Mayor Candidate Profile: Joe McNamaraWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
While a group of supporters and onlookers tightened their coats and stamped their feet against the cold, Toledo City Council President Joe McNamara appeared unaffected by a recent 30-degree morning in North Toledo, despite wearing just a suit and tie.
“We’re here today as a nod to Toledo’s past, to present a vision of Toledo’s future,” McNamara said Feb. 12, standing outside Fire Station 3 on Bush Street to officially announce his mayoral campaign.
“Toledo will keep me warm,” McNamara later joked to a reporter who asked if he was cold.
McNamara, an at-large councilman elected in 2006, chose the spot near the historic Vistula district because of his efforts to fix and reopen the station.
Echoing the famous words of Martin Luther King Jr., McNamara said he was “moved by the fierce urgency of now” to declare his candidacy.
“Some of my political associates have cautioned me that I should just run for another four-year term on Council or to run for something else and then run for mayor when covered, but I can neither sit back for another four years and watch Toledo continue to decline nor take some other position just to stay in elected office,” McNamara said.
Calling City Council “a dream job,” McNamara said he is proud of his record there, but feels he could do even more to help the city he loves from the mayor’s seat.
McNamara, who is also an attorney and practices law Downtown, said Toledo’s next mayor needs to be driven by a bone-deep passion for the Glass City.
“For this person, being mayor of Toledo is not a job, it’s not a paycheck, it’s not a path to PERS (Public Employees Retirement System), it’s not a stepping stone to higher office, it’s not something one does because they are retired from another career,” McNamara said. “Being mayor of Toledo during these difficult economic times is a calling, it’s a need, it’s a passion. It’s a burning desire to help this community and build the best future possible. I’m here today to tell you I feel this passion in my heart and in my bones.”McNamara didn’t mince words about Toledo’s struggles, but also never wrote it off as hopeless.
“We have to be honest. We are losing this city,” McNamara said. “We lose this city with every kid who fails to graduate from high school. We lose this city with every kid who does graduate high school and moves away from Toledo. We’re losing this city with each home foreclosure and with every job that moves to the suburbs and every shooting that happens in our neighborhoods.
“Toledo deserves better. Toledo deserves safe, clean neighborhoods. Toledo deserves a strong public school system. Toledo deserves to have economic opportunities where anyone who is willing to work hard can raise a family and provide a better life for their children.
“But to have this future, we need to invest in ourselves now. We need to get the next election right. To breathe new life into the city, we need to breathe new life into the 22nd floor of [One] Government Center.”
McNamara, a Democrat, will face Mayor Mike Bell, a political independent in office since 2010. Alan Cox, a union president and neighborhood development specialist, and minister Opal Covey have also announced plans to run. Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez has said she is considering, but has not officially declared.
A major focus of McNamara’s administration would be creating jobs for Toledo residents, in part through economic development incentives.
“Studies on economic development repeatedly point to a self-evident fact: When people are gainfully employed, the entire community benefits,” McNamara said.
The more people working, the more money the city will collect in taxes, he said. Income tax collections were at their highest in 2007, totaling about $169 million. A year later — as the economy soured — collections dropped by nearly 10 percent, only to continue sinking by almost another 10 percent in 2009 before rising again in 2010. In 2011, the most recent available report, the city collected about $153 million.
Creating economic opportunities would be McNamara’s main “weapon” for fighting poverty, blight and crime.
“Toledo is facing many serious challenges and no matter how you look at it, the root of those problems is poverty,” McNamara said. “Poverty is growing in Toledo and this is unacceptable because the median income of our population affects everything.”
Economic development is the area where Bell has been the weakest, McNamara said.
“The City of Toledo’s economic development decisions have to be smart. We have to do better,” McNamara said. “We have to stop shooting from the hip and focus our sights on creating good-paying jobs for those who live in the city limits.”
McNamara said “the jury is still out” on the sale of the Marina District to Chinese investors, which Bell helped orchestrate.
“We hope they do something with it, but what jobs have been created?” McNamara said. “Selling city assets to foreign investors is not the same thing as promoting investment, as creating jobs, and that has to be the focus.”
Organized labor has to play a role in reaching that goal, McNamara said.
“The blaming of organized labor for our economic woes by some local and state politicians is wrong, counterproductive and politically motivated,” McNamara said. “It has to stop.”
Public safety is another area Toledo needs to improve, McNamara said, noting there are fewer patrol officers on the streets today than in 2009.
“We need to continue to hire police classes, not just to keep up with retirements, but to get back to our authorized strength,” McNamara said. “While new crimefighting technologies and strategies are promising, nothing compares to having a robust police force that can build community relationships and proactively address crime.”
The city also needs to balance removing blight without compromising the essence of its historic neighborhoods, he said.
