Bell talks to voters at packed Ottawa TavernWritten by Bailey G. Dick | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Toledo Mayor Mike Bell defended the decisions he made over the past four years of his term to a bar full of voters at the Ottawa Tavern’s weekly Political Parties series on Aug. 20.
A standing room-only crowd, the largest the series has seen so far, listened to Bell explain his reasoning behind some of his more controversial decisions.
The mayor came out on the defensive from the beginning of his speech, telling voters why he decided to impose exigent circumstances on city union employees and back Senate Bill 5.
“What you have to understand is that the first half of SB5 was exigent circumstances. I had already done that once, and it had worked for the citizens of Toledo,” Bell said. “You have to also realize that when I came into office, there was a $48 million deficit. This was the guidelines that you as citizens gave me: don’t raise my taxes, and keep the same standard of service with a $48 million deficit. So as a mayor, you have two choices.”
Bell said he felt exigent circumstances helped the city, as no layoffs were required and the city was able to negotiate nine concessionary contracts. He also noted that taxes were not raised, despite the $48 million deficit the city had when he took office.
“Once you’re in, you can’t be halfway in and halfway out. It doesn’t work like that,” he said of supporting SB5. “The whole issue is all about trying to recover our budget.”
As the incumbent, Bell also defended his experience as mayor, telling bar-goers, “I’ve done this stuff. It is written. It is in the book. What I’m telling you happened. And it is documented.”
And although Bell did tackle some of his biggest questions from the beginning of the evening, he said the his toughest challenge is convincing the people who elected him that their city is important.
“The hardest problem I have in trying to get my message across is here in Toledo. It’s not across the nation, it’s here in Toledo,” Bell said.
The mayor, who has made multiple trips across the country and world to market the city to investors, pointed to stories in publications like Forbes about the city as successes.
In terms of economic development, Bell said he plans to keep things uncomplicated.
“My economic development plan is extremely simple: remove the hurdles for the business people and let them do what they do,” Bell said.
And as for his loyalty to the Marina District, which Chinese investors Dashing Pacific purchased from the city in 2011, Bell said selling the property wouldn’t be a solution.
“They pay taxes on it,” Bell said, noting that the property provides some income for the city.
“We have plenty of other properties across this city that are empty. Some of them have been sitting since I was fire chief. Nobody’s saying a word about that,” Bell added.
Bell also said any plans he has for the city must have some kind of financial backing.
“You can’t do anything inside government unless you have money. Theories are nice, concepts are nice, dreams are nice. But the bottom line is that you have to have the finances to work those,” he said.
Bell briefly touched on another big issue in the upcoming election: crime.
The mayor said he was pleased with how police cameras are working, but said he hoped Toledoans would start to focus on the positive changes the city is seeing in crime reduction rates.
“Some cities would be happy with a 3 or 4 percent [decrease]. We get 17 percent and nobody says anything,” Bell said.
On a lighter note, Bell also talked about what the typically young crowd at the Ottawa Tavern might think of first when they see Bell: his public persona.
“I can’t walk into a building and people don’t know who I am. They know what my motorcycle looks like, they know what my car looks like, they know where I go with my Harley clothes on, and they love that,” Bell said. “I’m not changing that. I’m not a politician. I am good at what I do though. “
Bell challenged voters to examine all of the candidates closely before deciding which candidate to back.
“I’ve got a lot of people saying they can do this job. But the bottom line is that what you have to do as a person who is going to vote is dissect them,” Bell said.
Bell spent more than the allotted half hour answering questions from voters, which covered everything from who he believes his biggest competition is (“myself”) to the possibility that he would leave the office he is seeking early to run for a state office (he said he’d never run for anything again).
Other topics Bell talked on were creating alternatives for gang members, privatization of the city’s water department, development in the Downtown area, his use of Toledo Express Airport for city business and making the city more bike-friendly — a topic that has become a weekly mainstay.
Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez will have her chance to talk with voters on Aug. 27, followed by Opal Covey on Sept. 3.
Toledo Free Press and 1370 WSPD are media sponsors for the event.
For more information, visit www.otavern.com.