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Published: Wednesday, 1/6/2010

Taking council's reins

WHETHER Democrats and Republicans on the Toledo City Council can overcome partisan bickering and political infighting to work together, and with an independent new mayor, remains to be seen. But the unanimous election of their longest-serving, least-controversial, and most cooperative member as president indicates that council members are at least willing to try.

There is symbolic value in the election of Wilma Brown, an African-American and council's first woman president.

But neither her gender nor her race was as important to her fellow council members as her reputation for bipartisanship.

Considering the severity of the budget problems that confront the city, we had thought council might choose a colleague with a stronger background in fiscal management. Either George Sarantou or Rob Ludeman would have fit the bill and, as Republicans, their election to lead the Democrat-controlled body would have sent an appealing bipartisan message.

The question now about the new president: Can she expand her vision beyond her district to encompass the entire city? And can she keep the disparate personalities and interests of council members all moving in the same direction?

Mrs. Brown is well liked and has paid her dues. She has represented Council District 1 since 1998. Before that, she was on the board of the Toledo Public Schools from 1985 to 1997, serving as president and vice president. She is retired from the Maumee Valley Girl Scouts.

Assuming the council presidency may be the most difficult challenge Mrs. Brown has faced.

Difficult choices await at every turn. Toledo's already austere budget may have to be slashed by millions more dollars. Layoffs, tax and fee increases, and painful cuts in services may prove necessary.

At the same time, city officials must prepare the ground for sustainable growth in the future.

When hard times hit home, families pull together to weather the storm. So should communities. Toledo is enduring the most serious challenges it has seen in several generations. Mrs. Brown is going to need the support and encouragement of all Toledoans if she is to rise to meet these challenges.

Mayor Mike Bell offered an olive branch to council during his inaugural speech on Monday. Council members responded by electing their most bipartisan colleague as president.

That's the way it's supposed to work. That's the way it has to work.

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