Konop speech/Update with Wilkowski commentsWritten by Toledo Free Press Staff Writers | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The following speech was sent to media from Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop on March 30:
My name is Ben Konop, and as some of you know I have been a Lucas County Commissioner for a little over two years now.
In my time in public service, I’ve seen each and every one of your faces.
I’ve seen them while teaching class here at the University of Toledo law school, while standing in the rain on election day 2006 asking for votes, and while visiting senior citizen homes and small businesses.
They’re the same faces I saw when shaking hands with hundreds of workers at the Maumee Stamping Plant who were about to lose their jobs, when speaking from the pulpits of Toledo’s African-American churches and when frequenting the area’s restaurants, bowling alleys, and union halls.
Faces of despair and hope, of trepidation and determination, of regret and resolve.
Faces of a Toledo on the brink, of a city with rolled-up sleeves and calloused hands but fewer and fewer jobs.
Faces of a community devastated by the foreclosure crisis, of a people saddened as neighbors, siblings, and strangers alike are forced from their homes.
Faces of voters who are tired of a longstanding network of the same politicians scratching the same backs and leading us down the same dead-end paths.
Faces that, despite all of its problems, believe this city can and will rise again.
I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for mayor of Toledo because first and foremost, I am among those believers.
I stand before you today because of what I‘ve seen after spending every day for the last few years looking through this community’s eyes and into its heart. Our residents are frightened over the stunning loss of jobs and homes. Our college students are concerned about where their first real jobs will come from.
So am I.
Toledo’s hardworking citizens are frustrated over the city’s lack of a new direction and furious over its void in leadership to see us through. I share those frustrations.
But I wouldn’t be throwing my hat into the ring this morning if I didn’t truly believe that there is still life left in the Glass City.
Today I kick off my “For the people, for a change” campaign because there is still enormous possibility here for entrepreneurs, innovators, factory workers, hardworking families, and college students ready to join the real world. All that’s needed is someone in the mayor’s seat who’s willing and able to open the right doors for all Toledoans.
I believe in Toledo so much that, unlike so many of our young people today, I moved back here after finding success as a 20-something in Washington, D.C.
I graduated from law school not far from here at the University of Michigan in 2000. Like so many others in this region, I headed elsewhere after I completed my degree.
I landed a job at a fancy law firm, represented big clients, and cashed nice paychecks in the nation’s capital – a beautiful, exciting city full of eager, hardworking young professionals like many of you are about to become.
In 2004 I left all of that behind and moved back to northwest Ohio, to a little town called Ada. I moved back to the area to run for the U.S. Congress, and, yes, if I would’ve won I’d have punched my ticket back to Washington.
But when fate interfered with those plans, I didn’t speed off in search of greener pastures and warmer winters.
After a hard-fought campaign in the heavily Republican district against incumbent Mike Oxley, in which, I might add, I was the first federal Democratic candidate since 1932 to carry Allen County, I moved back to Toledo and became a professor here at this great university.
If anything, the loss in that congressional campaign taught me that I had been given so much in my life, and it was time I gave back to the community where it all started for me. So I moved to the warehouse district in downtown Toledo, taught law classes at UT, and in December of 2005 announced my candidacy for County Commissioner.
During that grassroots campaign, I gained a sense of the will of the people. Mothers, fathers, factory workers, teachers, all of them were seeking more from their government.
More honest representation, more openness, more innovation, and quite frankly, more bang for their buck.
Young people were sad to leave their families behind after college, but they felt like they had no choice. They felt that better jobs, more entertainment, and more exciting cultural experiences could be found elsewhere.
Having seen the needs of our community, in 2006 I ran on a platform of progressive change in Lucas County and won the general election with over 65 percent of the vote. And true to my campaign pledge of bringing about the change people in our community seek, I went to work immediately to create a program that helped working families prepare tax returns and file for the Earned Income Tax Credit. To date, millions of dollars have come back to middle class families as a result of this program.
