Council candidates include incumbents, activistsWritten by Staff Reports | | firstname.lastname@example.org
What makes Joe Celusta a good candidate for City Council is his compassion, the businessman said in a recent interview.
“It’s a matter of walking 10 miles in each person’s shoes,” he said. “I think my workability with Council and my memory and history makes me pretty good. I am not an experienced politician. I’m an experienced businessman.”
The first-time candidate calls himself a “jack of all trades and a master of none”; however, he was a business owner for several years and just recently was senior manager of a $1.5 billion company, TrueNorth Energy.
“Money and budgets I’m well versed in,” he said.
Celusta, 49, wants to be a City Council member “because we need a change,” he said. When Celusta’s employer wanted to build its headquarters in Toledo, the city didn’t just drop the ball — it never picked it up, he said. No one from the city responded to phone calls and the city lost a huge opportunity when TrueNorth built in Brecksville, Ohio, instead, he said.
“This is my hometown and nobody’s taking care of it,” he said. “They (City Council) take care of basic necessities but they’re not out working with citizens. They’re not keeping their ear to the ground.”
As a City Council member, Celusta said he would work on fixing Toledo’s many dilapidated homes by involving Habitat for Humanity. There are many that need to be razed, but he said many are repairable. City Council should pay attention to Tampa, Fla., he said, where they have dealt successfully with deteriorated neighborhoods.
Celusta will also work toward creating a master plan for Toledo’s utilities, something that is sadly lacking, he said. Right now, he believes water bills are at least 30 percent too high and nobody has a plan for how to reduce them.
“My bill for water is as expensive as gas and electric,” Celusta said. “There’s no direction whatsoever in the water department. There’s no transparency.”
If he wins, Celusta said he will work with companies to make sure they reinvest in schools, much like those in Maumee and Perrysburg.
“We need to put more money into schools,” he said.
Celusta is the fifth generation of his family in Toledo. His great-grandfather sat on City Council and his grandfather was Ollie Czelusta, Toledo mayor in the 1950s. His father was a district attorney and assistant law director for the city and his mother taught ESL for Toledo Public Schools (TPS).
Celusta talked about some of the things that made Toledo great, like The Toledo Plan. He said the city was once ranked 13th among the top wealthiest cities and is now ranked 165th among the poorest. “How do you go from richest to poorest?” he said. He promised to work to make the city great again.
“I want to use the (same) tools to build a new foundation. I want to bring Toledo to its golden age,” he said. “We don’t have reciprocity any more. We’ve lost all our ethics and I want to bring that back to Toledo.
“It’s about bringing Toledo back to Toledo and I think that Council is just paying the bills right now. And it’s time for Council to get active.” O
— Danielle Stanton
A new name on the ballot this year is not unfamiliar to the people of Toledo. William Delaney ran his own business for 28 years and now that he’s retired, he wants to turn his efforts to the city.
“I don’t want to be a politician; I’m a businessman,” Delaney said. “There’s a lot of problems we have here and I’d like to have a chance to put my two cents in and try to straighten things up.”
He has attended City Council meetings for more than a decade, and said he is running as an independent candidate. He said because of this, he is not beholden to the unions or political parties and he will not vote based on those groups’ beliefs.
“People know me in this town, know that I fight for their rights,” he said. “I’m honest, I can be trusted. I dig into things. … I have time now to look hard at some situations in town and go to places that sometimes politicians don’t go to.”
Delaney said the people of Toledo have been forgotten, and he wants to make a difference for them.
“I want to work with the attitude and appearance of this community,” he said. “We need to get people friendly again.”
He suggested putting people in underprivileged parts of the city to work cleaning, painting and restoring their neighborhoods. He said that would improve Toledo’s image and give people work at the same time.
Another issue he feels needs addressed is small business fees.
“I have an issue with fees in this town,” he said. “We are being feed to death as small businesses. They’re unnecessary.”
Delaney said small businesses in Toledo pay an annual fire inspection fee that businesses in other Ohio cities do not pay.
“[The Bell administration] keeps saying they want to do this one-stop shop and I haven’t seen it,” he said. “People want to get things done and are stymied by fees. It’s just a money grab by the city.”
Money is Delaney’s biggest reason for running. He said he wants to find out where the taxpayers’ money is going and he wants to tell the public. The current government is not transparent enough for him.
“It’s being wasted,” he said. “Our money has been thrown away. We’ve spent $79.2 million on companies that don’t exist, have never gotten started or have just left town and left us holding the bag. … It’s surprising how much money has been spent in this community. We need to spend it on the people.”
— Holly Tuey
Independent Theresa Gabriel has nearly 50 years of experience in city government. She said her experience will make her a good voice for seniors.
