New mayor vows continuityWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | email@example.com
Paula Hicks-Hudson is still getting used to the title, but wants to assure Toledoans she’s ready and able to step into the role of mayor.
“People are saying ‘Mayor,’ and I’m still looking behind me for D. Michael Collins,” Hicks-Hudson said Feb. 10.
She admitted it’s taken some days for reality to sink in.
“It kind of did this morning,” she told media Feb. 9, after addressing a new class of Toledo Police trainees and then discussing funeral details for Collins. The mayor died Feb. 6, five days after going into cardiac arrest while driving.
“It’s not so much the recognition of the role I have to play, because as president of Council you have to do many of the same things,” she said. “The magnitude is different, of course. And Council is part time; this is full time. So that’s sinking in.”
As City Council president, Hicks-Hudson was sworn in as acting mayor Feb. 1 at University of Toledo Medical Center, where Collins was being treated. Upon Collins’ death, she became Toledo’s first black female mayor.
Hicks-Hudson, a lawyer who focuses on juvenile issues, said she plans to close her private practice in order to focus on the full-time role of mayor.
A special election in November will determine who takes the office. Hicks-Hudson, a Democrat, declined to discuss if she planned to run, saying it was too soon to think about. Right now, she said, she’s just focused on running the city.
“We’re going to make the necessary changes to keep the agenda going forward, to keep the city going forward, to do those projects that we agreed upon.”
Among major development projects Collins was working on were talks with Fiat Chrysler over the future of the Jeep Wrangler in Toledo, ProMedica’s move Downtown, the search for an end user for the former Southwyck site and the city’s budget.
“There’s been some discussion that there will be some major changes, but if you look at the record from Council we stand together about the Jeep project, we stand together about the ProMedica project, we have to stand together for the budget,” she said. “It’s not like there will be a big shift or anything. It’s just that I’m me and D. Michael Collins is D. Michael Collins and that’s the change. But the fundamental things that we’re to do, those have not changed.”
Hicks-Hudson brushed off further questions about changes, but said one area that’s important to her is city pools and recreation.
“That’s something we’re going to work on,” she said. “But that was also something we were just beginning to have conversations about with the administration, about ways we could make recreation just as important as job development and job growth.”
She praised Collins’ staff for their support during her transition.
“This is a remarkable staff. The city runs not by those at the top but those who are mid and lower,” she said. “They are having to make changes and trying to get used to me.
“It’s been a transition and it’s going to be a further transition. But we just have to do the things that we need to do, for the citizens as well as to honor D. Michael and what he stood for.”
Collins’ Chief of Staff Robert Reinbolt said he is dedicated to helping ease the transition.
“I think we’re still developing our relationship,” he said of Hicks-Hudson. “But I’m here to help whoever the mayor is. I think continuity is an important factor now. Eventually Paula, or whoever the next mayor is, they are going to want their own team of people and that’s fine. The important thing is we all need to work together right now.”
Hicks-Hudson was appointed to Toledo City Council in January 2011 to the District 4 seat vacated by Michael Ashford when he was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives. She retained the seat in the November general election. In 2013, she was elected Council president to fill the vacancy left by Joe McNamara, who was running for mayor.
“It’s an opportunity to serve the people,” Hicks-Hudson said at the time. “Not that we will always agree, but we want to be working toward a common goal. I think most of us that work in this particular position are doing it because we care about the city.”
“We may not always agree on things, but she’s very logical in her thinking,” then-Mayor Mike Bell said at the time.
Hicks-Hudson has a bachelor’s degree in political science and journalism from Spelman College in Atlanta, a master’s degree in communications development from Colorado State University and a law degree from the University of Iowa.
She came to Toledo in 1982 to work for Toledo Legal Aid Society. Other positions include assistant Lucas County prosecutor, an assistant public defender and assistant state attorney general. She was the City of Toledo’s legislative director from 1998 till 2002, as well as director and deputy director of the Lucas County Board of Elections and chief legal counsel to the Ohio Office of Budget and Management in Columbus under Gov. Ted Strickland. She’s married with two grown daughters.
Councilman Tom Waniewski described Hicks-Hudson as likeable, open to other opinions and respectful. Councilman Mike Craig said he finds her inquisitive and thorough. Councilman Larry Sykes said he and Hicks-Hudson have worked together for decades.
“She will do well,” Sykes said. “She’s very articulate, knowledgeable. [With her background in litigation] she’s obviously going to be thorough. In terms of leadership … the fact that she was elected president by the bulk of men [on Council] show they have trust and belief in her leadership. You’ll never see her angry or lose control. That’s just the way she is.”
Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken said Hicks-Hudson will be different from Collins, but he’s confident in her abilities.
“Paula brings a whole different style to the office, and that’s OK,” Gerken said. “I look forward to working with her. She has a style that’s pretty easy to approach and open. Now, you’re not going to push her around. This woman is smart, tough and isn’t going to get pushed around by anybody and is highly confident to do the job.
“I was meeting with her as acting mayor an hour before the news came of Mayor Collins’ [death], and I’ll tell you what, she had her legs firmly under her. She was taking everything quickly but judiciously.”
Matt Sapara, the city’s development director, said his “marching orders are clear: Keep going in the direction we’re going.”
“There’s a lot going on and we just want to keep heading in that positive direction,” Sapara said. “I have confidence in her. I know she has the best interests of the community at heart. That is very obvious and that’s something she shares with Mayor Collins.” O