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Vásquez and Steel: Political shuffle thrusts two activists into key roles


By Alan Abrams, La Prensa Senior Correspondent


July 14, 2009: Although it has only been slightly more than a week since longtime Toledo Latino community activists Bob Vásquez and Dr. Steve Steel were suddenly thrust into new jobs, their election campaign signs have already started flowering.


 Newly appointed president of the Toledo Public School board Bob Vásquez has neither publicly nor formally announced his candidacy for a full term, but there is no question that he is off and running for the post.

Bob Vásquez

For Vásquez, it is not a question of if, but when. As Vásquez clearly told this reporter, “I intend to run again for this seat, and I will make a public announcement soon.”


By doing so, Vásquez will be keeping the commitment he gave Robert Torres, whom Vásquez replaced on the TPS board when Torres resigned in March  2008 to accept a position as Director of the Office of Development for the City of Canton, Ohio.  


“Robert did not want to see a bench-warmer appointed to take his seat on the board. He wanted someone who would run again to retain the seat,” recalls Vásquez.


However, Vásquez wasn’t the only familiar name in the community to play a round of political musical chairs during that hectic week.


Dr. Steve Steel, who began his service on the TPS board in February 2006 with Torres, resigned as TPS president to accept appointment to a vacancy on the Toledo City Council. Steel’s resignation made it possible for Vásquez to succeed him in the TPS board presidency.


Steel is married to Latina educator Catherine Hernández; they have an 8-year-old daughter, Ruthie Steel Hernández. Steel formerly served as communications director for Baldemar Velásquez and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC).


The local spike in the need for new business cards was triggered by the resignation of Toledo City Council president Mark Sobczak.  On the same day that Joe McNamara was elected as the council’s new president, Steel was chosen by a 7 to 3 vote to fill the vacancy on council, serving as one of the at-large members. Steel is an adjunct associate professor in the honors program at Bowling Green State University. Like Vásquez, he will also face the voters in November 2009 to retain his seat.


Vásquez is a member of la familia Alvarado, one of Toledo’s first Latino families, which includes educators David Alvarado and Richard Cervantes. Alvarado is his uncle and Cervantes is his cousin. 


Vásquez is Director of Special Projects for The Twelve Inc., a social service agency for families. “I only wish my father were still alive to see this. He would have been really proud to see me become president of the school board. As I have often said before, my father was my hero,” says Vásquez.


Primo J. Vásquez, who was one of the first Latinos in Ohio hired by the U.S. Postal Service, died February 16, 2009, at the age of 87. “It was quite a blow,” says his son, adding, “My older brother Lou, a longtime Toledo Police Department officer, has stepped in to try to fill the void.” Vásquez has two other brothers, Mike and Brian, who are also Toledo Police officers.


Bob and his wife Kathy, who is Associate Vice President for Governmental Relations at the University of Toledo, have been married 28 years. They have two sons, Stephen, 27, a Development Officer with United Way of Greater Toledo, and David, 25, a supervisor at BAX Global at Toledo Airport.


Bob Vásquez says he was well prepared for the change on the board. “We knew that Steve Steel’s term was up and that he was campaigning for council. The challenge is that it happened so fast.  We are mandated to fill the vacant seat on the board within 30 days by an appointment or at our next regular meeting. We have invited applications. We will have a smooth transition, and we’ll have a strong and full board in place by the time school resumes,” promises Vásquez.

Dr. Steve Steel


The timing of the change arrives at a crucial point in the TPS board’s history – right on the heels of key decisions on their building program and dealing with issues of lower funding because of lower enrollment.


“We need to find a way to retain students. We need to come up with innovative programs and not wait for the state to do so,” says Vásquez.


However, Vásquez is particularly proud of one of his accomplishments during his tenure: the program that, beginning with 2009 high school graduates, extends financial aid to needy TPS students with a 3.0 grade point average and provides full tuition for four years of college through the University of Toledo Guarantee program or the Success Program at Owens Community College.


Meanwhile, across town at Government Center, newly minted Councilman Steel also has some thoughts to share with La Prensa readers.


“I think as an at-large councilman. I have a vision for the entire city, not only its districts. We are dealing with policies that impact residents citywide. Clearly, the budget is now under control, as is the police contract. But before we can deal with our other priorities, we need to have our fiscal house in order. That is issue number one,” explains Steel.


“Issue number two affects any neighborhood in Toledo, the employment picture in Toledo. The budget went south because the city income tax went south when employment went south.


“There are many emerging technologies that are looking at coming to Toledo. We need to make certain that if and when they come here, they will provide real employment opportunities so that people in Toledo will get jobs. We need to learn from the lesson of Silicon Valley where when the jobs came, the locals didn’t benefit from hiring,” says Steel.


He says he is especially interested in focusing upon “small to medium size businesses with eight to 40 employees that will grow and expand, hiring more workers over time as their success increases. We need to look at their business plans and do what we can to help them. We are in a good market position.”


As an example, Steel points to “the old Sofo processing plant on Belmont which has found new life under the operation of Martínez Food Products LLC. The company, which Steel says is only four years old, makes pickles and sauces for Meijer, Kroger, and other house brands. 


“After attending the car show on Cherry Street, I learned about another new Toledo business, the only one in the region doing cutting, welding and detail for these cars,” says Steel.


But Steel’s goals for Toledo’s economic rebirth are not just limited to economic development.  He is a major booster of the need for alternative energy sources.


During his tenure on the school board, Steel won kudos and acclaim for his successful efforts to streamline the curriculum. He knows the importance of collaboration, a concept he would like to apply to regional growth.


 Above all, Steel likes to see results. “Don’t tell me why we can’t do things,” says Steel, “just figure out how to get it done.”






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