Mayor Candidate Profile: D. Michael CollinsWritten by Bailey G. Dick | | firstname.lastname@example.org
D. Michael Collins stands in front of a line of coffee dispensers at a local café, reading each label carefully before pouring a little bit of each blend into his cup.
The Toledo City Councilman and latest addition to the mayoral race likes to try a little bit of everything.
Collins, who has represented District 2 on City Council since 2007, has also been a college professor, a union president and was a police officer with the Toledo Police Department (TPD) for nearly three decades. Although he has spent the past several years as a politician, Collins said he sees himself as a mixture of his many roles.
“It’s hard to divorce myself from the career that I spent 28 years in. I don’t see how that’s possible, frankly,” Collins said. “Although I’ve been a college professor for 10 years, too. So I have a multiplicity.”
This is Collins’ second attempt to become Toledo’s mayor. He came in fourth place in the 2009 election.
“When you lose an election, you learn a lot more about the process than you do when you win,” Collins said. “Having lost the election in 2009, I think I carry into 2013 valuable lessons as to a campaign and addressing the issues.”
But the decision to run didn’t come easy. After being prodded by members of the community, Collins decided to pay for a poll to see how voters planned to vote.
“The polling came out favorable, and I was not even a candidate at the time,” he said of the results.
More valuable than any poll, according to Collins, was the opinion of his wife, Sandy.
“She said to me one evening at supper, ‘Will we look across the table from each other one year from now and ask this question: ‘Why didn’t we run?’ Because that’s the bottom line, and I think that made our decision. That was the moment when it all came together,” he said.
Collins said he is deeply connected to the city he hopes to lead this fall.
“I’m very proud to say I’m a lifelong resident of the city of Toledo, and I do mean lifelong. The only time I’ve ever been separated from the city of Toledo was when I was in the Marine Corps,” he said.
Collins, the son of an Irish immigrant, grew up in the city’s “challenged” South End and attended Edward Drummond Libbey High School.
Growing up, Collins said, “I was afforded opportunities in the city of Toledo to pursue a profession, to achieve an education to the point I have an MBA, to have my children educated in the city of Toledo, and to be a lifelong resident.”
With a nod to his years as a police officer, Collins announced his candidacy for mayor of Toledo on May 15 outside the shuttered TPD Northwest District Station, which he vowed to reopen within 90 days if elected.
He said the decision to launch his campaign there was no coincidence.
“I was introduced to the practice of law enforcement with a concept that is no longer available in the city of Toledo, and that’s called beat integrity. Officers are assigned specific geographical areas … and those officers are responsible for the events that take place in that area,” Collins said. “Northwest District Station fit well into that foundation. The officers know the residents, know the business people and they form a strong partnership. And that isn’t going on in the city of Toledo today, and it’s time that we turn to that fundamental concept.”
Collins expressed concern about a number of decisions made by the city to address crime, including the purchase of video surveillance cameras and the number of patrol officers TPD has on staff.
“Neighborhood safety is not being addressed,” Collins said. “Our crime stats over the past three years are completely unacceptable.”
Collins has brought his questioning skills from the police force to City Council chambers.
“My reputation is that I am ‘The Challenger’ in City Council because I ask questions,” Collins said. “It’s characteristic of my 28 years and real-world experience as a police officer.”
Known for his questioning on spending and ethics issues, Collins insists he’s not the city’s resident watchdog.
“I perhaps ask more questions than anybody else. But I really do not consider myself the watchdog of City Council,” he said. “I am very diligent about my work, and it is important to me. The steps that I take are not steps as a watchdog, but steps I take to support, or not support, specific issues as they come before Council in terms of the government operations.”
Colleagues and opponents
One person who has worked closely with Collins is Councilman Tom Waniewski. Waniewski and Collins were elected to City Council the same year but have known each other since Waniewski was a reporter with Channel 13 and Collins was with TPD.
“He works hard. He’s in the office about 60 hours a week,” Waniewski said. “We used to talk just about every weekend about issues. Those conversations don’t happen as much as I wish they still did.”
While Waniewski said he supported Collins when he ran for mayor four years ago, he said he is waiting until after the September primary to make an endorsement decision.
