamp of approval from him.
Whatever the case, we need a leader to make us feel good about ourselves right now. But we also need some actual reasons to feel good. That’s where we’ll see if Carty really deserves a comparison to a man with a legendary legacy.
Contact Kevin Milliken at firstname.lastname@example.org.