With just days left in what appears will be a close race, the two men are trying to win voters wherever they can—including within the potentially pivotal Latino community. Both are independent candidates who have each secured the endorsement of one political party or the other—but this is the first mayor’s race to feature two finalists from neither the Republican nor Democratic party. Democratic candidates Anita López and Joe McNamara were eliminated in the September primary. The Republicans fielded no candidates.
Mayor Bell emphasized that there is a place for every group in economic development, stressing that city officials reach out to minority businesses through its public bids for construction and purchasing. He also spoke of partnerships between local and regional economic development agencies.
“We try to make sure all of our minority contractors and businesses are treated fairly,” he said. “With all our connections and trying to bring everybody together [we] try to be inclusive in terms of grabbing as many businesses in as possible and giving everybody an opportunity to do it.”
“One thing we’re not properly doing is policing our affirmative action and contract letting for MBE’s (minority business enterprises) and WBE’s (women-owned business enterprises),” countered Councilman Collins. “I believe the city can do a much better job on this. We’re not really putting forward the energies to be certain those are being followed through by contractors.”
Collins also spoke of the need to encourage more minorities to enter the skilled trades through apprenticeship programs offered at various trade schools in the community, which he called “second to none.” The mayoral candidate offered up a mentoring program to encourage more Latino and other minority businesses to pursue state contracts to further grow their businesses locally.
Collins stated he would place emphasis on trying to help small and medium-sized local businesses to grow instead of chasing global investment. He criticized what he perceives as inaction at the Marina District site and the former steam plant downtown, which has been promised as residential living for years by a local developer.
Mayor Bell defended his efforts to spur international development in Toledo-- particularly in partnership with México. The mayor stated he has met with the mayor of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. He also has reached out to the Consulate General of México headquartered in Detroit, noting that a new official has taken residence there.
Mayor Bell had dispatched Director of Neighborhoods Lourdes Santiago to establish relations with businesses in Pueblo, México.
Mayor Bell plans a trip to México next year if re-elected Nov. 5, not just to establish a Sister Cities relationship, but to forge an economic partnership “that makes sense for both sides.” Mayor Bell stated the diversity within his administration is providing opportunities to reach out globally.
“We’ve been doing our groundwork. We’ve been doing what we need to do,” he said. “When you’re talking international, nothing happens without a relationship. When people are coming long distances, they need to be able to trust the people they’re dealing with. We are reaching out. We are reaching out in an aggressive way.”
On immigration reform, Mayor Bell emphasized that “everyone is still trying to figure out what is the right way to do this and we’re working through it.” The mayor stressed patience and sensitivity for something that “is not a simple issue.”
“There is a problem. It’s just a matter of figuring out how we address it, to where everybody feels it’s appropriate,” he said. “What we need to do as a city is talk to individuals and find out what is the best path, because you even have individuals inside the Latino community that stand on two different sides of the issues.”
Mayor Bell emphasized that for the first time in the city’s history, both the police chief and fire chief are minorities—and that he speaks to them at least weekly to address any issues. He reported there has not “seen any spike” in the treatment of undocumented immigrants locally and that any such issues “can be addressed quickly.”
Councilman Collins called himself “the product of immigration,” noting his own Irish father was once deported. His father later earned his citizenship through his military service during World War II.
“The immigration policies of this country have never been consistent,” he said. “We have been very prejudicial. But the mayor of Toledo or any city cannot create national policy. From a local standpoint, I believe that the most we can do is work with our federal legislation. But a mayor needs to speak out.”
Collins did promise “prosecution to its fullest extent” as mayor if he did see civil rights violations occur within the community, calling the courts the most appropriate venue for “such atrocities.”
It was noted that other Ohio cities, such as Dayton, have taken a welcoming approach to immigrants as an economic development strategy.
“Cities are better, the more diverse they are. The stronger cities we have in the United States, when you look at what they look like, are pretty diverse,” agreed Mayor Bell. “They have a lot of people doing a lot of different things. We need to show, as a city, that we are open to issues of diversity inside our city. We need to be sensitive to issues involving law enforcement, issues involving doors being closed, not being open inside our city. We can make sure people are being treated fairly.”
While Councilman Collins agreed with the mayor’s assertions, he stated that he would publicly announce that churches and shelters “are welcome to provide shelter” to any immigrant who is targeted by federal law enforcement unfairly under current immigration policies. He stated a city should welcome all people of different ethnic, religious, and other backgrounds to ensure a diverse community and not allow the use “of the events of 2001” [9/11 terrorist attacks] to “commit atrocities”.
“We cannot take steps backward. I would be aggressive and go to the churches and say ‘provide shelter,’” he said.
Councilman Collins noted that he grew up in the Old South End, near the South Ave. and Broadway area where recent efforts to spruce up the community have occurred with wall murals. He stated his desire to create a notable neighborhood in that section of the city, similar to a Short North in Columbus or an Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati. Collins used that as a prelude to explain that he would divide the city into eight sections using the current police map.
