Mayor Candidate Profile: Anita LopezWritten by Bailey G. Dick | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Students in a fourth-grade class at Newbury Elementary in Toledo’s Old South End were assigned to find pictures of what they wanted their futures to look like. One of those students, Anita Lopez, came to school the next day with pictures of a massive house and a Lamborghini snipped from the pages of a magazine.
Her teacher told her only two careers could get her the things in the picture: law and medicine. The teacher suggested she become a lawyer, since she “had the gift of gab.” Eventually, she did. Lopez graduated with a law degree from the University of Toledo in 1997.
Lopez is once again aiming high, running to be Toledo’s next mayor.
While her determination to become a lawyer was initially driven by her fourth-grade desire to get behind the wheel of a Lamborghini, Lopez said something more serious is fueling her mayoral campaign.
“I’ve had this desire to always help others,” Lopez said. “It is my passion.”
Running on a platform of job creation, safety and economic development, Lopez hopes to be the city’s first Hispanic mayor. And while she has faced heavy criticism from her opponents, Lopez said she is ready take on the challenges the city is facing.
‘Got the bug’
Lopez grew up in the Old South End with six brothers and sisters and her parents, both migrant workers. She began working at the Boys & Girls Club when she was 14 years old as part of the Private Industry Council, which provided income for teens from low-income families. Checking ID cards at the front desk, Lopez said, proved to be a pivotal experience for her.
“I got the bug. You show up to work, be nice, come to work prepared and dressed properly, and do whatever they tell you to do, which was follow the rules,” she said. “I had to control money, and I loved it.”
After attending Central Catholic High School, Lopez studied political science at the University of Toledo. It was there that she first became involved in politics.
“I was president of the Latino Student Union, and was involved in student government on campus. I had to get elected, and it was my first real-life mini election,” Lopez said. “I had a platform of what we were going to do. I really enjoyed it, and I learned early on about university politics.”
Lopez later went on to law school at UT. After graduating, she worked with the Toledo Fair Housing Center, Adelante and Lucas County Children Services. She was elected to the Toledo Public Schools Board of Education in 2001.
“I think there was some blessing in the fact that I worked in all these fields,” Lopez said. “That’s what I really wanted to do, is understand the challenges facing children. But I realized very quickly that if you’re not the person running the office, and you don’t have the final say, it’s very difficult to get people to come together as a majority and do what’s in the best interest of … the people we serve.”
‘Not just a job’
Lopez became Lucas County Recorder in 2004. She was elected Lucas County Auditor in 2006 and was reelected in 2010.
“It’s just not a job. It’s just not a paycheck,” Lopez said of being Auditor. “I love to take an office and make it work for the people that we serve. And make it so that people understand that there should be consequences to our performance.”
Lopez said the things she has seen as auditor made her decide to run for mayor of Toledo.
“I think as auditor, this is what has really pushed me over the edge: Citizens call the auditor’s office for help with the city because they know they’re not responsive. They call to get a tree trimmed down,” she said. “I’m going to bring a responsive and in-touch government.”
And Lopez said she has seen that happen while in office as auditor.
“I think that what we’ve done at the auditor’s office is we’ve taken government to the people. We go and we take our office, our computers, our staff, and we serve them and answer their questions about auditor’s concerns,” Lopez said. “I can’t believe what people have done in government. They have a knack of making it complicated [for] us.”
Lopez’s first priority once elected is something she says she learned during her time as auditor.
“Customer service. Right across the board,” she said. “I always tell citizens as recorder and auditor, if you have a problem with how my office operates, you felt that it was not dealt with the way I made my promise, you have the right to speak with me. And I will talk with them. And I think they don’t know who’s in charge in departments. I don’t think employees know what should be the minimum level of customer service you should give and provide to citizens and businesses. And I’m great at it. I’m great at getting a policy, rewriting it, training staff. If you were to speak to the majority of citizens, they would say the customer service in the auditor’s office is outstanding.”
Few specifics so far
Lopez said her platform is focused on three issues.
