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Published: Wednesday, 9/11/2013 - Updated: 2 years ago


Voters send a message

Mayor Bell managed to finish first, but his mediocre showing suggests voters are looking for a new direction

TOLEDO City Councilman D. Michael Collins won a surprise spot on November’s mayoral ballot, showing again that the experts and chattering class don’t always get it right. But the biggest surprise of the night lay beneath the headlines.

Bell Bell

Incumbent Mayor Mike Bell, in a closely contested primary among the top four candidates, managed to garner only 27 percent of the vote. That was good enough for a first-place finish, but it also means that nearly three out of four voters were looking for anyone but Mr. Bell.

Collins Collins
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The mayor looked triumphant Tuesday night, but he should be worried. Voters appear to be unhappy with the direction of their city and uninspired by the mayor’s leadership. In the general campaign, Mr. Bell will have to do a much better job of laying out his agenda for Toledo’s future, and of running a vigorous, personal, on-the-ground campaign.

Trumpeting past accomplishments and promising voters his first term has been about “patching holes,” but the next four years will be about “increasing quality of life,” won’t cut it. Mr. Bell must articulate where he wants to take the city and how he plans to get it there. And he must do it against a competent challenger with a clear and specific agenda.

A former police officer and union president, Mr. Collins will make a formidable foe. He spent less money than any of the other leading candidates. While short on charisma, he debates well and knows what he’s talking about.

An independent, Mr. Collins can compete with Mr. Bell, another independent, for independent and even Republican voters. Moreover, he has a far better shot of winning labor’s support than does the mayor, who has bumped heads with unions several times.

During the primary campaign, Mr. Collins had the support of the Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association and the Toledo firefighters’ rank-and-file union. Democrat Anita Lopez, the Lucas County auditor who finished third and had the backing of most of the city’s unions, threw her support to Mr. Collins.

Democrat Joe Mc-Namara, who finished fourth, ran a commendable campaign and deserves credit for raising issues of poverty and inequality in Toledo. Those are issues Mr. Bell and Mr. Collins must now address.

Voters, too, must become more engaged. Toledo is their city. A primary turnout of 15 percent is deplorable and inexcusable, especially given the ample opportunity people had to vote early and by absentee ballot.

Ms. Lopez was a favorite to finish first or second, but campaign missteps and misstatements hurt her. Her failure to get past the primary shows that engaged voters are paying attention to the candidates and to the issues.

At a critical time in Toledo’s history, it’s now up to Mayor Bell and Mr. Collins to give city voters something to get excited about.

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