McNamara to resign as City Council presidentWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: Updated with comments from Council members Lindsay Webb and D. Michael Collins.
Six days after announcing his plan to run for mayor of Toledo, Joe McNamara said he will step down as president of Toledo City Council.
McNamara cited as the reason for his decision a desire to keep political differences between himself and Mayor Mike Bell, who is planning to run for re-election, from affecting the work of City Council.
“This is about serving the citizens first and putting their needs above my own,” McNamara told Toledo Free Press Feb. 18. “While it’s great to have a nice title, I feel I can do more for the people of Toledo as mayor for the next four years than as City Council president for the next 10 months.”
McNamara, a Democrat, said he plans to officially resign Feb. 19 at the end of the 4 p.m. City Council meeting. At that time, nominations will be taken and Council members will vote on and likely choose the next Council president, McNamara said. A tie vote will be broken by Bell.
McNamara, who has served on Council since 2006, will retain his seat as an at-large member.
Council member Lindsay Webb said things had been “very tense” between Bell and the Council since McNamara entered the mayoral race, so there had been “some speculative discussion” about bringing his presidency to a vote.
McNamara said he heard rumblings that Council members were feeling out if there would be enough support to vote to remove him as president, but that is not uncommon and did not impact his decision to resign.
“It’s kind of par for the course,” McNamara said. “The Council presidency is constantly fought over and I’ve certainly been through many City Council president fights. That’s almost normal at any one time that there’s someone seeing if the support is there. They didn’t get the number they needed.”
City Council member Tom Waniewski said he sat down with McNamara a few days after McNamara announced his plan to run for mayor and told him he should “strongly consider stepping down” as Council president.
McNamara said no.
“He said he would not do that,” Waniewski said. “We talked for a long time. I said, ‘I’m not calling for you to step down. I’m just asking you to consider for the sake of the Council.’ When he said, ‘I’m not going to do that,’ I said I would respect his wishes. But then he called me today and said he would take the advice and step down.
“I think he’s doing the right thing,” Waniewski said. “It has nothing to do with his ability. He’s been a fantastic president. It’s just better for the whole Council to remove anything that might be seen as political now that he’s in a race for mayor. He’s a great guy, a great leader, just not right now. The president still has to maintain that communication with the mayor from the floor and we just wanted to alleviate any issues. I’m not saying anything would happen and I’m not saying there wouldn’t be good dialogue. I’m just trying to erase any doubt.”
Waniewski said he was not aware of any plans to raise the issue during the Feb. 19 meeting. D. Michael Collins, the only political independent on City Council, said he was also not aware of any plans to raise the issue during the meeting and no Democratic Council members had approached him to discuss McNamara’s presidency.
McNamara said Waniewski was the only Council member to talk to him about stepping down.
“I took some time to think about it and reflect,” McNamara said. “I decided politics could get involved and, thinking about what the mayor did with the water bills, got more and more worried about the politics of the race affecting Council.”
McNamara was referencing a recent standoff between Bell and the Council over Bell’s plan to charge a flat $200 deposit for new water accounts. Following the discussion, several Council members received reminders from the mayor’s office about unpaid water bills and other notices regarding late bills and water shut-offs during the past few years.
“I just don’t think he has the professionalism to handle a City Council president running against him,” McNamara said. “I think he would take it personally and that would be bad for the City of Toledo. I will be the bigger man here and step down for the good of the people and make sure the mayor doesn’t interfere with the work that needs to get done.”
McNamara also said he wants to make sure he has time to focus on his mayoral campaign.
“The next nine months will be spent talking about a vision for the future,” McNamara said. “That is going to take a lot of time. I have to be there for the voters.”
While announcing his plan to run for mayor on Feb. 12, McNamara called City Council a “dream job” and said he was proud that Council passed two budgets “unanimously and early” under his two presidencies and of his efforts to make city government more transparent.
McNamara also served as Council president in 2009, but did not seek the presidency in 2010 while running for a State Senate seat against Edna Brown.
Webb said McNamara made the right decision to resign.
“City Council has many important issues it will have to face during the next few months; it could have complicated Council’s ability to focus on its legislative process if it was embroiled in a race between the Council President and the Mayor,” Webb said in an email to Toledo Free Press. “Joe McNamara made the right decision and was consistent with the decision he made in the past when he did not seek the Council presidency to run against Edna Brown.”
Collins said he thought McNamara took “a very disciplined step” by stepping down from his Council president position.
“By doing so, he has avoided any considerations that he is using the president’s position for political reasons in order to try to achieve his ultimate goal and that is to be elected as mayor,” Collins said. “I don’t think Joe McNamara would have ever used that position in order to capitalize off of it. I think he has more ethics than that. However, I commend him for making such a decision because, to me, it certainly defines his character.”
Council member George Sarantou said he had not yet seen McNamara’s statement about his resignation and wanted to review it before making a statement. Several other Council members did not return calls requesting comment.
Also planning to run for mayor are union president and neighborhood development specialist Alan Cox and minister Opal Covey.
In a statement released Feb. 18, McNamara said: “I have thoroughly enjoyed serving as Council President. But being in public office is not about advancing one’s self interests; it’s about serving the people and always picking the difficult right over the easy wrong. I will not allow the Mayor’s race to cloud Council’s ability to work with the Administration. The best interests of the people always have to come first.”
The resignation will result in a pay cut of $4,500.