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Fire in My Belly

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.
The Truth Contributor

Get involved in an issue that you’re passionate about. It almost doesn’t matter what it is…. We give too much of our power away, to the professional politicians, to the lobbyists, to cynicism. And our democracy suffers as a result.
             – President Barak Hussein Obama



“Carty” S. Finkbeiner

When Carleton “Carty” S. Finkbeiner was mayor of Toledo, Ohio, he was perhaps the most controversial of any mayor that preceded or followed him. Colorful and resilient, often capricious but generous, Finkbeiner ran the city with a combustible passion from 1994 to 2002 and again from 2006 – 2010.

Now, Carty is still displaying his fire and fervor as an activist working with the community group Protect Our Water. I ran into the former mayor, ironically, on the 22nd floor of One Government Center where he had just held court with current mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz and members of his administration.

Finkbeiner spoke with me about his life, career and current events.

Perryman: Activism is a new role for you, isn’t it?

Finkbeiner:  No, no.  Out of college I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I taught for a year at my old alma mater, Maumee Valley, and then I enjoyed the experience that was coaching, so I became a football coach at the University of Toledo for four years.  But I thought I was going to become a minister and I went down to the Episcopal seminary in Virginia in November of 1969.  I got there and the Dean says ‘come back in September for the class of next year.’  So I didn’t have anything to do, football season had ended, I had resigned from the university so I came back here and went to work for the antipoverty program, and that’s where I got educated by several people.

Perryman: Please elaborate on the “education” you received while working at the antipoverty program?

Finkbeiner: John Jones was our director when I first went to work, but Wayman Palmer was right underneath him and eventually became the director of the Economic Opportunity Planning Association (EOPA).  From Wayman, that old Libbey High School graduate, and Robert Sciplin, I learned a ton.  When there was a northwest community center on Vermont near Bancroft, Sciplin used to take me into rooms and he’d lecture me.  It could be hot out, we’d be up in his office in the top floor of that big old brick building and it must’ve been 90 outside and about 110 up there and for an hour I’d be sitting there at the table and he’d be lecturing me, “Your heart’s in the right place, Finkbeiner, but you don’t know a damn thing about what it’s like to be an African American or black!” I listened and I learned. 

Perryman: Let’s talk about your spirituality. You mentioned earlier that you were all set for the seminary before your life was rerouted. I’ve heard that you occasionally pop up at black churches and not just during the election season like most politicians do.

Finkbeiner: When I can’t get to my church, which is a small…it’s been there forever and a day, and last Sunday when the bells at 3 p.m. in the afternoon were to chime for the first slavery ship, there were about 15 people there…

Perryman: This is your home church?

Finkbeiner:  Yes, it’s in Maumee.  I still can’t get them to come into Toledo to do things firsthand with their own hands. They mean well, heart’s in the right place.  We have a food pantry and all that, but it isn’t moving some of that activism from Maumee into Toledo.

But the black services are - I tell everybody that, including my pastor at church - they’re so much more uplifting. You’ll occasionally get a boring sermon or a boring church service in the black community too, but most of the white church services are too controlled and disciplined and nobody says Amen, nobody knows when to applaud when somebody’s done something great, and are thinking should we applaud or should we not applaud.  I just like the naturalness, I guess you would say. 

This is just one white man’s opinion but, I wonder if African Americans fully appreciate how much personality they give to the United States of America.  We white folks don’t have all that much personality, we’re always trying to think of how you make the next buck or how do you look good to the neighbor next door, things like that.  African Americans don’t worry about that.  They let themselves be themselves and that is a wonderful asset to the international view of America, is they’ve got all these different colors and shapes of people there and they’re not all the same. 

Perryman: Well, what brought you to the interest in the water?

Finkbeiner:  Having been here before (as mayor), number one. And, I’m sure the fact that my father was a civil engineer is in my stream of consciousness as well. He built the Collins Park filtration plant.  He started in the Depression, didn’t make any money.  He partnered with another man, Mr. Champ. I think they made $5 one year in the Depression, they got paid, but dad would go to these meetings, Toledo Council meetings, Perrysburg Council meetings, Maumee, night in and night out.  He was only home on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, but Monday through Thursday he was always going in a town hall meeting listening, because if they brought up anything that had to do with the water he wanted to be there and listen to them. 

So, I worked a couple summers as a rodman for one of his engineering crews, but it made me a little more sensitive to the subject obviously when it came up in the last three or four years. They (citizens) always used to come to me at tables just like this and my utilities guys would want to implement increases in water, and I fought them back pretty vigorously, probably to a fault.  I probably should’ve relented in more recent…my third term, especially.  Because they were telling me that the Collins Park filtration plant was beginning to wear out and wear down and they wanted a big chunk of money to do exactly what we’re doing right now, but we had to do it under the gun.  I was willing to give them a four percent increase annually, but they were coming in asking for 8 and 11 to 12 percent increases and that’s why in today’s meeting I was interested in the numbers, asking what’s this going to look like.  

Perryman: You were intensely outspoken on the original Toledo Area Water Authority (TAWA) regional water plan. In fact, there was a viral video of your fiery exchange with Commissioner Pete Gerken in a town hall meeting sponsored by the NAACP held at the old Mott Library.

Finkbeiner: My research had told me that the original TAWA deal was a loser for Toledo. Arcadis, who bought out my father’s old engineering firm Finkbeiner Pettis & Strout, completed a report.  It’s now about eight years old, but basically it said the value of our water system eight years ago was close to a billion dollars and I said well how much are the suburbs offering?  They’re offering $175 million and as high as $250 million, which is one quarter, and that didn’t even count the $500 million investments that we have put in since 2014. 

So, on top of the billion, another $500 million has been sunk into that Collins Park filtration plant. They (City of Toledo) have now paid off half of that $500 million to reduce that debt to $250 million. If you do the homework it shows that you’ve got something over there that’s clearly worth at least a billion and probably a billion and $250 million but they were only going to offer Toledo $175 million! 

Perryman: So, are you happy now with the mayor’s latest proposal which the City of Toledo retains ownership of its water plant?

Finkbeiner:  I think so.  That was a mistake, the first day on board when Wade signed that TAWA thing, but then he started going to the meetings and he started paying attention and he told me after about the third or fourth meeting, he says ‘TAWA’s dead, TAWA’s dead.’ 

Perryman: We wanted to make sure that low income people were protected.  Are you sufficiently satisfied that that will now be the case?

Finkbeiner:  I’d say 95 percent.  People like you and I and Ray Wood, we have to keep our eyes and ears open.  I think they genuinely…we have in Wade a guy who does have a lot of spirituality. 

When I called him on this about a week ago, I just left a message.  My message was, ‘I know how spiritually grounded you are, don’t forget as the mayor that is about as good an underpinning as you can have, and in this case please don’t forget about the seniors, the poor and the lead in those water lines. Those issues need to be addressed.’  And within a couple of hours of that, Angela Lucas called me and said that the mayor would like to have a meeting to talk about that. 

So, I listened and heard what I’d hoped to hear, but previously didn’t think I would hear.

Perryman: Thank you very much.

Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at drdlperryman@centerofhopebaptist.org


Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 09/06/19 00:48:57 -0400.



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