“There are things that we’re going to be discussing in great detail: how we’re going to create a safe Toledo, how we’re going to create an environment that helps create jobs, and true economic development. And third, we’re going to talk about my leadership in creating a responsive government,” she said.
So far, Lopez has held news conferences outlining her ideas for economic development and neighborhood safety. She said she intends to keep some of the specifics of her plans under wraps for now.
“We’re going to have a specific plan on each of those areas. But I’m no fool,” Lopez said. “We’re going to give specifics. I just have not rolled it out because I don’t want anyone to steal my ideas.”
Lopez said she has seen evidence of this with the Homestead Exemption idea presented by fellow Democrat and mayoral candidate Joe McNamara. The plan reduces the property taxes of homeowners 65 or older or those with disabilities.
“He wouldn’t have even known about the issue had I not raised it. I’m the one that raised it. If the media portrays it in a different way, there’s nothing I can do about that,” Lopez said. “A lot of it is the fact that I say one thing, but the media doesn’t cover my solution. So that’s just a battle. But I’m going to keep raising issues.”
Lopez said she has detailed plans in place for some facets of her platform, which she plans to release week by week to the media and voters.
Lopez is dissatisfied with the lack of economic development in the city.
“We’re going to be fighting so that this is a business friendly, responsive government,” Lopez said. “Businesses will be treated and will have a director that is specifically assigned to them. And business will be able to know who is their service provider. And instead of having to contact the general line, they’ll have actually a line dedicated solely to them. They’ll have the cell number of their director so that if there’s a problem with the water, or there’s a problem with crime or there’s a problem with streets, they’ll be able to reach them.”
At a news conference on July 19, at the Marina District, Lopez released her own economic development plans for the city. She called the Marina District, “The Driveway to Nowhere,” noting that taxpayers shelled out $43 million for cleanup and infrastructure costs in the area with little results.
“There’s no activity. No results here,” Lopez said. “I can assure you this will never happen again.”
Lopez said she plans to implement bench marks into city contracts, as well as consequences if those benchmarks are not met.
“You will see deliverables that must happen at three months, six months, nine months and 12 months,” Lopez said. “We will put in language so that does not happen, so that we are not waiting for something to happen. That property, those dollars will be protected.”
As part of her plan, Lopez vowed that within her first 100 days in office she would revise the city’s procurement policies to give local businesses preference, establish a business hotline, appoint a business advisory committee, create an Internet business portal, hire up to 10 “business liaisons” based in specified areas of the city, and design a training program to improve customer service for all city employees.
“We are going to take government to the businesses so they can focus on being ready to create jobs,” Lopez said. “As mayor, I will streamline how businesses interact with the city so businesses will save time and money, and businesses can focus on hiring workers, not red tape.”
At a July 24 news conference, Lopez presented a plan for neighborhood safety at the Toledo Police Museum. The plan has three main goals: hire more police, implement a community policing plan, and create Toledo Neighborhood Teams, which would provide service to citizens on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis.
“We will be creating a new approach on how we view safety, and most importantly the strength of our neighborhoods where our families live and our children play,” she said. “We must recognize that without safe and strong neighborhoods where citizens can feel safe, we will not have a future for the city of Toledo.”
One of the three parts of her plan is to hire additional police officers. She said the city has not hireed enough new police to up with the number of officers retiring. Although Lopez said she didn’t have numbers on-hand as to how many officers were currently employed by the Toledo Police Department (TPD), she said she wanted the number of officers to increase to “the minimum be above the 700 number, closer to the 800, 900 number.”
According to TPD, there are about 586 sworn officers currently on staff.
When asked about how she plans to potentially hire hundreds of officers, Lopez said she would “have to find creative ways to create incentives to increase the personnel of the police force.”
She added: “My plan later will give greater details, specifically of how we’re going to recruit and increase personnel without having to increase our budget.”
On Facebook July 24, Mayor Mike Bell responded, “It’s good to know that since we’ve hired more officers & firefighters than the previous 12 years combined Ms. Lopez agrees with our plan. We made a commitment to do this and we’ve made good on it. Further, we’re not done. 65 or so more will be hired before the end of this year.”
