hopefuls promise safe, diverse neighborhoods
By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa
Five candidates for Toledo mayor told the public what they would
do to make the city’s neighborhoods safer, vibrant, and more
diverse during a forum Wednesday evening, Aug. 22, 2013 at the
University of Toledo College of Law auditorium.
The Fair Housing Center sponsored the third of four
mayoral debates to be held before the Sept. 10 primary, dubbing
the event Neighborhoods of Opportunity. Five of the seven
candidates on the ballot participated, including Mayor Mike
Bell, Lucas County Auditor Anita López, Toledo City
Council members Joe McNamara and Mike Collins, and
city supervisor Alan Cox.
Housing discrimination and how to improve the quality of life in
city neighborhoods were the main themes of the debate. But the
common campaign issues of poverty, crime, and jobs took center
stage in those discussions of what to do about blight and
creating diverse “neighborhoods of choice.”
“This is an asset that we must treasure and protect,” said
McNamara. “However, we have seen crippling poverty and a huge
foreclosure crisis. These rising rates of poverty have taken a
toll on our neighborhoods and on our citizens. But we can do
McNamara proposed the appointment of a “housing czar” with the
goals of increasing homeownership rates, preserve existing
housing stock, promote racial and ethnic diversity of its
neighborhoods, and provide equal access to housing.
“Housing discrimination is not just an incident. It is a
reflection of our community,” said Ms. López. “It is each and
every one of us willing to say it will not be tolerated and I
will not accept it. We must have a plan that creates employment,
a government that is responsive and business-friendly, so that
individuals of all backgrounds are able to improve their
The candidates each were given one minute to answer a series of
five questions that covered neighborhood-related issues. One
question addressed how to appropriately respond to poor housing
that was causing health problems.
Mayor Bell pointed out the city must “tactfully” regulate
housing issues and not make it too expensive or cumbersome for
landlords to comply. McNamara took issue with what he called the
mayor’s “regulation when appropriate” strategy. He stated the
city should do a better job of enforcing laws already on the
books and focus on removing lead paint from homes that are
Collins criticized the mayor for “corruption” in the city’s
department of neighborhoods and encouraged that a look at “best
practices,” particularly in Jackson, Michigan, as “a model worth
looking at” to address health issues such as lead paint. Ms.
López proposed the use of “Toledo neighborhood teams” to work on
housing issues in specific, assigned territories of the city.
Another question focused on the collapse of city services in
Detroit, which went broke and bankrupt and how each mayoral
candidate would prevent that from happening in Toledo as well.
“We need to stop making excuses and hope the revenue comes in,”
said Ms. López, who touted her record in streamlining staff and
services to save money as county auditor.
“We are not Detroit,” countered Collins. “Detroit occurred
because of political leadership that was corrupt. We do not have
a corrupt government in this city. So we have not that issue.”
He then proposed a “Tidy Toledo” initiative similar to
one he saw in Ireland, which focuses on a positive attitude in
Mr. Cox proposed using federal dollars in a better way, not as
grants that don’t need to be paid back. But he also contended
the city should reduce unnecessary staffing levels.
“You have to build a core, but you have to do it in a patient
way,” said Mayor Bell, who pointed out his administration
eliminated a $48 million deficit.
Toledo’s gang problem and the number of police officers on the
force also became an issue during a couple of the questions that
Collins called the gang problem “a very complex set of
circumstances” that could be solved through a return to
neighborhood policing. He cited the city’s status as having the
lowest per capita rate of police officers in the nation.
“If we don’t have feet on the street, those streets aren’t
safe,” he said.
“We have to recognize that gang activity starts as the result of
no opportunities for employment, poverty, no education, and
saturated areas of crime,” said Ms. López. “With high crime and
high unemployment, we’re just creating more generations of
McNamara proposed that the city “should fund and fix” its
existing gang initiative known as the Toledo Community
Initiative to Reduce Violence (T-CIRV). He stated that better
marketing would allow the effort to be known by citizens and the
hiring of “community organizers-violence interrupters” would
“help to bring the community together to say enough of the
“We are doing the things necessary,” countered Mayor Bell, who
stated the program “is being received so well” that New Orleans
officials are copying the program. He also spoke of “data-driven
policing” and a 17 percent reduction in crime during his term.
The mayor received heavy criticism for alluding back to “working
within the parameters” of a public that “clearly” told him they
did not want their taxes raised. He constantly cited limited
funds when answering questions on some of the city’s problems.
“We do not have the money, but that does not excuse raising the
bar and the performance of how we serve citizens and how we set
a vision for how we serve our children,” said Ms. López.
“Together we will stamp out discrimination and crime and raise
the city to a higher level that no one has seen.”
One final question addressed how the mayor would work in concert
with Toledo Public Schools to help neighborhood children.
Mr. McNamara stated that “the mayor must be a strong advocate
for schools” and use “the bully pulpit” to lobby the state for
proper funding for urban school districts. He also threw his
public support behind the TPS levy that will appear on the
“The future of our city and the future of TPS are intertwined,”
Mayor Bell echoed his support for the TPS levy and touted the
district’s developing partnerships with community groups such as
the Boys and Girls Clubs and Aspire, a group of community
leaders in education and social services that is working on an
agenda to help kids pre-K through college in a “cradle to
Cox also pointed out that the mayor must also work with charter
schools, private schools, and Washington Local Schools as
part of Toledo’s educational system.
“The kids just need to have people who care about them,” he
said. “For those parents we can help—step in, be part of their
kids’ lives, we need to promote that. If the parents won’t step
up, we need to be the parents for those kids, because that’s how
those kids are going to progress.”
Mr. Collins touted a youth mentoring program using HUD funding
to pay older, successful kids that he called “academic stars” to
reach out to younger kids identified as academically struggling.
Ms. López proposed working with existing partners to address
poverty, gang activity, and blight—neighborhood issues that
affect children as they go to school.
Mayor Mike Bell
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09/03/13 20:28:11 -0700.