“Seniors need a voice and deserve a voice on Toledo City Council and I want to be that voice,” Gabriel said in a recent telephone interview. “That doesn’t mean I won’t serve all other voices, but that is my passion.”
A longtime Republican, Gabriel, 76, began in city government in 1963 and has worked for eight mayors. She served as assistant chief of staff, director of human resources and director of parks and recreation. She was commissioner of Street, Bridges & Harbor and clerk for Toledo Municipal Court. She retired in 2005 but returned when Carty Finkbeiner was re-elected mayor that same year.
She said she is not content to just sit behind a desk and give directives. She credits her hard work ethic for her success in city government.
“I started as a clerk, making barely $200 a month, so I was moving on up the ladder,” she said. “I didn’t just walk through the door and become a commissioner; I had to work for it.
“I love working. I enjoy working with people. That’s just my nature. I’m a people person. I’m a hard taskmaster. I’m not just a person to sit behind a desk and tell you what to do.”
Gabriel is running on a platform of public safety, rebuilding infrastructure and revitalizing neighborhoods.
Seniors deserve to have safe neighborhoods and should not be afraid to leave their homes at night, she said. Part of that is making sure young people have jobs and are gainfully occupied.
A good Council member needs to care about dilapidated houses in the entire city, not just in their district, she said.
“I detest when people compare Toledo to Detroit. I detest that,” she said. “Detroit is a metropolis and Toledo is a middle-class city. The idea is to make sure that Toledo never becomes a Detroit.”
Gabriel also has more than 20 years’ experience as a business owner. She ran the Peacock Café in UpTown for 22 years before turning it over to her son in 2007. She was the first female president of AFSCME Local 2058 and has more than 30 years’ experience with organized labor. She is also a volunteer for the NAACP.
“It seems to me society has changed,” Gabriel said. “It’s all about the almighty dollar. You should be compensated enough to pay your bills and maintain your property but someone has got to help those that can’t. I don’t believe in negative politics,” she said. “I believe I can offer some recommendations and some ideas that would be different than what I’m hearing or reading in the media.”
Gabriel said she originally planned to run for mayor but her 97-year-old mother influenced her to run for City Council.
“Mother said, ‘You should run for City Council and help senior citizens. And I thought about it and said, ‘You’re right.’ Since I have this knowledge and experience, I said, ‘Mom, that’s what I’ll do.’”
— Danielle Stanton
South Toledoan Adam Martinez hopes to retain his at-large Council seat. A native Toledoan and graduate of Lourdes College, Martinez said he became politically involved as a child and has been committed to public service since.
Martinez said he is proud of what he has accomplished during his time on Council.
“I was an advocate for small businesses, bringing lending when no financial institution would,” Martinez said. “Above all, I was able to work with my fellow colleagues to get things done, and I want to continue to serve.”
One platform issue Martinez is paying close attention to is neighborhood redevelopment. As the owner of a rental property in Toledo, Martinez said he sees firsthand the necessity of reinvesting money into struggling neighborhoods.
“People need to have a livable place to live, and I always try to practice what I preach. We need to encourage more people to do that,” Martinez said.
He said he plans to focus on what he calls “legacy neighborhoods,” areas that are historically important to the city but are now struggling with blight.
“It’s essential to revitalize neighborhoods,” Martinez said. “My first four years [on Council] were focused on economic development issues, and over the past few months I started working on big-picture neighborhood issues.”
Martinez said the key to turning neighborhoods around are what he calls DINKs, or those in households with a double income and no kids. He said that by incentivizing reinvestment in legacy neighborhoods and corridors across the city, Toledo can attract DINKs and turn neighborhoods around.
Martinez said he was happy with his showing in the primary, and felt confident about his chances before making an announcement last week that he was supporting Mayor Mike Bell in the mayoral race.
“I’d like to believe I will keep my seat, but it depends on voter turnout,” Martinez said. “Since endorsing Bell, I’ve seen an uptick across party lines.”
And while Martinez would like to win on a personal level, he said it isn’t about his own victory.
“I really enjoy public service and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I don’t do this for the money. But it’s up to the voters to decide if they want to renew my contract,” Martinez said.
— Bailey G. Dick
The candidate with the biggest office on their resume is former Mayor Jack Ford. Ford served as Toledo’s mayor from 2002-06, and was a member of the Ohio House of Representatives for seven years. Ford has also held a seat on the Toledo Public Schools Board of Education.
After a strong showing in the September primary, Ford is hoping to have a similarly successful result in this week’s election.
He said he believes voters are attracted to his years of experience in government.
