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.
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
Perryman: Please elaborate
on the “education” you received while working at the
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
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
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
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
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
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
Thank you very much.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at