Toledo City Councilman D. Michael Collins is comfortable in the winner’s circle. He knows how to finish strong, even when he starts late.
So, it’s fitting the son of an Irish immigrant who trained thoroughbreds decided to enter the mayoral race after the other four major candidates — Keith Wilkowski, Jim Moody, Mike Bell and Ben Konop — had been campaigning for months.
“Six months ago, this was not a consideration,” the 65-year-old said. “Three months ago, it really wasn’t much of a consideration, although the frustration levels were getting greater and greater because of what was going on in municipal government.”
Collins said his experience makes him an ideal candidate for mayor.
Not only did he serve as a police officer for 27-and-a-half years, but for 10 of those years, he was president of the Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association, and he also served as the lead negotiator for five collective bargaining agreements.
His latest experience as a councilman has showed him just how badly change is needed.
“I have had a front-row seat in municipal government for 18 months,” he said. “I have watched government in action. I have witnessed the inability of the mayor’s office to work with the city council. And, while I think there is blame for each on us as a government entity … I would have to say the majority of the blame has to fall on the administrative branch.”
Collins said he went on record in July 2008 that the fire department’s overtime was going to be way over budget. He said the economy isn’t going to get better and adjustments must be made.
It fell on deaf ears, he said.
“We approached the year of 2009 with a budget that was presented to us on Saturday evening at 9 p.m. by a police sergeant because it was the 15th of November and the charter requires it,” Collins said.
The budgets were ready Friday, but “the political nonsense that was being played …” he said, shaking his head.
In December, council had to adjust for an $8 million deficit, which drained the city’s stabilization fund, Collins said. By January, he was fighting a losing battle. He voted against the 2009 budget, saying, “This is nothing more than a book of fiction with mythical numbers.”
Take your marks
Collins is used to starting from behind. When the independent campaigned for his District 2 seat, he was all but counted out of the race.
“I have always been independent,” he said. “I consider independent a side. I have never once registered to a party, never declared in a primary,” he said.
“I think at this moment in time, it is most important,” he said of being neutral. “I don’t have a political machine and I don’t have anything negative to say about either of the major parties, but my independence creates for me the ability to step outside the area of political patronage.”
While Collins has been asked to join both of the major parties since representing District 2, he has answered with a resounding, “Thank you, but no thank you.”
His first attempt to run for office came six years ago for an at-large council seat, but his petitions were defective, which was “totally my mistake,” he said.
By 2007, he had the petitions right and he was running with nine other candidates, many of whom were fairly well-funded.
To start, he put $2,000 of his own money into the campaign and began going door to door.
The pundits on 13abc’s “Conklin & Company” predicted he wouldn’t even be close, Collins remembered, but he finished second in the primary. He put another $2,000 into the race and won.
He did no radio, no television. He just went door to door, asking to serve District 2.
“If you allow me the privilege to serve in District 2, in three and half years, I will make my own personal evaluation on if I would have earned your trust to run for another term,” Collins said of his promise.
Although this promise will become obsolete if he becomes mayor, encouraging words from his district told him it was the right thing to do.
“People have basically said to me, ‘We support you. Toledo needs you,’” he said.
His family wasn’t so certain.
D. Michael Collins
“The consensus of opinion was that I would be wise to consult with my Webster’s dictionary and discern what ‘retirement’ is,” Collins said. “I laughed at them. I am not one to sit there and read. I have too much life in me, and they all realized that. As we approached my birthday, the decision was made that, ‘Yes, we would.’”
He officially announced June 30.
“He is just a wonderful consensus builder,” said his wife, Sandra. “He can bring Toledo together. In our conversations, I was getting a feel for this really great passion and the means to do it.”
His wife said people used to stop her on the street and ask why her husband wasn’t running.
“I was hearing from real people in the community and it wasn’t just our district,” she said.
It is Collins’ ideas, not money, that are driving the campaign.
“We have no money, so television and radio is not on the horizon,” Collins said. “I was asked about television and I said, ‘I am probably going to watch it.’”
He said he sees entering the race last as an advantage.
“The late start in the race allowed me the opportunity to listen to the other four,” Collins said. “I think each of them are very quality people who bring to the table specific positives to the city of Toledo. I think this is probably the first time Toledo has had a field of candidates that bring this quality for consideration.”
Matt Zaleski, who is working media relations for the campaign, met Collins as a student in the mid-1970s. Collins was teaching criminal justice at St. Francis.
“He has a been a mentor of mine over the years, and when he told me he was going to run for mayor, I was excited because since 1996, I have been trying to get him to run for mayor,” Zaleski said.
He said the other candidates will outspend his candidate, but Collins’ personality will lead the race.
“The greatest form of advertising is word of mouth and Mike generates word of mouth … I have lost count of the number of people who have said, ‘I am going to vote for him.’”
If elected, Collins has a list of three things he would do immediately.
First up is a transition team to change city government to a business fabric.
