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Published: Tuesday, 1/5/2010

Mayor Bell's challenges

ADM. William F. Halsey, Jr., one of the heroes of World War II, once said that there aren't any great men, just ordinary men who rise to meet great challenges. Mayor Mike Bell could do much worse than to make Admiral Halsey's observation the guiding principle of his new administration.

While Toledo faces great challenges, a mayor who is able to rise to meet those challenges has the opportunity to forge for this city and this region a future brighter than any in recent memory.

Toledo's fiscal crisis demands immediate attention. Even though the city trimmed millions of dollars from the budget in 2009, millions more were carried over into the new year in the form of an illegal deficit. Worse, former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's 2010 budget proposal is projected to be $40 million or more in the red, depending on whose dismal revenue figures you believe.

In his inaugural remarks yesterday, Mayor Bell struck the right notes, focusing on transparency, accountability, and collaboration. The difficult part will be turning campaign rhetoric into administrative procedure.

Mayor Bell has shown that he is willing to consult people from outside the city and said yesterday he looks forward to working with officials of neighboring communities. The depth of Toledo's and northwest Ohio's economic problems provides opportunities for a mayor who has the vision to see Toledo as a partner as well as a leader in a revived regional economy.

That will mean encouraging economic cooperation between Toledo and surrounding communities, something that already has begun to take shape in the form of the area's growing alternative-energy industry and discussions about Toledo's future as an intermodal transportation hub.

Although jobs and economic development are critical to the city's recovery, Mayor Bell has to avoid the temptation to give Penn National Gaming a blank check as Toledo's casino project takes shape. Gambling is not a panacea for Toledo's ills.

At best gambling can be one piece of a larger puzzle, but only if careful planning maximizes its economic benefit to the community. If Toledo is to have a casino, it must be a model of good citizenship.

Beyond the economy, there will be much to attract Mayor Bell's urgent attention.

A rising murder rate has put public safety at the forefront of every Toledo resident's mind over the last 12 months. Responding to that in the current economic climate may mean a more efficiently deployed police force rather than a bigger one, and better communication to reassure residents and visitors that Toledo remains a safe place to live, work, and play.

Toledo's neighborhoods also are crying out for help with everything from flooding and snow removal to abandoned homes and rejuvenated Block Watch programs.

The construction of schools and renovation of iconic older structures have gone a long way toward renewing pride in city neighborhoods and Toledo Public Schools. As mayor, Mr. Bell can be an advocate for education in general and Toledo schools in particular.

Race and gender relations endure as issues as the face of the city continues to evolve. Mayor Bell needs to make sure his administration resembles that face, while tapping the brightest and most creative minds to address the city's most stubborn problems.

Toledo has a huge reservoir of untapped potential. This city is home to a highly educated and skilled work force, major educational facilities from public and charter schools to the University of Toledo, and scenic riverfronts and lakefronts largely open to development.

Its downtown, anchored by successful arts, sports, entertainment, education, and dining venues, has enough open space to be reshaped as opportunities emerge.

Mayor Bell's job is to see the big picture, to provide direction and set standards, to hire people who share his vision, and to work cooperatively toward shared regional goals.

The payoff for Toledo will be a downtown that may not look like the downtown of our fathers and grandfathers, with Fortune 500 companies and big department stores, but teems with the shops, stores, and entertainment centers of a diversified economy.

That's a long to-do list for the new mayor. But halfway measures no longer will suffice.

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