Mayor Candidate Profile: Alan CoxWritten by Bailey G. Dick | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Alan Cox is sitting at his kitchen table. His teenage son wanders in and out of the room for snacks, while his dog paws at his leg, begging for attention. His wife Tracy walks by with a basket of laundry, insisting that no one can see without the lights on.
The only thing that might give away that the Cox household is preoccupied with something other than the day-to-day concerns of family life is the massive stack of handmade spreadsheets detailing the intricacies of the City of Toledo’s budget.
Cox said he spends his evenings crunching numbers, preparing for the possibility that he will be elected mayor of Toledo.
Cox, a union president and neighborhood development specialist with the city, is a numbers guy. He worked in banking for 13 years, as well as in financial assistance with the city’s Department of Neighborhoods. He has been planning a run for mayor in hopes of revamping the way the city spends.
“I’ve been looking at budgets for years. That’s the financial geek in me,” he said.
And when asked what his dream for the city was, Cox said, “I’d like the city to have a little more of a reserve in its rainy day fund.”
But what makes Cox unique isn’t his focus on finances, or even that he wants to cut spending. Cox, who hopes to be elected to the most powerful office in the city of Toledo, envisions the mayor as a much less powerful individual.
No more strong mayor
Toledo has been a strong-mayor city for the past two decades, and holding the office brings a lot of power to the person elected. But Cox believes the charter that describes the mayor’s responsibilities doesn’t see the mayor that way at all.
Cox believes one possible solution is to implement a city manager form of governance, similar to the one the city has used in the past.
He said the position would provide more accountability.
“There are problem areas in our structure in the charter as it stands now. And I think city manager is a way we could address that. But if not, we need to change some things because we don’t have adequate checks and balances on the strong-mayor form of government we have now,” Cox said.
As the president of the union serving the city’s supervisors, technical and professional workers, Cox said those in managerial positions for the city have concerns that aren’t being addressed.
“The most important thing is to empower the managers and the directors to determine what needs to be happening,” Cox said. “In one sense, it shouldn’t look that different because it’s all going to be internal. But the directors will know. They’ll have more authority. The employees will know that they’re more involved and that they’re participating in the issues and the successes of their departments.”
Cox said he hopes to eliminate some management positions, which would result in a slight reduction of “unnecessary layers” of staff. He said the restructuring of the city’s workers is his primary goal, with the implementation of a city manager being a long-term goal.
“Going back to a city manager is probably the long-term solution because we haven’t really seen the type of people we need to be electing,” Cox said. “In a city manager, you go out and hire a professional. What we’ve had is politicians who are trying to become or demonstrate professional leadership skills, and it hasn’t happened.”
In Cox’s vision of the city manager, the person chosen would be a professional appointed by Toledo City Council, who could serve without term limits. Toledoans would still choose an elected mayor under his proposed form of government. Cox said the city manager could be held more accountable by voters, as well as other elected officials.
Cox said he still plans on being a strong mayor if elected, but says that modifications are needed to the office to ensure that it is run as dictated in the city’s charter.
Evaluating the city
Cox said that overall, he gives Toledo a C grade.
“Average isn’t bad. It doesn’t mean we’re doing a bad job, but it doesn’t mean we’re doing as well as we could,” Cox said. “I want us to be a B or an A city. That’s what leadership needs to do.”
Cox said for the city to make the grade, he would focus on three main points: schools, safety and jobs.
Cox said he hopes to implement partnerships between schools and local businesses to help improve the city’s educational systems.
“One of the biggest obstacles in the schools is the involvement of parents. We could work with businesses to encourage their employees to be involved in their students’ lives,” Cox said. “It doesn’t need to interfere with business, but addresses that need. Sometimes parents feel they don’t have the opportunity or right to be involved in their kids’ lives.”
Cox said he believes the education system is a major reason why many families are leaving Toledo for the suburbs, but that a quality educational system is what draws businesses in.
“We need to ask how the city can help and be involved. Is it a perception problem? Are there some real issues? Are there things we could be doing a little bit better? It could be something as simple as city employees going and tutoring,” Cox said.
An issue on most voters’ minds this election is safety. Cox said that solving a major issue like violence isn’t possible with just one idea.
“I don’t have all the answers as mayor. It’s how you pull people together as mayor for solutions and partnerships,” Cox said.
Cox said he hopes to reinstate rehabilitation programs for minor offenders that have been cut due to a lack of funding. He also hopes to implement programs for members of gangs, led by ex-gang members in order to steer them away from a life of crime.
