Bell, Collins to face off in Oct. 30 TFP/Toledo News Now debateWritten by Bailey G. Dick | | email@example.com
Imagine putting in evening hours and overtime, seven days a week for several months. Then imagine that you may not even be hired for the job you have been working for months to get. Some might call it crazy; others might call it committed. Incumbent Mike Bell and D. Michael Collins call it running for mayor.
Collins said he has been putting in 10-12 hours of work each day
, and spends three or four nights a week knocking on the doors of prospective voters. Bell’s schedule book has hundreds of events covering its pages. He squeezed in an afternoon snack during his interview with Toledo Free Press.
Since nabbing the top two spots in the Sept. 10 primary, Bell and Collins have kept a dizzying schedule of public appearances, neighborhood forums and screenings for endorsements at community organizations.
Days before the Nov. 5 general election, Bell and Collins are wrapping up their campaigns. With several forums and debates already behind them, the pair will make a final pitch to voters in the last mayoral debate of the election.
On Oct. 30, Toledo Free Press is co-hosting a debate between the two candidates with WTOL-11. The televised debate will be shown live on FOX Toledo at 6:30 p.m., and will be available on VOD by midnight that evening.
But before that one last battle of the Mikes, both candidates sat down with Toledo Free Press to talk about what they’ve been up to since the primary, what their plan is to win the race and some of their post-election plans.
As the results of the September primary rolled in, many local politicians were baffled by what they saw: two independent candidates had secured the two spots on the general election ballot for the first time in history. And while many Toledoans were shocked, the two winners of the race were not.
“I was the least surprised of anybody on primary night,” Collins said. “I really did go door to door. I didn’t embellish.”
The current mayor wasn’t surprised, either.
“I wasn’t surprised it was Collins,” Bell said. “There were two Democrats [Joe McNamara and Anita Lopez] going at each other.”
Despite their lack of surprise, Bell said that a race between two unaffiliated candidates — unusual for the city — signifies a shift in the city’s politics.
“It’s a very important moment in Toledo history. Two independents in a town that’s heavily Democratic is important. It shows people are leaning more toward the middle of the road than left or right,” Bell said.
Now that the primary buzz has worn off, both candidates said they are shifting their focus toward their platform issues and deciding how to implement their campaign strategies.
“There’s no shift in strategy. The only thing that’s changed is the number of public forums. There’s a high demand from neighborhood groups,” Collins said. “My focus hasn’t changed, and I’ve been given the great opportunity to deal with platform issues.”
“Now I’m more focused. I know who the other candidate is and I can dial things down tighter. I can figure out what he’s personally about and compare who he is to who I am,” Bell said. “You’ve got to play against any candidate at a 110 percent level, like you want to play in a bowl game. But my strategy and platform are the same. I want to focus on economic development, education and neighborhoods.”
One thing the two haven’t been able to agree upon is the issue of the city’s deficit. Regular sparring between the candidates about how much the city’s deficit was when Bell took office marked the early weeks of the mayoral race. Bell has repeatedly said he has eliminated a $48 million deficit since he was elected in 2010. Collins challenged Bell’s number, claiming the original deficit was closer to $8 million.
“What the other candidate has been attempting to marginalize is how bad of a situation we were in before, and how much progress has been made,” Bell said. “My job is to make people understand how much we’ve done. We’ve taken the worst budget in the city’s history, balanced it, and now we have a surplus.”
Collins, who called the deficit debate “comparable to a roller coaster,” said he is sticking to his guns on the issue.
“The reality wasn’t $48 million, unless the state reports aren’t true. To get into a discussion about it, you have to get into accounting. And that’s challenging for people,” Collins said.
But Collins said he is ready to move away from the argument.
“I’m glad to agree to disagree. Now we can get into more substantial issues,” he said.
Issues up for debate
Both Mikes are hoping to get more in depth with key issues facing Toledo during the Oct. 30 televised debate. The event will be moderated by “Toledo News Now” anchor Jerry Anderson. The panel asking questions will consist of “Toledo News Now” anchors Chrys Peterson and Emilie Voss and Toledo Free Press Editor in Chief Michael S. Miller.
Bell said he hopes to focus on economic development, education, safety and neighborhoods.
“We took a safety force that hadn’t hired in three years, and have hired 190 police officers and 142 firefighters. We took a system that was tearing down 200 houses a year, and took that to between 300 and 400. Now we’re fixing roads,” Bell said.
Bell said he hopes to highlight how the city has grown during his tenure in office.
“Nothing happens in city government without money. People who work here are employees, not volunteers. Economic development gives us a tax base to do that. We’ve grown by $20 million since 2010, and that doesn’t happen unless we’re doing the necessary things,” Bell said.
Collins said up to this point in the election, many of the biggest issues facing Toledo “have been skirted.”
“We need to take a serious look into improving the quality of life. We need to address public safety and stability of housing,” Collins said.
Collins said a key part of his vision for the city would include changes to the Department of Neighborhoods within his first year in office.
“We should be receiving a regular report from [the Department of Neighborhoods]. There are 840 houses on record [as being vacant] but I’m sure it’s three times that,” Collins said. “We’re only as good as the info we have. If we know exactly where we’re at, we can enforce regular notices and notify the title holder, which is a $200 fee per house.”
Collins drew comparisons between his vision of revitalizing blighted neighborhoods to neighborhoods like Columbus’ German Village and Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine.
One issue the candidates have devoted a different amount of energy to during the campaign is the Marina District.
Bell said he doesn’t see the lack of visible development on the site as an issue for voters.