“I have experience working at different levels of government, and I’m going to use that experience to make informed decisions while I am on Council, in relation to policy decisions and budget,” Ford said.
Many politicians with dozens of years of experience might consider throwing in the towel. But not Ford. He decided to run again after seeing prevailing issues facing Toledo.
“I saw the deterioration of housing in the older neighborhoods, and no one else was talking about it. I decided to make blight a big issue in my campaign, and in a way, it has become one of the big issues in this election,” Ford said.
In addition to fighting blight, Ford said there are other things he is focusing on as well.
“Financial management of taxpayer funds is always a big issue. Cutting red tape is a big issue for business people who want to start or to continue to grow a business inside Toledo. And we don’t have coordinated efforts on youth programs and crime reduction,” Ford said.
And while Ford said his experience will play to his advantage, he was quick to point out that fresh ideas are needed in government as well.
“I’ve had the broadest experience of anyone running, and experience counts. Some of the decisions made in the future need someone with history to base their decisions on. My experience will help with that, but you need a mix of experience and new people with new ideas,” Ford said.
— Bailey G. Dick
Sean Nestor is an Information Technologies professional and Green Party candidate. Nestor made it past the primary in September and said he has been campaigning at a grassroots level during the past several months.
“I’ve been doing a lot of human billboarding at busy intersections, canvassing in certain neighborhoods, and chiefly doing word-of-mouth,” Nestor said.
Nestor said despite placing 12th in the primary, he is proud of his showing.
“You can always be better, but I was happy to be the first Green Council candidate to get past the primary,” he said. “One of my goals was to help build resources for the party, and I was endorsed by the Police Patrolman’s Association and the Toledo Firefighters Local 92.”
Nestor said endorsements and support, despite not being a member of a major party, gave him a boost of confidence.
“It was great news to receive, and some of the biggest motivators to keep going. They knew that we were not fringe candidates screaming weird messages, but that we were running a serious campaign with serious issues,” Nestor said.
Some of those issues include taking care of streets, sewers, water treatment facilities and water resources.
“Businesses don’t want to come to a town with potholes, sinkholes and boil advisories,” Nestor said.
Nestor said he would be a “watchdog on the budget,” who would fight to know details of emergency funding bills before voting on them.
Keeping with his Green Party roots, Nestor said he hoped to promote community gardens in the city, following the example of the urban agriculture happening in Cleveland.
“It would give people something to do to prevent blight,” Nestor said. “A lot of groups are engaging in this, but we could create a zoning designation, and make sure those places have protection by the city.”
Nestor said he is most proud of his fundraising efforts during his campaign. He said he has refused to accept money from PACs or special interest groups, and will only take money from individuals. He said he has raised about $13,000 so far.
Nestor said he knows it’s tough for a candidate to jump from 12th place to sixth in the election, but he will use what he has learned from the race in the future.
“I plan to persist with my ideas, keep an eye on Council, and call them on issues when they mess up,” Nestor said. “I have built a good relationship with the candidates already, and that will persist after the election.”
— Bailey G. Dick
A lifelong Toledoan and small business lawyer, James Nowak said he is in touch with average citizens. Nowak is a Point Place resident who is a neighborhood business association president and is involved with economic development on Lagrange Street.
Nowak said he decided to run after seeing Toledo’s loss of population, as well as loss of businesses.
“If we don’t do something, they’ll turn off the lights because all the jobs and people are in the suburbs,” Nowak said. “We need to make it easier for people to do business in the city. City workers need to be a friend to help, not fine people. A lot of people say the city doesn’t care about them, so they move.”
Nowak said his knowledge of small businesses will help change the city’s economic future, and that he hopes to hold government accountable for providing essential services.
“One of my pledges is to make sure government is accountable to everybody. We need to fix roads and potholes, and we need to provide good police protection,” Nowak said.
He said an incident in his Point Place neighborhood spurred his interest in running for Council. One night this summer, Nowak said, graffiti popped up in the neighborhood overnight and residents became concerned about a lack of police presence. Nowak said the idea of hiring a private security company to patrol city streets seemed absurd to him.
Nowak said everyday concerns like his are driving businesses and residents out of the city.
“I’ve run my own little business and I’ve lived in the city all my life. I understand what average people and small businesses need and want,” he said. “People are just trying to live and make a living in a city that is really great. And people who come in from out of town are really impressed with the city. We just need to improve our own self-image.”
— Bailey G. Dick
Steve Steel, a native of Oregon, is one of the four incumbents running for re-election to Toledo City Council.
Steel, a Democrat, has served on City Council since 2009, appointed to replace Mark Sobczak in July 2009 and retaining his seat in the general election later that year.