Mayor Mike Bell, who has sparred with Collins on several issues, said he does not foresee Collins faring well in the election.
“I think that the problem Mike runs into, especially when dealing with me, is that he doesn’t realize he may not be the smartest person in the room,” Bell said. “If you really pay attention, he appears in his own mind to be an expert in everything, and that’s an impossibility. That’s something that rubs people the wrong way.”
Bell said “just about anybody could have the potential” to be a successful mayor, but cited concerns about Collins’ ego and “his concept that he thinks he knows more than anyone.”
Mayoral candidate and Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez said a lot of her work with Collins is providing information he may need to question some of the operations dealing with the city and the county.
“I believe I’m the only elected official that has the track record of providing services that actually work for the people,” she added.
Alan Cox, a neighborhood development specialist and union president who is also running for mayor, said he has mixed feelings about Collins as a potential mayor.
“I know he has real strengths in terms of concerns and focuses, but there are some things I would have some concerns about,” he said, but declined to elaborate.
Still, Cox said he could potentially vote for Collins if he himself doesn’t survive the primary.
“It’s going to be someone I have to work with, and I think I could have a good working relationship with him,” he said.
Other mayoral hopefuls are Toledo City Council member Joe McNamara, Libertarian candidate Michael Konwinski and perennial candidate Opal Covey.
Collins has big plans for economic development in the part of the city he calls home.
“The most important part of the city is Southwyck,” Collins said. “If we lose Southwyck, we lose our city.”
Collins also is concerned about the state of the Marina District, calling the biographies of the site’s developers “anemic.”
“I fully intend that, if substantial development doesn’t occur, that we will find within our budget the ability to take that property back for the price that we received for it, and that’s $3.8 million. I will not compromise on that part of the Marina District.”
At the heart of Collins’ plan to prevent Toledo from becoming what he described as “Detroit South,” is a development strategy called “meta-planning.”
The concept “takes the strategic plans of our region’s economic development organizations as a starting point and brings them together in a single plan that seeks to avoid duplication and identify any gaps that need to be filled,” according to University of Toledo President Emeritus Dan Johnson, who was a crucial part of introducing the plan in 2007.
“It is a highly collaborative and participatory approach where collaboration and participation really count,” Johnson said.
Collins said he hopes to implement meta-planning with Johnson.
“I fully intend on seeking Dr. Johnson’s assistance, because his contract will be completed in June of this year to come forward and resurrect that meta-plan, because I believe it makes sense,” Collins said. “We’re not going to reinvent a wheel, we’re going to go with a dynamic program that never should have been walked away from to begin with.”
Johnson said he would be in favor of implementing meta-planning, but that he isn’t “planning to work for any specific mayoral candidates but to work for and support those issues that I believe will benefit our region and community.”
Collins is running without a party affiliation and plans on spending very little money on his campaign.
“I’ve been an independent all my life,” Collins said. “I believe that I can, as an independent, with a true bipartisan approach … bring about a consensus between those differences, between those political ideologies.”
Collins is also realistic about his finances. And he is purposely avoiding major fundraisers.
According to the Lucas County Board of Elections, Collins began his political career and his bid for a City Council seat in 2007 with $2,000. According to the most recent paperwork on file for Collins’ campaign, he is going into this year’s mayoral election with less than $5,000 — most of which is listed as a loan from his wife.
“I realize I will never raise the money that will be available to the other candidates in this race,” he said. “We’re not doing any $1,000-a-plate, $500-a-plate benefits or funding. Frankly, I find it obscene to ask people for that kind of money, because only logic tells me that if you’re getting that kind of money, there’s strings attached. And I will not have any strings attached to me.”
Collins anticipates a “broad spectrum” of people as his voter base, and said the city’s labor unions “are going to play a major role in this election.” Collins led one of those unions, the Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association, for 10 years.
But he is not worrying about large-scale campaign issues for now.
“I have enough work to do,” Collins said. “I’m like the David in this race versus the Goliath.”
Collins will make the rounds through Toledo’s neighborhoods during the next few months, much like he did in the central part of the city during his stint as a police officer. But instead of looking for criminals, he will ring doorbells of potential voters.
“We will probably never see the day where we have television, but I will do commercials on the doorsteps of every household I can possibly visit during this campaign,” Collins said.