“We’ve taken a big piece of vacant property and collected $100,000 a year in taxes on it,” Bell said.
Collins, on the other hand, said he has major changes in mind for the Marina District if he is elected.
Collins said one of his first tasks as mayor would be to invite Dashing Pacific, the Chinese investment group who has a deal with the city to develop the property, to Toledo.
“I will invite them to come to Toledo to explain their plan and their timetables for developing the Marina District. Hopefully they will then present their statements about business. If they refuse, I plan to look for a new development plan and have a seamless transition when we acquire the property,” Collins said. “If they have a reliable plan, that’s great. If they don’t have a plan, or if they have a cavalier attitude, we will resecure the property and move in a different direction.”
Collins said he plans to schedule the visit within his first 90 days in office.
In addition to their differences on a number of the city’s issues, there is another major gap between the two campaigns: money.
According to the Lucas County Board of Elections, Bell had $151,393 available just before the September primary, while Collins had $17,065.
Collins said that even though his stockpile is a fraction of Bell’s, he isn’t planning on holding any events to raise money.
“I have not had one fundraiser and I’m not going to. I don’t have nearly the capital as my opponent, and I won’t have nearly as much. I’m not looking out for the big donors,” Collins said. “I’ve run an effective campaign being frugal with the resources I have.
“And that’s exactly how I’m going to run the city of Toledo.”
Since the primary, both candidates have received endorsements from labor and community groups.
Local UAW, AFL-CIO and Teamsters groups are among the organizations that have backed Collins.
He said the first two endorsements he received were among the most significant for him.
“The first two endorsements I got were police [Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association] and fire [Toledo Firefighters Local 92]. That’s very significant because we have common life experiences,” Collins said. “When you gain the confidence and trust of the police and fire and rescue organizations, that’s a significant statement. They’re not particularly political people, but they had confidence and trust to put themselves at risk politically.
“It’s also a statement because both endorsed my opponent in the previous election,” Collins added.
Bell has received backing from the Toledo Fire Chiefs’ Association, a nod to his past as the city’s fire chief. Bell also received an endorsement from the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce. He turned down an endorsement from the Lucas County Republican Party.
This year’s general election may give some Toledoans pauserequiring more deliberation on whom to vote for than usual. Without commitments to a specific party, each candidate is relying on not only their platform, but also what makes them stand out from their opponent.
How do each of the candidates see themselves?
Bell said he has one major advantage in the race: experience.
“My big advantage is that I’ve done this job. I can speak about facts as opposed to answering questions speculatively. I not only can reflect on my experience, but I can give multiple examples of things we’ve done — all things we’ve done without raising taxes,” Bell said.
He also said his creativity may win over some voters.
“Everybody knows I’m an out-of-the-box thinker. I keep collaborating with people of vision to create the best vision for the city,” Bell said.
Bell said whether he gets to keep his office depends on if Toledoans see what progress he has made during his time as mayor.
“I think people will vote based on who they think will keep things going. I don’t kick something down the road. I fix it,” Bell said. “I think people know we’re making progress. It’s obvious to the eyes if you’re paying attention.”
But Bell said sometimes, a decision is as simple as personality.
“People are either going to like a candidate or not,” Bell said.
And how does Bell’s opponent describe the two of them?
“Bell has a charismatic personality, and he has a presence of warmth and friendliness,” Collins said. “I’m a little different in that respect. I’m more down to earth.”
Collins says what drives him is a “passion for the underdog.”
He recalled a pivotal moment from his childhood, from which he said that passion stems.
“When I was in the fifth grade, a black family moved in one block from our house. People in the neighborhood were upset about it, and were burning dummies. I decided to take a piece of plywood and painted ‘Welcome to the neighborhood’ on it. On the way there, I was gangtackled and knocked to the ground, beat up and went home without the sign,” Collins said.
“When I got home, my mom screamed. I was worried that my dad was going to be mad that I had used his paint. But I will never forget the expression on his face when I told him what I did. My father said, ‘Son, you have made me the proudest man in the world,”’ Collins said tearfully.
“My passion for people hasn’t changed. I’ve always had a passion for the underdog,” Collins said.
Before voters decide which Mike they’d like to see in the mayor’s office, they might like to hear what both candidates plan to do after the election.
Collins said if he wins the general election, he doesn’t plan on waiting until he is inaugurated to implement changes.
“Responsibilities start the day after the election, not in January. I fully intend on having a transition team fully functioning two weeks after the election. They will be individuals with expertise, and they will evaluate how to form a government that matches my platform,” Collins said.
He noted that he has an advantage as a member of City Council.
“I’m lucky because I get to see the budget on Nov. 15, which is an advantage,” Collins said.
On his to do list?
“We want to change the face of the city, and will have a much younger government that will combine new ways and new philosophies. The city will look a lot cleaner. It won’t happen overnight, but I hope it will have a new feeling. And that’s done by example,” Collins said.
And if his run is unsuccessful?
“I will be devastated and disappointed, but I will move on,” Collins said.
Another outcome would mean Bell would retain his office, and Collins would return to his District 2 seat on City Council. Collins and Bell have a long history of squabbles, so it is possible that a greater rift could be created between Council and the mayor’s office in the wake of the election.
But that’s something Bell said is just a part of the way our government works.
“What I will do is try to do my best, regardless of what happens, regardless of who is on Council. We don’t always agree, but that’s part of the democratic process,” Bell said.
“When the election is over with, we can’t dwell on the past. I’ll always have an open door,” he said.