Police numbers disputed
At the July 24 news conference, Lopez expressed her frustration with the number of police officers.
“There’s not enough police officers even to report to the scene of the crime where a breaking and entering has occurred. When your car is broken into, and when your home is broken into, they do not take fingerprints. They do not have the time to respond,” she said. “When you … really get an accurate description of the number of breaking and enterings that are taking place, the number of random acts of crime that may not be reported because citizens are just frustrated and moving out, then I’ll be able to give you the true number [of police officers] that we should be at.”
But according to Toledo Police Sgt. Joe Heffernan, Lopez’s statements aren’t true.
“I would not call that completely accurate,” Heffernan said. “The only part that’s a little accurate is that we don’t respond to every call. If it’s in a misdemeanor type case where there’s no suspect and you need a police report written, and need some documentation for your insurance, we can do that over the phone. If you want a unit to come out, we can and we will.”
He also said that all patrol officers carry fingerprinting kits with them, and that a number of crimes are solved with fingerprint evidence.
Lopez said one recent incident in Toledo hit home for her: the murder of 1-year-old Ke’Ondra Hooks.
“If I was mayor during the Moody Manor killing that occurred of a child in our community, I would have been in court, and I would have been one of the individuals telling the judge that a child was killed in our community, and I want this court to understand that we can never allow anyone to think that anyone’s life should be taken for granted,” Lopez said. “When a young, innocent child is caught up in the crossfire, the harshest penalty must be issued. For anyone not to be talking about that from the leadership at City Hall, whether it’s City Council or the mayor, is a sign that they do not understand the tone they’re setting.”
Lopez said she also hopes to create Toledo Neighborhood Teams (TNT), which she described as “someone the neighborhoods can speak to every day in their neighborhood.” The TNTs would focus on specific areas of Toledo, and would be staffed by existing employees from One Government Center.
“This will effectively create directors without increasing payroll and without adding paid positions,” Lopez said. “What we will do is put existing positions actually into action in the neighborhoods.”
These staff members would come from a variety of city departments with varying areas of expertise.
“We’re going to find individuals who are experts in their area of expertise,” Lopez said. “They can specialize in areas. You need experts who are in touch with Toledoans and businesses in their areas.”
Lopez also plans to find money in the budget for these positions. She said that although these employees will still be working for the city, they won’t be working in One Government Center.
“Instead of them starting their day at their desk drinking their coffee, they’re going to report out to the neighborhood,” she said.
“We’re going to respond to where the need is, rather than reporting to our ivory tower at One Government Center,” Lopez added.
Lopez said that she has been dealt blows from opponents during past electoral races. But she said she feels she is facing much more scrutiny in this election, on issues ranging from her personal finances to the way she prepares for interviews.
“Of course you’re going to be naturally defensive when you’re dealing with interviews and suddenly you have to try to stick to your message because you want to resonate with citizens. But that’s not being scripted,” Lopez said. “I’m definitely on guard now. I don’t know any person that cannot be on guard with any interviews when you start off with the campaign like this.”
Lopez released her financial information several weeks ago, which included her credit score and her debt.
“I kept my promise that I would be transparent, and I provided it within the same week as everyone else. And I think I’ve consistently kept my promise of being transparent.
“When people saw that I had late payments, there’s nothing in there that says that I do not pay my bills,” she said.
Lopez said most Toledoans are not in the same place financially as the other mayoral candidates.
“I’m in touch with Toledoans. I understand that every dollar spent goes to my children and goes to my parents and goes to my home,” she said. “I don’t have a trust fund. I don’t have a $205,000 pension that my spouse and I live on. I couldn’t even imagine earning that money. If that’s on retirement, what did they earn when they were working? I’m not Mike Bell, who is earning $200,000 in retirement. Most people in the city of Toledo don’t earn that kind of money.
Lopez has also been criticized for having members of her staff work on her campaign.
“If employees want to volunteer on my campaign, I’m honored by that, that they would want to support me to be the next mayor,” she said.
Despite the criticism, Lopez said she knows she is qualified to be mayor.
