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Mayoral hopefuls promise safe, diverse neighborhoods

By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa

Five candidates for Toledo mayor told the public what they would do to make the city’s neighborhoods safer, vibrant, and more diverse during a forum Wednesday evening, Aug. 22, 2013 at the University of Toledo College of Law auditorium.

The Fair Housing Center sponsored the third of four mayoral debates to be held before the Sept. 10 primary, dubbing the event Neighborhoods of Opportunity. Five of the seven candidates on the ballot participated, including Mayor Mike Bell, Lucas County Auditor Anita López, Toledo City Council members Joe McNamara and Mike Collins, and city supervisor Alan Cox.

Anita López

Housing discrimination and how to improve the quality of life in city neighborhoods were the main themes of the debate. But the common campaign issues of poverty, crime, and jobs took center stage in those discussions of what to do about blight and creating diverse “neighborhoods of choice.”

“This is an asset that we must treasure and protect,” said McNamara. “However, we have seen crippling poverty and a huge foreclosure crisis. These rising rates of poverty have taken a toll on our neighborhoods and on our citizens. But we can do better.”

McNamara proposed the appointment of a “housing czar” with the goals of increasing homeownership rates, preserve existing housing stock, promote racial and ethnic diversity of its neighborhoods, and provide equal access to housing.

“Housing discrimination is not just an incident. It is a reflection of our community,” said Ms. López. “It is each and every one of us willing to say it will not be tolerated and I will not accept it. We must have a plan that creates employment, a government that is responsive and business-friendly, so that individuals of all backgrounds are able to improve their income.”

The candidates each were given one minute to answer a series of five questions that covered neighborhood-related issues. One question addressed how to appropriately respond to poor housing that was causing health problems.

Mayor Bell pointed out the city must “tactfully” regulate housing issues and not make it too expensive or cumbersome for landlords to comply. McNamara took issue with what he called the mayor’s “regulation when appropriate” strategy. He stated the city should do a better job of enforcing laws already on the books and focus on removing lead paint from homes that are sickening children.

Collins criticized the mayor for “corruption” in the city’s department of neighborhoods and encouraged that a look at “best practices,” particularly in Jackson, Michigan, as “a model worth looking at” to address health issues such as lead paint. Ms. López proposed the use of “Toledo neighborhood teams” to work on housing issues in specific, assigned territories of the city.

Another question focused on the collapse of city services in Detroit, which went broke and bankrupt and how each mayoral candidate would prevent that from happening in Toledo as well.

Mike Collins

“We need to stop making excuses and hope the revenue comes in,” said Ms. López, who touted her record in streamlining staff and services to save money as county auditor.

“We are not Detroit,” countered Collins. “Detroit occurred because of political leadership that was corrupt. We do not have a corrupt government in this city. So we have not that issue.” He then proposed a “Tidy Toledo” initiative similar to one he saw in Ireland, which focuses on a positive attitude in each neighborhood.

Mr. Cox proposed using federal dollars in a better way, not as grants that don’t need to be paid back. But he also contended the city should reduce unnecessary staffing levels.

“You have to build a core, but you have to do it in a patient way,” said Mayor Bell, who pointed out his administration eliminated a $48 million deficit.

Toledo’s gang problem and the number of police officers on the force also became an issue during a couple of the questions that were asked.

Collins called the gang problem “a very complex set of circumstances” that could be solved through a return to neighborhood policing. He cited the city’s status as having the lowest per capita rate of police officers in the nation.

“If we don’t have feet on the street, those streets aren’t safe,” he said.

“We have to recognize that gang activity starts as the result of no opportunities for employment, poverty, no education, and saturated areas of crime,” said Ms. López. “With high crime and high unemployment, we’re just creating more generations of gangs.”

McNamara proposed that the city “should fund and fix” its existing gang initiative known as the Toledo Community Initiative to Reduce Violence (T-CIRV). He stated that better marketing would allow the effort to be known by citizens and the hiring of “community organizers-violence interrupters” would “help to bring the community together to say enough of the violence.”

Joe McNamara

“We are doing the things necessary,” countered Mayor Bell, who stated the program “is being received so well” that New Orleans officials are copying the program. He also spoke of “data-driven policing” and a 17 percent reduction in crime during his term.

The mayor received heavy criticism for alluding back to “working within the parameters” of a public that “clearly” told him they did not want their taxes raised. He constantly cited limited funds when answering questions on some of the city’s problems.

“We do not have the money, but that does not excuse raising the bar and the performance of how we serve citizens and how we set a vision for how we serve our children,” said Ms. López. “Together we will stamp out discrimination and crime and raise the city to a higher level that no one has seen.”

One final question addressed how the mayor would work in concert with Toledo Public Schools to help neighborhood children.

Mr. McNamara stated that “the mayor must be a strong advocate for schools” and use “the bully pulpit” to lobby the state for proper funding for urban school districts. He also threw his public support behind the TPS levy that will appear on the November ballot.

“The future of our city and the future of TPS are intertwined,” he said.

Mayor Bell echoed his support for the TPS levy and touted the district’s developing partnerships with community groups such as the Boys and Girls Clubs and Aspire, a group of community leaders in education and social services that is working on an agenda to help kids pre-K through college in a “cradle to career” continuum.

Cox also pointed out that the mayor must also work with charter schools, private schools, and Washington Local Schools as part of Toledo’s educational system.

Alan Cox

“The kids just need to have people who care about them,” he said. “For those parents we can help—step in, be part of their kids’ lives, we need to promote that. If the parents won’t step up, we need to be the parents for those kids, because that’s how those kids are going to progress.”

Mr. Collins touted a youth mentoring program using HUD funding to pay older, successful kids that he called “academic stars” to reach out to younger kids identified as academically struggling.

Ms. López proposed working with existing partners to address poverty, gang activity, and blight—neighborhood issues that affect children as they go to school.

Mayor Mike Bell


Copyright © 1989 to 2013 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 09/03/13 20:28:11 -0700.




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