“Gang members are going to be receptive to former gang members. All it is is a matter of coordinating and supporting these programs with resources,” Cox said. “We’re never going to get rid of gangs and all of these things completely, but there are different ways of approaching it. The way I understand it, a gang is a family. How do we show people there are other family options or opportunities?”
Cox said it’s also important to let Toledoans know about the strides the city is making in becoming safer.
“If we aren’t showing them the positive changes, why wouldn’t they be afraid?” Cox said. “If we have some good things going on in gang control, why aren’t we talking about it?”
While job creation is another talking point each of the city’s mayoral candidates are addressing, Cox believes that the city they all hope to run plays a minor role in bringing jobs here.
“The city needs to support those that are actively involved in economic development, but we don’t actually create jobs other than in city government,” Cox said. “We do make sure that there are good processes in place to make sure that those who do want to open businesses are getting the support they need and we can make sure that any of the government processes in that are not obstructive.”
Cox said he doesn’t believe the city is doing a bad job with economic development, but it could be doing better. He also said some of the city’s economic woes aren’t specific to this area.
“It frustrates me when people try and make it look like a city issue. This last economic problem we had was an international economic problem, and it hasn’t totally gone away,” Cox said. “Unfortunately, those that are in the political environment want to talk about it as something they have control over. The only control we have is over that small piece of it we can impact.”
Cox said the creation of small- and medium-size businesses in the area can be used as a marketing tool to promote the city, and that he would also like to see the government promote businesses unique to Toledo.
This isn’t Cox’s first time running for mayor. In 1997, he ran against five other candidates, but didn’t make it past the primary. He said he is confident he will be more successful this time.
“Sixteen years ago when I ran, I managed to get about 18 percent of the vote. That was with a brochure and talking to people directly, and having an understanding of management and leadership. Now, I have an even better understanding of management and leadership,” Cox said.
He also said those 16 years have given him another tool he is using in his campaign: the Internet.
“Social media and the Internet have opened up a whole new opportunity to educate the public, to inform the public in a way that’s extremely low-cost,” Cox said. “I’m going to be able to put my commercials right on the Internet. I don’t have to spend a ton of money putting them on TV. If people want to be informed, they can be. And it won’t be intrusive.”
While Cox said he has been successful in connecting with voters via the Internet, he hasn’t been as successful in connecting with the other candidates, or with many media outlets. He said he believes they don’t see him as a “viable” candidate.
When contacted by Toledo Free Press, fellow candidates Mike Bell, Anita Lopez and Joe McNamara all declined to comment on Cox or his campaign.
Councilman D. Michael Collins, another mayoral candidate, called Cox, “a very principled and totally honest individual.”
However, Collins said he doesn’t think Cox is ready to be mayor yet.
“I do believe that while he has been employed with the City of Toledo and has supervising responsibilities, as well as being the president of the union, he has demonstrated that he is knowledgeable of the city,” Collins said. “But having come from a similar background, I don’t know that that knowledge of the city would lead into the ability to serve as mayor at this time. I hope his interest in politics over time would remain, and at some point in time he would be a very effective mayor.”
Cox said he is frustrated with the way he’s been perceived so far.
“I’m being written off. I’m not playing the political process the way that all of the experts are saying it needs to be done, or that you have to have a ton of money you throw at it,” Cox said.
Cox said the union he is president of is supporting Lopez in the election.
“I know I’m not going to get my union support unless I make it through the primary. They told me they support me, but they endorsed Anita,” Cox said. “They’re being more politically focused than focused on the well-being of our union members and the citizens we serve.”
With little major support, Cox is relying on grassroots fundraising and his own money to fuel his campaign.
“The signs and so forth, that’s our family’s finances on the hook here. Tracy and I, we started off saying that we’d make a commitment of no more than $1,000. We’d still like to be at that point, but right now, we’re over $10,000 in personal investment because that’s how much we believe in it,” Cox said. “It’s one of the realities we keep struggling through, but our faith helps us tremendously.”
Plans for the future
Cox said that if he doesn’t become the city’s next mayor, he won’t seek office again in four years.
“I don’t know how many times I want to beat my head against the wall. If the citizens can’t get it, or I don’t know the way to communicate with them, maybe it’s not the calling I thought it was,” Cox said. “This is no desire toward getting into the political arena.”
But that doesn’t mean the campaign trail hasn’t been a meaningful journey.
“I’m learning about my own strength and perseverance, and becoming even more convicted of my value systems. I’m learning some personal humility,” Cox said. “I am being reminded that I’m still very frustrated by the political environment.
“And I’ve learned about tweeting and Facebook,” he added.