Can she possibly feel prepared at such a tender age for the challenges of helping to run a city the size of Toledo?
“I feel prepared,” she responds unhesitatingly. “But it’s important to remember that I’m not just by myself. I have an obligation to follow the desires of the constituents in my district. I represent a population and I have the obligations to follow their wishes.”
And then, quite appropriately, Balderas goes to the heart of the issue about public service and the questionable matter of age. “On the one hand, people are always complaining that young people are not involved in the political process, now when we do get involved, we hear that we may be too young.”
Balderas, who was endorsed for the council seat by, first, the Lucas County Hispanic/Latino Democratic Caucus, then the Lucas County Democratic Party, won the right to occupy the position held since 1993 by Councilman Bob McCloskey. McCloskey resigned from the District 3 seat in order to assume the at-large seat he won in last November’s general election.
Balderas captured eight of 10 council votes on January 17—only McCloskey, who was indicted by a Lucas County grand jury last week on felony charges of allegedly trying to coerce two companies to contribute $100,000 for a retirees’ prescription drug fund in exchange for his support on an East Toledo rezoning issue, and Republican Joe Birmingham cast votes against her. Councilman Michael Ashford was not present for the vote.
But along with her duties as a council member, Balderas has also taken on those of a candidate. She must win in a May 2nd District 3 special election in order to retain the seat.
Although she is a recent college graduate, Balderas is no stranger to service in the public sector. She worked during her high school days with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) and until her appointment to Council, she worked as an administrative assistant at VIVA South, the south Toledo community development corporation (CDC).
What is at the top of Balderas’s agenda for her district?
“Safety,” she replies. “There have been a lot of break-ins in that area and there has been a lot of uneasiness [about safety]. We need to make sure we have sufficient patrolling and that we keep a handle on things such as graffiti.” Balderas, at the time of this interview, had a meeting scheduled with the new police chief, Jack Smith, to discuss issues such as patrols.
Housing, she says is also in a prominent position on her list, particularly as housing affects efforts to revitalize neighborhoods. “Fixing just one home can have a domino effect on a neighborhood,” she says as she expounds on the necessity of working with CDC’s to obtain support for neighborhood revitalization.
Balderas is asked about her approach to the loss of jobs in this area, particularly the loss of knowledge-based jobs over the last seven years and the resulting impact on the movement to greener pastures by young people of her age.
“There are solutions to the brain-drain whether jobs are available or not,” she tells us. “There is a mind set among students in our universities here that ‘I need to go to Chicago, to Columbus, to Cleveland.’ We are losing young adults who are entering the work force. Whether they are individuals or mothers and fathers of young children, they are asking themselves ‘is this the city I want to live in?’
“We have to service every part of their lives, not just the jobs, we need to focus on all aspects of peoples’ lives—and it needs to be remembered that the job is not the only factor that young adults are considering when they decide whether or not to stay.
“I’m becoming more and more proud of Toledo as I become even more involved with the town—this is a great city and we have to get the word out about all the things there are to do here.”
In response to a question about the low percentage of homeownership in the central city and what can be done to improve the numbers, Balderas notes that many programs to increase homeownership are already in existence. “We need to educate people on the financial programs available. At VIVA, I learned of many programs that provide financial assistance, for example.”
Balderas has accepted an assignment on council as chairman of the Health and Community Relations Committee and will be focusing much of her time on activities in the city that promote and improve the health of residents. She mentioned the mayor’s proposed walking tours as the type of events that promote healthy living by example. To date, however, she has not become acquainted with the previous mayor’s CareNet program, a partnership between the City of Toledo, Mercy Health Partners, and ProMedica that provides insurance to those—approximately 7,000 Lucas County residents—who have traditionally been under and uninsured.
In summing up the chief challenges that face the city as a whole, Balderas ticks off—jobs, marketing Toledo, and safety.
And what does the future hold for Balderas herself either in or out of public life?
A master’s degree focusing on community leadership is a short-term goal that she will begin work on during the next academic year. And while Balderas professes to not have an eye on any higher elective office in the years to come, she does say that she will always want to be involved in public service.
“I have not necessarily always wanted to be in politics but I have wanted to impact my community and the political arena allows you to do that.”