Before joining Toledo City Council, Steel, who holds a master’s degree in education and a Ph.D in American culture studies from Bowling Green State University, was elected to the board of education for TPS in 2005, serving as board president from 2006-09.
As chair of the Youth, Parks, Recreation, Community Relations and Education Committee, Steel has made city beautification a top priority during his four years as councilman at-large.
“We looked at new or improving existing recreational opportunities in the city parks in order to provide things that people in Toledo want to do. Specifically, we worked to revitalize youth programs in the city,” Steel said.
Steel has also been influential in implementing Toledo’s Complete Streets program, a new method for planning the city’s infrastructure improvements that not only takes into account automobile traffic but also pedestrian, bicycle and mass transit needs.
“Perhaps the biggest thing I’ve been working on for a long time, and it’s finally getting under way, is Toledo Business Express,” Steel said.
Modeled after NYC Business Express, Toledo Business Express will provide a user-friendly online portal for business owners to quickly and easily look up things like city ordinances, how to get or renew a permit or how to pay a fee.
“If you’re a business owner thinking of moving your operation to Toledo or if you want to, say, open a coffee shop Downtown, this will tell you what you have to do. You don’t have to come Downtown or come to Government Center. You can do this from your desk.”
Toledo is currently competing for a $100,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Development to implement the plan.
During the past four years, particularly early in his tenure when the city’s financial hardship was greatest, Steel said he worked with fellow Councilmen George Sarantou and Tom Waniewski to “go line by line” to trim the city’s budget.
“We squeezed about $2 million to make it as tight as possible,” he said.
Steel also wrote legislation that altered a renewal for the Council members’ desktop computers to get them laptops instead.
“A city government goes through an unbelievable amount of paper. We’re now able to take our computers with us into meetings, and we don’t have to print off things like agendas. It makes us much more efficient and cost-effective.”
Steel also voted to put all city records online so citizens can look up forms, ordinances and past Council meeting minutes from home without using paper.
Looking ahead, Steel said he wants to address what he calls the “baseline issues” affecting Toledo, such as job growth, quality city services and public safety. In Steel’s view, the best way to accomplish this is to “make Toledo an eminently livable city” by making it walkable and bike-friendly.
“Where we compete with other cities is with our assets that make people want to live here, like the symphony, the museum, the zoo, the waterfront, our sports and our low cost of living. These are major selling points for our city,” he said. Specifically, Steel believes the city should focus on making Toledo a place where young professionals and “creatives” want to live.
One way the city has started doing this is by working with The Arts Commission to get artists involved via financial incentives in Toledo’s infrastructure improvements, such as artist-designed bike racks and the Toledo Poetry Sidewalks project.
“Why does every sidewalk or crosswalk have to look the same? Why can’t we make them interesting and unique? This will make our city more interesting, unique and ultimately more attractive,” Steel said.
— Kevin Moore
Decades spent in politics and working to benefit the community have led Larry Sykes to Toledo City Council, where he, like many others, is hoping to make a difference.
Sykes is a retired vice president of community affairs for Fifth Third Bank, but that is only part of his story. He has served on the TPS Board of Education for the past 14 years, and said he worked on campaigns for former Toledo Mayor Jack Ford and Rep. Marcy Kaptur.
“I’m the best qualified to run,” Sykes said. “My life has been dedicated to public service. … I have a plan to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Toledo. Everything I’ve done has been in that direction — to improve quality of life for the citizens.”
Sykes said his experience and knowledge will lend themselves to his goal to serve the public. Although he is leaving the school board, he has made contacts there he believes will help him should he move on to City Council.
If elected, Sykes said he wants to work on creating jobs for Toledoans of all ages. He said he will reach out to local, regional and national companies to bring opportunities to the Glass City. For small businesses, he has plans for cutting tax rates.
“For businesses with less than 50 people, we could look at cutting taxes in half for the first two years and then reassessing after that,” he said. “That gives them the opportunity to hire more people.”
He said he also wants to focus on opportunities for young people in their teens and early 20s. He said he would look into what the job market is calling for and then direct the city’s youth in those directions.
Sykes said as a member of City Council, he would seek an increase in police and fire staffing, to be paid for by reallocating funds already in the city. He said he does not plan to raise taxes.
“I’d like to focus the city’s resources on the scourge that is domestic violence,” he said.
Sykes said his plan to raise money for the city is to increase the tax base by focusing on economic development. Helping people find work and purchase homes is all part of that plan.
Sykes said he has the time to talk to residents and has a hands-on approach to serving the people of Toledo.
— Holly Tuey
EDITOR’S NOTE: Council candidate Shaun Enright did not participate in interviews with Toledo Free Press.
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