Keith Wilkowski: ‘Turning around Toledo’Written by Michael Brooks | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s Note: Toledo Free Press is interviewing all seven mayoral candidates who have filed petitions with the Board of Elections (Opal Covey (July 27), Carty Finkbeiner (Aug. 3), Don Gozdowski (Aug. 10), Rob Ludeman (Aug. 17), Martin Okonski (Aug. 24), Keith Wilkowski, and Jack Ford). We will profile one candidate per week up to the September 13 primary election. Each of the candidates will answer a series of standard questions, but the conversations will also include topics the mayoral hopefuls see as important for Toledo voters.
Keith Wilkowski said Toledo is at a crossroads, or a “tipping point,” in which its future hangs in the balance, and that some residents have given up hope on turning the city around.
“I got into the race because I believe in my heart that we can change this city,” he said, adding that his optimistic view of Toledo’s future differentiates him from his opponents. “I don’t accept for one minute that Toledo has to accept a declining future.”
On his qualifications to be mayor: Wilkowski said his track record as a leader sets him apart from the other candidates for mayor.
“In order to lead, you have to be able to communicate, which our current mayor lacks,” he said. “You have to be able to inspire people toward a common vision and common objectives, like Winston Churchill did in England during the Second World War. I will provide the kind of leadership that Toledo needs.”
Wilkowski said, unlike some of his opponents, he will be more than “just a cheerleader” for Toledo.
“If we are going to stick with the sports analogy, I will be the team’s quarterback,” he said. “A cheerleader is not an active participant in what is happening on the field.”
On a new sports arena: The candidate is emphatic that the proposed new arena belongs Downtown, adding that he is the “only candidate who has put forth a rational, reasonable position” on where the arena should go.
“We should locate the arena near Fifth Third Field,” he said. “These facilities will then create a critical mass of people and activities to make our downtown vibrant and alive, a place where companies like Owens-Illinois would think twice before moving out.”
On hurdles Toledo must overcome: Wilkowski said Toledo’s biggest challenge is in the transition from a manufacturing-based economy to the realities of the global marketplace.
“We need a leader who can understand not only the old manufacturing economy, but also the emerging knowledge-based economy,” he said. “For Toledo to compete in the 21st century, it has to retain its young college graduates by providing employment opportunities.”
On the Downtown business district: The candidate would like to see the UT’s Law School move Downtown.
“While I can’t speak for UT President Dan Johnson, I think that it makes sense to move the school Downtown,” he said. “The courts and law offices are located down here, and this would be a great way to provide another hub of activity to spur development.”
On public schools: Wilkowski said the next mayor must be able to bring a sense of unity to the city’s schools.
“We need to recognize that we have a variety of public, private and parochial schools in this city, and that the mayor is responsible for leadership to the entire community,” he said. “When I was on the school board, we used to say that TPS has more in common with parochial and private schools than the things that separate the systems. That’s the right attitude to have.”
He also said the current school- construction program offers the city hope.
“One of the great opportunities we have is the ‘New Schools, New Neighborhoods’ initiative,” he said. “The neighborhoods in which these new and remodeled schools are built allow us to target resources and use the schools as a catalyst for reinvigorating entire neighborhoods.”
On lowering crime rates: Wilkowski is not convinced his opponents place a high enough emphasis on public safety.
“Public safety has to be the No. 1 budget priority,” he said. “People will not visit or relocate to Toledo if they do not feel safe.”
Wilkowski said the police department does not have adequate equipment to meet its needs.
“People within the department have told me that many police vehicles are barely operational,” he said. “We need to make sure that officers have safe equipment, and this needs to be factored into the budget. I have doubts that this has been the case in the past.”
On the city budget: The candidate said the budget process needs to be overhauled.
“The city charter has not been revised since 1918 with regard to the budget provisions,” he said. “Under the charter the mayor has until November 15 to put together a budget proposal for the following year. There is no way you can effectively put together a budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars, study it and hold public hearings between November 15 and January 1.”
On his top priorities: Wilkowski said his administration will have one immediate priority: jobs.
“My top priority is creating an environment in which businesses will want to locate in Toledo,” he said. “This campaign, more than anything else, is about jobs and the type of leadership that this city needs in order to attract employers.”
On the flurry of 2005 road construction projects in the city: Wilkowski questioned the sudden appearance of thousands of orange barrels in Toledo, which some citizens have suggested is a political ploy by Mayor Jack Ford to create the impression of a “busy” city government right before the primary election.
“I’d hate to think that road construction is being used for political purposes, but this is certainly poor planning,” he said. “Some people have jokingly said to me that we should amend the city charter to require a mayor’s race every year.”
Wilkowski said he was concerned about the long-term effects of the burst in construction activity.
“I have talked to people in city government who said that this sudden increase has put a tremendous burden on city employees to get so much done,” he said. “I can’t believe that it is possible to do as good of a job trying to get everything done at once, than if we had a rational, reasonable plan in place to replace roads over time.”
On his campaign style: Wilkowski said his unconventional campaign style represents more than trying to get the most mileage from his campaign funds.
“We should be trying to position Toledo as an exciting community where younger residents will want to move,” he said. “If nothing else, my campaign is breaking stereotypes about this city being a place where nothing happens.”
Update: Product Forwarding Corp: Campaign spokeswoman Jen Sorgenfrei said the campaign staff should have more thoroughly checked to make sure Gary Briggs’ Product Forwarding facility was vacant before Wilkowski held a press conference there and suggested it was an abandoned building, but added the situation turned into a positive for Wilkowski.
“After meeting with Keith, Mr. Briggs decided that Keith was the best candidate for mayor, and offered his endorsement,” she said.