Collins also wants to personally meet every elected mayor and township trustee in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan. For Collins, a victory in Perrysburg is a victory for Northwest Ohio.
“Toledo has never demonstrated the ability to be truthful and honest in any dealings with any other governmental agency,” he said. “We always try to play the role that we are the bigger city, so therefore, we are the wisest and the controlling factor. Toledo wants to control everything. My experience has been that that doesn’t work.”
Thirdly, the would-be mayor would allow time for staff to grow accustomed to his style of leading.
“I take no credit for good work that is done,” Collins said. “If you are police chief, you get all the credit. When there is a mistake, I am not going to put you out in front. You won’t have to face any scrutiny publicly. Privately, we will talk about this never happening again.”
Collins won’t be afraid to show his human side as mayor. Even as a candidate, he doesn’t sugarcoat it.
He’s been divorced, remarried and experienced every parent’s nightmare when his only son committed suicide because of personal problems.
“My life experiences are certainly a foundation,” he said. “When I reflect upon those cases, I get somewhat emotional — that is my capacity for people.”
It is hard for him to speak about his son.
“It is very difficult because I talked to him up to the end,” Collins said. “He promised me he wouldn’t do it. He called me on a Friday evening and I was very concerned.”
“I said to him, ‘I am not liking what I am hearing. I am not liking the tone of your voice.’ He was the third of my four children. He was more than just a son. We fished together; we did everything together. The last thing I said to him was that ‘you must promise me something, You aren’t going to do something stupid and take your life,’” Collins said.
“I will never see life the same way again, I can tell you that,” he said. “For the first couple of years, I would see something on the street that would automatically register in my head and I would have an emotional experience over my son.”
Years earlier, his father’s death during his senior year at Libbey High School set into motion his entry into the U.S. Marine Corps.
“He went out to the stables to take care of the horses. I was going to go with him,” Collins said. “He was kicked in the chest and died instantly of the injury. So, that was my senior year of high school and that was my driving influence to go into the service because there wasn’t enough to do anything. I was just another mouth at the table with my sister.”
When he started classes at UT, the young Collins began working toward becoming a veterinarian, specializing in equine surgery, however, when he was called back to duty, his dream was derailed.
When he returned, he took a job as a food and vegetable inspector for the railroad and decided to take the test for the Toledo Police Department.
He finished second.
“My first assignment was walking a beat in Downtown at midnight,” Collins said. “It was a totally different environment. Downtown had bars and stuff. We had to call in from call boxes throughout town. You hit your box and tell where you are: ‘This is Officer Collins, 44 and 4, hitting on Jackson and Superior.’”
Collins would go on to work at Dorr Street and Detroit Avenue. He would later work on the vice squad, dealing with drugs and prostitution. After one year, he asked for a transfer. His captain asked why.
“What these people are doing is starting to seem normal to me,” Collins said. “You wonder is this really for real. It is the same people, the same arrests, the same game.”
His captain asked Collins how he would fix it and he suggested going after the pimps; hence “Operation Catch A Pimp.”
“The night we brought the operation down, you couldn’t find a female prostitute on the streets for three weeks. We convicted every single one of them,” Collins said.
Collins said people often forget that he was an officer, and a good one at that.
One time a pregnant woman from Lima was abducted with her child in the backseat and raped. Collins, who was then a detective, got involved.
After speaking with her at the hospital, he was returning to the station when he noticed a suspicious man on the street. When Collins crossed the street, this man moved to the other side. As it turned out, it was the perpetrator. Collins was able to secure a confession.
“A few months later, I get a call at night,” Collins said. This is what he heard: “I just wanted to let you know that the baby was born. Everything is fine. The baby is fine. I am fine. We have a new son named Michael.”
As the primary nears, Collins is sticking to what he knows best: People. He is going door to door and talking about his passions. One of those passions is the Southwyck, Mall something he is glad has been demolished. If Southwyck was allowed to stay up this summer, it would have turned that end of town into a blighted area, he said.
“The market will be the driver. Southwyck will find whatever the market finds it to be,” Collins said. “Government isn’t going to make it what it is or what it isn’t.”
As for the “Nine is Fine” initiative to reduce council from 12 members to nine, Collins said it’s just a number.
“It is the quality,” he said. “Three would be fine if you had three very committed officeholders.”
Collins said his introduction into the race has shaken things up. He is experienced and educated, earning a bachelor’s degree in human resources, as well as his MBA, while working full time and raising a family.
“We all know that at the end there is going to be only one who is going to be mayor of the city of Toledo … by engaging in the ugly side of politics, not only do you hurt the people you wanted to serve, you bring discredit to the office that you wanted to hold and you bring discredit to yourself,” he said.
But don’t be fooled, Collins wants the job.
“I think I have the right vision. I am not going to make promises that are not realistic.”
He will, however, make one promise: “110 percent commitment to serving as the mayor of Toledo,” he said.
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Tags: Bell, Konop, Toledo mayor