“One of Toledo’s most amazing strengths is the diversity and uniqueness of its neighborhoods, but one of Toledo’s greatest challenges is the stability in the future of its housing stock,” McNamara said. “We have to be vigilant in removing blight but wary of the tear-down mentality that threatens the very building blocks of our historic neighborhoods.”
McNamara said he is passionate about upholding his late father’s legacy of service to Toledo.
McNamara was 6 when Dan McNamara, a former city councilman and Lucas County auditor, was killed in a freak traffic accident in 1983 where another car’s tire came through the windshield of his own.
Although his father was a Republican, McNamara has said their core beliefs are the same.
“When I read [his 1978 campaign manual] for the first time, I felt a very strong connection to my dad and what he believes,” McNamara told Toledo Free Press last year. “The desire to serve the public to the best of your ability is universal and is apolitical.”
McNamara’s mother, Jill Kelly, a former director of the Lucas County Board of Elections and former assistant Lucas County prosecutor, and his wife, Valerie Moffitt, who works for a community development corporation, are also inspirations, he said.
“Giving back to the community is a way of life in my family and we treat it like a calling,” McNamara said.
Bell said he welcomed McNamara as a challenger.
“I do commend him for stepping up and committing to the race because these races are not easy,” Bell said.
However, the mayor took issue with several of McNamara’s assertions, including that his administration has been lax on public safety.
“Crime rate has been reduced by 18 percent in the last year and we’re on track to hire more police and firefighters than have been hired by anyone in the strong mayor form of government, so I think we’re committed to safety,” Bell said.
Counting the 30 firefighters and 50 police officers proposed in his 2013 budget, Bell will have hired 172 firefighters and 165 police officers since 2010, according to numbers provided by his office. That’s compared to 10 firefighters and 32 police officers hired by Mayor Jack Ford from 2002-2005 and 15 firefighters and 30 police officers hired by Mayor Carty Finkbeiner from 2006-09. Finkbeiner also hired 75 firefighters and 126 police officers during his first term from 1994 to 1997 and 69 firefighters and 93 police officers during his second term from 1998 to 2001.
Bell also disagreed with McNamara’s statement that he is disconnected from Toledoans.
“I think anybody who has ever seen me out anywhere would disagree with that,” Bell said. “As my staff commonly says, it commonly takes me 10 to 20 minutes to get out of a room. So I don’t believe I’m disconnected.”
Bell cited the Jeep plant expansion and Hickory Farms moving from Maumee to Downtown Toledo as examples of economic development that have taken place while he has been in office.
“I think that’s a good movement of people and money into Toledo, not to mention a lot of smaller businesses that have moved into the Downtown Toledo area,” Bell said. “So I think we’ve done a good job.”
Bell also noted that real estate prices on houses have increased 15 percent in the past year and revenue is up nearly $20 million since 2010.
Comparing himself to McNamara, Bell told a Blade reporter Feb. 12, “I have more spinal cord than he has.”
Asked to expound by Toledo Free Press, the mayor said he was referring to the common understanding of the term backbone.
“Tenacity. The ability to make a decision and stick with it,” Bell said. “I’m not trying to be insulting, but I believe he would be more wishy-washy. Easier to influence. And [he’d] probably take us back where we just came from.
“We have worked very hard the last few years, not only locally but nationally and worldwide,” Bell said. “For many people that has been a very uncomfortable experience. Many people would like to leave things how they were in 2010, with an unbalanced budget in the red and no idea how we were going to fix it. What I had to do was create some major changes in the system to make sure our budget was in balance. I don’t believe he has the ability to stand firm enough on decisions like that to be able to protect the City of Toledo.
“I just look forward to the election period,” Bell said. “It’s going to be fun.”
Largest campaign loan
According to end-of-year campaign finance reports filed in Lucas County on Jan. 31, McNamara leads Bell in fundraising efforts.
McNamara reported $57,258 in contributions during the last six months of 2012, for a balance of $69,524. Bell reported contributions totaling $11,340 during the last six months of 2012, ending the year with $46,701 in his campaign account.
However, McNamara also continues to carry the largest outstanding loan by far, with $112,902 in personal loans to Friends of Joe McNamara reported, dating from 2006. That’s compared to no outstanding campaign loans for Bell.
Potential mayoral candidate Lopez raised $27,745 in the last six months of 2012, ending the year with a $47,209 balance. Her report lists an outstanding loan of $7,600, dating from 2004.
North Toledo resident Chuck Sorensen attended the Feb. 12 announcement and said he appreciated McNamara’s fight to save the local fire station and supports his bid for mayor.
“I’m excited at the prospect,” Sorensen said. “There has definitely been an increase in poverty and I’m concerned about the level of crime. I like his focus on economic benefit for the city.”
For more information, visit www.joefortoledo.com.