“None of my opponents have had experience in being able to walk the talk. None of them have had to deal with budget cuts annually like I have at the auditor’s office and still make ends meet,” she said, “They don’t have that experience, and all three of my opponents are in leadership positions at the City of Toledo.”
One of those opponents, Toledo City Councilman D. Michael Collins, said Lopez is “entitled to her opinion.”
“In terms of my ability to run for mayor, I will leave her opinion to herself. Ultimately, the voters’ opinion is what really counts,” he said.
Bell said that he believes his administration can handle budgets as well as Lopez can.
“We had a $48 million deficit that we had to deal with when I became mayor. We successfully navigated around that particular issue, and we currently have a $5 million surplus. So if that does not validate that the current administration has an understanding of finance, I don’t think anything else does,” he said.
Bell, who is running for re-election, said he has only worked briefly with Lopez. He said he would prefer to focus on his own campaign.
“I can’t really say she’s on my mind at all. I’m just focused on trying to do the right thing for the right reasons for the citizens of Toledo,” Bell said. “I don’t focus on the candidates. If I’m doing the right thing, I’ll be okay.”
Toledo City Councilman Joe McNamara, a fellow mayoral candidate and Democrat, has been an outspoken critic of Lopez.
“I’m just surprised and disappointed that she didn’t want to do a Democratic debate to talk about the issues. And I was very surprised at how scripted she is in terms of having her handlers write her talking points for her, and that’s what she says,” McNamara said. “I think Toledo deserves someone who can answer questions without being written a script.”
Alan Cox, Mike Kronwinski, Opal Covey and write-in candidate Don Gozdowski are also running for mayor of Toledo.
Lopez said that although she has campaigned before, she still is not used to the sparring involved in a mayoral election.
“I’ve never had a candidate constantly sort of attack, attack, attack from a Democrat. And that type of oncoming attack is very new to me,” she said.
“Citizens ultimately decide individually. I’ve said to my opponents, ‘OK, you know pretty much everything about me now. Let’s talk about what we’re going to do for the city. And let’s challenge each other to come up with the best ideas of how we’re going to make the city better, put it out there, and let citizens judge,’” she said.
Heavy union support
Lopez has garnered support from some of the city’s most influential voters. Last week, she added the Toledo Port Council, Boilermakers Local 85, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1059 and The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union Local 379 to her list of union supporters.
Endorsing Lopez are a dozen local unions, including the AFL-CIO, AFSCME Council 8 and the Northwest Ohio Building Trades Council.
“I’m honored to get as many endorsements from everyone and I’m honored to receive labor’s endorsement, particularly knowing that I made significant changes in the recorder’s and auditor’s office, that they trust me and they respect that I will be fair,” she said.
One thing that sets Lopez apart from most of the other mayoral candidates is that she’s a woman. And that, Lopez says, gives her an advantage.
“Being a mother, and as a woman, I think there’s a natural tendency for us to be caretakers. And I think that when you combine that with knowledge and experience, that is unique,” Lopez said. “Maybe I do feel more in touch because I have two young children, and I do participate in church activities and school activities. You talk to other mothers and you talk to parishioners.”
Lopez has two sons: Armand, 12, and Andres, 10.
“I think it’s the year of the woman. I think it’s good for us to be challenging these roles and saying that we are going to serve everyone,” she said. “If I can carry a child for nine months and run for office, this city is going to look great after I’m done with it.”
Ready to run
While this is not Lopez’s first election, she did say she is ready to have the campaign over with.
“It’s almost like, ‘Can we just get through the campaign so I can start working?’ That’s what it’s like. It’s 61 days left till the primary, then I have another 60 days until the general. That’s the most frustrating part,” she said.
That is not to say she is not excited about the mayoral race.
“It’s opened up this whole level of challenges for me. And it’s exciting to me. It stimulates me,” Lopez said. “I get excited. I’m still passionate. And now it’s like I’m overstimulated right now because I’m so excited about all the opportunities that exist and make it more efficient, to work smarter and bring that knowledge and experience that I have.”