Newsmakers 2013: From underdog to 22nd floor, Toledo’s new mayor has year of changeWritten by Bailey G. Dick | | firstname.lastname@example.org
During the past 12 months, D. Michael Collins decided to run for mayor, pulled off a come-from-behind victory and met the president of the United States. A few weeks ago, Collins and his wife Sandy toured a South Toledo home on a whim. They put in an offer on the house days later.
To say Collins has had a whirlwind year would be an understatement.
Just weeks after being elected as the next mayor of Toledo, Collins was standing in line to board a plane when he looked down at his phone and saw the White House was calling him. Yes, that White House.
Collins took the call, as Sandy, who had no idea who was on the other line, scoffed that her husband was stepping out of line to take a call. Collins was in such disbelief that he was being invited to meet with President Barack Obama that he forgot to ask what they should wear to the White House Christmas party, much to Sandy’s dismay.
“I told her we’d figure out the details later,” Collins said.
On Dec. 13, Collins and other newly-elected mayors from across the country met with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Collins said Obama spoke individually with each guest about ways his administration could help their cities.
Collins said he spoke to Obama about brownfield restoration, algae blooms in the western basin of Lake Erie and poverty, including his intention to establish a mentorship program that would pair kids most in need with “academic stars,” who would be paid a stipend.
“He really likes that idea. I was impressed that the president embraced the concept and defined it as forward-thinking,” Collins said.
Collins said he was also impressed how much the meeting delved into specifics about the needs of each city.
“I initially thought it would be more of a public relations experience than a true meeting with substance. But it was absolutely not a PR effort. It was very substantial and I have a new respect for President Obama and the quality of his character,” Collins said.
Just a year ago, Collins never imagined he’d be meeting with the president. Or, for that matter, running for mayor. But in November, Collins bested incumbent Mike Bell by a 14-point margin.
Leading up to the September primary, Collins was pitted against Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez and City Councilman Joe McNamara, whose head-butting gave Collins the opportunity to nab the second-place spot behind Bell.
“Finishing second in the primary was more of an internal process than external. When candidates engage in negativism, it creates such a backlash,” Collins said of his primary success.
Following the primary, Collins and Bell faced off in a dizzying array of community forums and debates. Collins said that for him, the campaign remained the same from start to finish.
“The whole summer was spent going door to door, working with our young, lean and green campaign machine. The campaign from the primary to the general didn’t dramatically change. But the debates were a new phenomenon,” Collins said.
Collins isn’t a newcomer to the Toledo political scene. He finished fourth in the 2009 mayoral race, and has held the District 2 Council seat since 2007. But he said this election cycle was different.
“The outcome was a very humbling experience, but it also clearly defined that the voters mandated me to live up to the expectations they have,” Collins said.
Ahead of his swearing-in during the first week of January, Collins assembled his staff.
“My appointments for director positions have been made based on substance, which opens me up for criticism,” Collins said. “My hope is that before I’m judged too harshly over those decisions, that they would be allowed to demonstrate that those decisions were made with a deep concern for the citizens and the community.”
Familiar faces like former Councilman George Sarantou will join the staff as finance director. Bob Reinbolt, who Collins named as his chief of staff, held the same title during former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner’s time in office. But Collins decided to pair Joel Mazur, who will be the assistant chief of staff, with Reinbolt in order to infuse younger ideas into city government.
“When you look at the general expectation that I’d put young people into those positions, I have in terms of their experience and background. I can’t take someone with no experience and put them in one of those positions. That creates the perfect storm for failure for everyone,” Collins said. “We have directors who are seasoned professionals and we’re going to give them the opportunity to fulfill the responsibilities of their position, while having the additional responsibility of grooming their successors in a way that their experience and skills transfer, and also allows new ideas to emerge.”
Collins also is going back to basics with a part of the city he knows well: The Toledo Police Department. When Collins announced his run for mayor on May 15, he did so outside the shuttered Northwest District Station. He vowed to reopen the station within 90 days of taking office.
More recently, Collins named Lt. Bill Moton, a fellow Marine veteran, the new chief of police for the city, following Derrick Diggs’ resignation.
Collins said he has known Moton since the early 1980s, and said they share common values and philosophies about policing.
“I picked him because of his character and humbleness, and his professional approach to law enforcement. Policing requires the trust that can be achieved by putting officers in the neighborhoods and going back to the fundamental principles of policing,” Collins said.
“The word ‘police’ comes from the Latin word ‘policia’ which literally translates to ‘power of people.’ Policing is the work with and being part of people. That will mean returning to the paradigm Chief Moton and I experienced in our early years as officers,” Collins said.
He explained that the key to turning neighborhoods around is the presence of officers to enhance the quality of life. He plans to reintroduce “beat integrity,” in which officers are assigned to specific geographic areas, and residents and business people come to know the officers in their area well.
Collins said another of his biggest challenges will be winning over business community members who may not have backed him during the election.
“I have to prove to the community who have unfairly stereotyped me as a one-dimensional person who has been bought by organized labor that that is not a true evaluation of my level of commitment and my approach to government. I have already met with, and I intend to continue to meet with the business community,” Collins said.
Collins was coy when asked about specifics, but said Toledoans should expect a major announcement about a company coming to Toledo in the next few months.
“I will tell you it is a big one,” Collins said. “In the course of life, there are pendulum moments. And when the pendulum swings to the positive, as I think it will in the first quarter of the year, I think we will see dynamic business decisions being made.”
Collins said he knows it isn’t just the pendulum of the business realm that is swingingn to the positive side. His whole life is on the upswing.
“Twelve months ago, if you asked me if I had any thought about being where I am today, I would tell you unequivocally no. I had no plans or expectations that in December 2013, my life would be dramatically changed,” Collins said.