I then toured 13 area high schools speaking to seniors and getting their input on what can be done to keep them here when they left. And in honor of my grandmother, who lived in Toledo for most of her 90 years, I established a cell phone for seniors program that so far has given away nearly 1,500 free cell phones to needy seniors so they can dial 911 in case of emergency.
But while I was busy trying to live up to my campaign promise of change by searching for innovative programs to help the people of Lucas County, I started to learn about something else that needed changing.
Every political fundraiser I attended and every board meeting I entered, I saw the same faces.
They were the faces of those who have been in power in Toledo and Lucas County for a long time, and after a while, I started noticing that the same people who were at those same fundraisers and board meetings were donating to each other’s campaigns, awarding no-bid contracts to friendly businessmen, and appointing each other to powerful positions on various oversight boards that control millions of dollars of your money.
Meanwhile, our community continued to shed jobs, homeowners continued to lose their properties to foreclosures, and our budgets continued to run dry.
I gave this network of insiders a nickname – the good ol’ boys – and soon realized the change Toledo really needed started with them. If the city was ever really going to return toward the thriving community it was before this network took over, we needed to separate from the back-scratching policies they’ve used to help put Toledo in such a dire state.
I began by demanding bold changes to the way economic development is done in Lucas County. Rather than millions of taxpayer dollars going to a Lucas County Improvement Corporation controlled by politicians and their businessmen campaign contributors, I fought for better leadership, higher standards, and ultimately that politics be removed from the board that oversees the LCIC. And I succeeded.
I also insisted the county end its practice of awarding taxpayer funded contracts without a competitive bidding process, called for the disclosure of campaign donations by applicants seeking seats on boards and commissions, and made sure that all elected officials and candidates for office in Lucas County had their campaign finance reports posted online for all citizens to see. And I am proud to say each of those initiatives came to fruition.
But bringing those changes to county government was not easy. And the fight against political cronyism run rampant is ongoing.
When I proposed using your tax dollars to save jobs rather than to purchase some new windows for a county building where workers were laid off, the good ol’ boys shouted me down.
When I suggested allocating funds to a High Tech incubator at UT to assist in constructing a new 44,000 square foot facility for research and jobs right here on this campus, I was rejected.
When I wanted to sell vacant county property and use the money to create dozens of service jobs at non profits in partnership with the United Way, I was rebuffed.
And even when I proposed to create an 80 million dollar college scholarship fund for all Lucas County residents to be paid for by making government more efficient and without raising a single tax, the political elite, in a knee jerk reaction, criticized it.
It was through these battles – some I won and some I didn’t – that I made enemies among the politically elite and entitled in Toledo, including from within my own Party. I am not the most popular guy in many board rooms and back rooms where the wagons are circled, your futures are decided, and your tax dollars allocated. I wear that unpopularity as a badge of honor.
I am willing to bet that not one single member of the good ol’ boy clique will vote for me, and instead will work to see that another one of their own is elected mayor. They are unanimous in their hate for me
and I welcome their hatred. As Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones, one of Toledo’s greatest mayors, said more than 100 years ago: “Everybody is against me, but the people.”
And the people know they have a choice this year. They can choose to elect another lifelong Toledo politician who’s got the good ol’ boy network on speed dial – because there are an abundance of those candidates in this race.
Or, they can choose someone who came back to his home community because he believes it can thrive again. Someone who, in just over two years in public office, has fought tirelessly for the people he was elected to serve – even when he had to burn bridges and make powerful enemies to do so.
They can choose someone who has demonstrated time and again an awareness of just how many Toledoans are struggling, and who, based on his track record, will work tirelessly to see that local government does everything it can to see that their lives are turned around.
As Mayor, I will continue to propose bold, job-creating policies that make putting people back to work our number one priority. Green technology jobs are a start, but we need to take advantage of our air and seaports, our research and development centers at places of higher learning, and of the manufacturing jobs we can attract or hold on to.
