Crazy, man, crazyWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
Recently, I pitched a story idea to a national magazine: “America’s Worst Mayor.” The thesis was that, even in the shadow of Detroit’s disgraced Kwame Kilpatrick, Toledo’s mayor was a gold-medal champion in the Incompetent Olympics.
As part of the research for that article, I spent hours combing through The Blade’s online archives, through the free access granted by a Toledo-Lucas County Public Library card. As I studied the triumphs and tragedies of Carleton “Carty” Finkbeiner’s public life, I thought, “There’s a book’s worth of material here.”
Turns out, I was right.
The Blade has published a slim volume, “The Little Book of Carty,” which compiles 80 or so pages of Finkbeiner’s blunders, outbursts and crazy ideas of leadership. Compiled by Blade special assignments editor Dave Murray and illustrated by Blade cartoonist Kirk Walters, the $8.95 paperback is a priceless textbook on how to lose friends and alienate people.
The book is worth the price just for the gallery of Kirk’s illustrations; one can almost see the twitching eye and rising neck vein in Kirk’s drawings.
One of the great mysteries in Toledo history is how a man with no consistent professional history or accomplishments has built a lifelong career in public service while leaving a trail of crushed careers and broken relationships behind him. Murray’s minibiography is an unflattering portrait of an opportunist who bounced from job to job like a rubber ball, a man who has held office as a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent and the leader of his own short-lived party.
Carty has his share of triumphs, but not enough to fill a book. The gaffes and violent, reckless attacks, however, are legion. Some lowlights:
- The book starts where it has to start, with Finkbeiner’s 1994 suggestion that deaf people should be located to the airport. There’s a key moment when Finkbeiner breaks into tears at a press conference addressing the national scandal, but then says he still intends to pursue the idea. This encapsulates the Finkbeiner Manifesto: My way, at all costs, with no compromise for logic or intelligence.
- The 1999 call for a boycott of Little Caeser’s pizza, because Finkbeiner did not like a chain’s owner’s plan to build a sports arena in Rossford to compete with Toledo’s. The local franchises responded by changing “Crazy Bread” to “Carty Bread” and offering a special on a ham pizza.
- The 2007 incident in which Finkbeiner parked in a handicapped spot and left his dog, Scout, locked in the car. Oddly, Murray does not mention that the incident was repeated shortly thereafter, or that it happened again a year later. Nor does the book acknowledge Murray’s role in working with Finkbeiner on the application for the “Most Livable CIty” award. This is my window of opportunity to make a comment about The Blade and its habit of selective reporting, but that’s another conversation for another time.
- The late 2007 incident in which Finkbeiner, when told Columbia Gas of Ohio might search for a new headquarters, threatened “World War III” on Columbia Gas. Oddly, Murray says, “The declaration of war worked. The company stayed put,” but there has been no such announcement from Columbia Gas, and there is no indication the company is staying in its current building. This is my window of opportunity to make a comment about The Blade and its habit of presumptive and sometimes erroneous reporting, but that’s another conversation for another time.
- As a side note, the Kirk illustration for the entry shows Finkbeiner riding a bomb like Slim Pickens in “Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” but that was the title and allusion of my column on the controversy, “Dr. StrangeFink, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Columbia Gas.” This is my window of opportunity to make a comment about The Blade and its habit of swiping creative ideas from its weekly competition, but that’s another conversation for another time.
- Here’s a fun quote from Finkbeiner to then-Human Resources Director Bill Logie at a labor negotiation session: “You just shut up. I don’t want to hear anything out of you or I’ll smash your face.” That’s our Carty, the subtle coalition builder. One of the themes of Murray’s compilation of stories is how many employees and allies Finkbeiner has burned through in his career. That trend continues today, as the mayor is on his third spokesperson in less than one year. There is also a disturbing number of incidents in which Finkbeiner swings at or smacks his people. That’s beyond uncivil; that’s sociopathic. D. Michael Collins nailed it in 1998 when he described Finkbeiner as “acting like a wacko dictator from some banana republic.”
- In 1998, since no one local seemed to be willing to send Finkbeiner a message, national consumer advocate Ralph Nader sent the mayor a bar of soap to clean up his language, hoping, “You direct your sneering, barnyard language away from corporate executives and their corporations and focus on the people you were elected to serve.”
There are pages and pages more, from customer service tantrums to a little episode in which Finkbeiner used the police to block a contingent of training Marines.
It’s a whimsical book, and at first it’s very funny. But as the dozens of embarrassments keep coming, the experience leaves one sad, empty, angry and lost.
Not unlike Finkbeiner and his legacy.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com.