Trumping NovemberWritten by Jim Harpen | | email@example.com
“Ben Konop — he’s a Republican, right?”
That was an actual question put to me by an actual Toledoan just a few days ago. Confusing Ben Konop for a Republican is like confusing Adolf Hitler for a humanitarian pacifist. By and large, voter ignorance leading up to the mayoral primary election in Toledo is distressingly high.
I expected this year’s mayoral election to be a real attention-getter. The kind of thing everyone would be talking about, arguing about and finding out about. But four weeks from the primary election, the political buzz is still more like a quiet whir and Toledoans don’t seem to be paying much attention. We should be.
The September primary is more important than the November general election. Here’s why. How many times have people sheepishly confessed, “Yeah, I voted for Carty in 2005. But look at the choices we had.” Note to Toledo voters: You’ve got a choice in your choices. It’s called “The Primary.”
For the first time in, hell, my lifetime, we have the opportunity to alter the polluted political ecosystem in Toledo. To throw off the old guard that answers to the union bosses, the party hacks and the daily rag. To dispense with the people who have maintained Toledo’s inertia of mediocrity, the humdrum business-as-usual approach that leads to wasted tax dollars, lost jobs and that oft-heard phrase, “Toledo has so much potential.” We have the chance to put some people in office who will do what’s best for all of us with no hidden motives, agendas or unseemly allegiances.
When it comes to recent history of who we put in the mayor’s office, it’s usually been the Lucas County Democratic Party that’s dished out our options. “Would you like Democrat A or Democrat B?” And in the past, our choices in the General election have been lame. For that, we have ourselves to blame, at least in part, because our performance in the September primary has been chronically poor. This is where we voters have let ourselves down.
A little history refresher. Back in 2005, less than a quarter — only 22 percent — of registered Toledo voters cast ballots in the mayoral primary. Incumbent Jack Ford and a re-branded Carty Finkbeiner made it through the primary, with Ford nudging out Keith Wilkowski by only 2 percent — about 1,200 votes. What a difference a few thousand more voters might have made. Not that Wilkowski would have necessarily won the primary or beaten Finkbeiner in the general election four years ago, or that the past four years would have been better if Wilkowski had been mayor. But a Wilkowski win would have been different. And almost by definition, different would have been better.
Granted, primary elections never get the voter or media attention that the November election does. Local primaries don’t usually raise eyebrows until after Labor Day, just one week before the election. Perhaps it’s human nature; why the Super Bowl gets 10 times the viewers of a typical season game, and why so many of us don’t watch college hoops until March Madness whittles the field down to the Final Four. But this primary is more important. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ backfield doesn’t make decisions about raising our taxes, and the North Carolina Tar Heels don’t decide whether to lay off Toledo police officers.
Here’s another reason voting in this primary is so important: Big campaign contributors place their bets on winning horses. The top vote-getter in the primary will be the top contributions-getter in the days after the primary. All of that money makes him the top advertiser with all of the name recognition that goes with it. That also makes him the likely winner in November. It’s a simple formula that makes your primary day vote just as important, if not more important than your vote in November.
We can choose to put a stop to Toledo’s inertia of mediocrity Sept. 15. Or, for the umpteenth time, we can stay home on primary day, and let the union bosses, party hacks and daily rag dish out our choices. Again. It’s time to cram for the primary.
E-mail columnist Jim Harpen at firstname.lastname@example.org.