Last week it was announced the Toledo/Lucas County Port Authority will receive $21 million in federal stimulus money, and another $6.5 million is slated for improvements to the Airline Junction Intermodal Terminal.
With Toledo’s location on the Great Lakes and near major cities like Cleveland, Detroit, Columbus, Indianapolis, and Chicago, we should build off the job-creating momentum of the stimulus package to seek more funds and create more jobs until we become a worldwide-leading intermodal hub.
As Mayor, I will continue to find ways to strengthen the University of Toledo, our most important economic development engine in this knowledge-based economy. We’ve got to hold onto every manufacturing job we can and seek more blue-collar work by enhancing our air, sea, and rail ports and operations, but we’ve also got to educate those who want or need to change career paths. Maybe it’s a green job they seek, or maybe they wish to become an accountant or a lawyer. They need to know that all things are possible through education, and we must do all we can to see that college is available to anyone, anyone, who wants it.
As Mayor, I will continue to advocate for more efficient, collaborative, and regional economic development practices. Private business has to lead the way, but for too long politics and government have gotten in the way. Government needs to aid development, not bring it down.
As Mayor, I will continue to fight against tax increases and insure that taxpayer money is being spent responsibly with the best interests of working families–not campaign contributors– always in mind.
As Mayor I will continue to fight for openness, transparency and accountability in local government. And I will continue to lead by example and encourage all of our citizens to give a little extra of themselves for the betterment of our community.
I know that times are tough, and I recognize that some of us need our government now more than ever. But Toledo needs you, too. As revenues fall short and program after program is cut, the need grows for volunteers to pick up the slack.
We need volunteers in schools and recreation departments, with our police and fire, and quite simply, in our streets. Don’t only demand what Toledo can do for you, but offer what you can for Toledo.
Finally, as Mayor, I will continue to reach out to those often marginalized in the political process — young people, poor people, and minorities. I will continue to be a voice for the voiceless at government center.
For too long too many have gone unheard, their cries fallen on deaf ears as they are evicted from their homes, as trash continues to pile up on their curbs, and as they drive over pothole after pothole.
Wouldn’t it be comforting to know that, as the nation digs itself out of this economic mess, someone on your side is sitting in the mayor’s seat?
Now, throughout my talk with you today, I’ve repeatedly touched on my pledges and promises. Pledges of change that date back three years, and promises to make changes next year that will get Toledo back on track.
When I ran for my current seat as county commissioner, I did indeed sign a pledge to serve my entire term, a term that stretches through 2010.
But when I signed that pledge, unemployment in Toledo wasn’t hovering around 13 percent. When I signed that pledge, the city’s budget didn’t have a 27 million dollar hole in it. When I signed that pledge, Toledo was not at the epicenter of a national economic crisis and a national housing crisis, its police officers were not about to be laid off and less of its streets had potholes that will go over a year without being fixed.
And when I signed that pledge … when I signed that pledge, I had also made another promise. And that other promise that I made was the promise I hold most dear to my heart. It’s the promise I ran on as a candidate for commissioner and a promise that has fueled me each and every day that I’ve spent in county government.
It was a promise to bring positive change to this community. It was a promise to make government work for the people who pay into it, rather than for the select few who profit off it. It was a promise to use government to keep jobs here and create new ones. To keep our young people here and reel back those who left. To help the families who are short on money, and the senior citizens left behind by the new, technology-based world we live in. To see to it that the voices of working men and women were not only heard, but considered, and valued.
If Toledo is to rise again, it will undoubtedly be its people who lift her up. Today and for the next several months as I campaign for Mayor of this great city, I’ll be asking the people of Toledo to let me do something I’ve done since the moment I entered this life of public service.
Let me lend a hand.
Statement By Keith Wilkowski On Ben Konop’s Announcement
“Toledo is confronting an unprecedented economic crisis that demands serious leadership committed to changing the way our city does business. I am the only candidate for Mayor with a proven track record in job creation and economic development. Each of the candidates will have the opportunity to present their credentials and ideas. I look forward to a healthy debate.”