Candidates meet in last public forum before primaryWritten by Bailey G. Dick | | firstname.lastname@example.org
All seven mayoral candidates fielded questions from an audience of voters at a televised forum at the Toledo-Lucas County Main Library’s McMaster Family Center on Aug. 26.
The forum, hosted by the Northwest Ohio Conservative Coalition (NWOCC) and moderated by Toledo Free Press Editor in Chief Michael S. Miller and WNWO News Director Jim Blue, was the last public forum for the candidates before the Sept. 10 primary. It was also televised on WNWO.
Among the questions asked by the more than 120 attendees was one that asked the candidates to share their stances on right-to-work laws.
Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, who supported Senate Bill 5, said he would “do whatever is right for the citizens,” but didn’t give a direct answer to the question.
“I believe we’re going to do whatever is necessary to keep jobs here. And if I have to make some tough choices on that. It depends on where we’re at at any particular time,” Bell said. “What I think you have to do is keep an open mind to what is going on so that you can be extremely competitive as a city. To turn this place around, you have to have an open mind.”
City Councilman D. Michael Collins said he was against right-to-work laws, and defended the need for collective bargaining.
“Right-to-work is, in my opinion, not the solution because the union is not the problem,” Collins said. “It should not be an attack on working men and women.”
Collins also cited successful bargaining by the UAW as a reason for the salvation of the nation’s auto industry, saying, “Collective bargaining works with collective discussions, an we’ve proved that here in Toledo.”
Evangelist Opal Covey said she “totally believes in” right-to-work laws, and said she believes it gets in the way of “free America.”
“If we put everything in government control, where are we?” she asked attendees. “Let’s not put ourselves in a position where we are bound to something when we should be free.”
Union president Alan Cox, who said he was “not a stereotypical union leader,” said he believes people have the right to be in a union, but he also believes people have the right to not be in a union.
“If somebody chooses not to be in a union, don’t come to me and ask me to represent you,” he said. “I will represent those who choose to pay union dues, and I’m fine with those who don’t want to be a part of a union to argue for their own well-being.”
Former city worker Mike Konwinski said that he supported right-to-work legislation.
“I don’t see it as the huge union buster that a lot of people do because I think it can be adequately resolved on both sides by eliminating the fact that unions don’t have to represent non-union employees,” Konwinski said.
Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez vowed to try to defeat right-to-work laws, saying, “I want to make it very clear that I am against right-to-work.”
“I believe that right-to-work is just an attack on working men and women’s salaries and benefits,” Lopez said. “Right-to-work is just going to divide this state and divide this city.”
City Councilman Joe McNamara also said he opposed right-to-work.
“So-called right-to-work-laws are really just an attack on labor. That’s all they are,” McNamara said. “I’m firmly opposed. As mayor, I’m aware and proud of Toledo’s rich labor history, and I will always support the right of people to collectively bargain.”
In another question that an attendee posed to the candidates, each mayoral hopeful was asked about their plans to improve the city’s educational system.
Cox said he hoped to coordinate efforts between Toledo Public Schools, Washington Local, private schools and charter schools.
“All of them have something to offer,” Cox said. “It’s just a matter of pulling that effort together.
Covey said she acknowledged the limited authority the mayor has over the public school system, but saw herself as mayor in an “adviser” role.
Collins said he hoped to build a program for at-risk students in primary grades to be mentored by high-achieving middle-schoolers who would be paid for their work.
Bell said that his plan for improving education in Toledo is “pretty simple.”
“We need to work with a cradle-to-career [mentality] in being able to create jobs,” Bell said. “Once these kids get done within the school system, we need to be making sure these kids have jobs. We need to look at our employers to see what they need and have those kids be at that level.”
Lopez said that TPS needs an advocate in the mayor’s office.
“In order for our students to do well, they’re going to have to be able to have an excellent quality of life,” Lopez said. “We need to work with Dr. Durant to expand vocational education.”
McNamara called education a “pathway out of poverty,” and said improved education will lead to higher income levels.
“The future of our city and the future of our public schools are linked together,” McNamara said. “Being a good mayor means knowing what’s there and building upon it, not reinventing programs or committees.”
And while each of the candidates offered their ideas for improvements, none of them mentioned the $6.5 million levy that will be placed in front of voters in November.
When asked why they didn’t bring up the levy, each candidate had a different response.
Collins said, “I don’t think that it was really focused upon during the entire debate. Perhaps it should have been, but frankly, it wasn’t.”
Cox said that his position in the Washington Local caused him to not mention it.
“Unfortunately for me, being in Washington Local Schools, I don’t pay attention to the TPS levies as much. And part of the problem is because I’m not educated on it,” Cox said. “And so rather than to comment on it, I’ll have to claim ignorance.”
Lopez said that the focus on the primary election is on the forefront of everyone’s mind, and that’s why no one mentioned the levy.
“They just announced it, so it’s still reaching voters,” Lopez said. “I’m sure that when we get beyond the primary, individuals will ask us even more in-depth questions on the levy.”
Konwinski said the levy didn’t come up “because it’s more money and they’re afraid of the answer because I think there’s a big dissatisfaction with the school system in Toledo. And I think traditionally, people have been voicing their dissatisfaction by voting down the levies. To be honest, I didn’t even think of it.”
McNamara said that he “should have” brought up the levy, and that he supports the levy.
“I think Toledoans need to support the levy because education is economic development. We need as many of our young graduates as possible to provide a workforce, so businesses want to be located here,” McNamara said.
Bell said that the question on education, which came at the tail end of the forum, caused the candidates to rush.
They were hurrying to try and get everything in. And you know what? You don’t hear a lot of publicity about the levy, so it’s not on the front of everyone’s brain,” Bell said.
Other topics in the forum included regionalization of the city’s water.
Bell said plans are in the works for regionalizing the water system. Collins said that Toledo’s neighbors are wary to trust the city after years of “bullying.” Covey said that the system shouldn’t have gotten to this bad of a situation in the first place. Cox noted the necessity of water to economic development, and Konwinski discussed the relationship with the Northwest Regional Water District. Lopez said the city needed to “proceed with caution” in developing a regional water system, but stressed the importance of dealing with city issues before turning to regional ones. McNamara said he was in favor of nonpoaching agreements and providing tax incentives for local preference.