His plan is to partner a “community resource officer” with a nuisance inspector and a code enforcement inspector to clean up and establish good relations with each section.
“We will put value-added into our system. We will partner with the neighborhood, not telling the neighborhood how it should be,” said Collins. “Let’s say to the neighborhoods ‘how do you want it and how can we create it for you?’”
Mayor Bell stated city leaders “are trying to work through” the limited amount of federal dollars to ensure the homeless and others receive services. He noted the city’s ongoing partnership with the Believe Center, which provides programming for Old South End kids, particularly from Latino families. The mayor also mentioned the diversity of his administration—and the ability of those individuals to inform him “when we’re missing the mark” on certain issues [referring to Linda Alvarado, Lourdes Santiago, Rosalinda Contreres-Harris,and Luis Santiago].
On education in general and Head Start in particular, the mayor stated that he was instrumental in bringing local leaders together to submit an application to take back the preschool program from a private provider. EOPA and Toledo Public Schools each submitted separate applications and lost a competitive bid process for the program.
“They tried to go alone. When they went alone, it failed,” he said. “Now we’ve brought everyone back to the table. Now’s the time to come to the table and we can direct that into those meetings.”
Councilman Collins lamented the loss of Libbey High School and its effect on Latino teens, calling it “sacrificed.” Collins, a Libbey grad, stated those teens are now forced “to go a long way” to other schools and fears a dramatic effect on the dropout rate.
“I stood tall and firm that it should not have happened,” he said. “Now we have deprived a very important part of our community of an academic facility. The mayor was silent and when you’re silent when something goes wrong, in my opinion, you’re complicit in the wrongdoing that’s occurring. That is a sad statement for me to make.”
Collins reiterated his plan for a mentorship program in elementary schools, having academically successful middle-school age students work with their younger peers. He wants to use federal neighborhood dollars to pay an incentive to those peer mentors.
Both candidates for mayor stated that they support passage of the upcoming TPS levy.
Mayor Bell called his administration the most diverse “in the history of the city of Toledo” by design, in order to cover “any blind spots” in the city. He also stated it gives him a “360 view” of any issues that may be occurring.
Councilman Collins stated he will have “an open and inclusive” process of making appointments to key Cabinet posts and boards/commissions if he is elected mayor, forcing candidates to go before Toledo City Council to answer questions.
More specifically, Collins was asked if he supported the appointment of a Latino to the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board of directors. Margarita De León currently serves in that post, but she is term limited and Mayor Bell has nominated local insurance agent Mark Urrutia to take her place. That nomination is being held up until after the November election.
“I support her reappointment, because I’ve seen no reasons why she should not continue in that office,” Collins responded. “To move her just because you’re going to move her makes no sense to me.”
The two candidates for mayor were asked how they would work to ensure that racial profiling does not occur to minorities, when such a practice appears to be on the increase since immigration reform efforts have not been implemented by the federal government.
Mayor Bell responded that racial profiling is not always reported by victims, so anecdotal evidence must be gathered through all channels, such as neighborhood Blockwatch efforts. He emphasized that combating it starts with the recognition that it does occur.
“One of the things I know the [police] chief is pushing very heavily is increased training on the issues of diversity inside our community,” said the mayor. “It’s an educational thing, but you have to be able to put it into practice. To do that, you also have to have people on the outside in the community who are not afraid to tell you what’s going on, so you can make the appropriate adjustments. It’s not a problem that we can’t fix, but we first have to be able to talk about it, understand the problem, and constantly monitor it.”
Councilman Collins cited a March report that was prepared as part of the Toledo Police Dept.’s accreditation and stated that racial profiling didn’t occur in the city.
He defended a statement attributed to him before the Sept. primary contending that “racial profiling doesn’t exist” in Toledo. Instead, Collins stated that as mayor, he would have a “zero tolerance” toward racial profiling.
“We are not going to tolerate it, period—it’s over with,” he said. “It’s done and a lesson will be learned. If you violate these laws, I will do the same thing I said I would do about immigration: you will be prosecuted.”
The two mayoral candidates answered questions from representatives of the Latino Media Forum for a special videotaped broadcast of Voces Latinas (Friday, Nov. 1 at 8:00PM and Sunday, Nov. 3 at 5:00PM) and Mundo Fox.
Tony and Maryori Rios of TRE, Inc. digitized the event on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013.
La Prensa editor Rico Neller served as a co-moderator with Roberto Torres, NOHCC executive director, who organized the event. Federico Martínez of Pulso Latino submitted questions as well. Other members of the forum include Linda Parra of Nuestra Gente Community Projects, Inc. [1230AM, airing Saturdays 1PM] and Jesse Weatherby of Mundo Fox.
Also interviewed were Bob Vásquez, who is running for re-election to the Toledo School Board, and Adam Martínez, who is running for re-election to Toledo City Council, “At-Large.”
The media event stressed to participants and viewers to vote in the general election November 5, 2013.
¡Su voto es su voz!
Editor’s Tip: When voting in the Toledo Mayoral Race, La Prensa suggests that you vote for Mike!