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In nearly the past century of Toledo political history, no sitting mayor who has sought a new term has been denied renomination in a primary election. It seems a safe — although by no means certain — bet that in Tuesday’s city primary, voters will make incumbent Mike Bell one of the two mayoral candidates in the November general election.
So the most important question that voters in the nonpartisan primary likely will decide is which of the mayor’s six challengers will also advance to the general election ballot. The Blade strongly recommends the nomination of City Councilman JOE McNAMARA.
Mr. McNamara brings a wealth of experience in municipal government, deep knowledge of urban policy issues, and a progressive outlook to the mayor’s race. All would enable the West Toledoan to run the mayor’s office confidently and competently from his first day.
At age 36, Mr. McNamara has been around long enough to make a valuable difference in city government. But he also is young enough to have the capacity to help improve this community and region for decades to come.
During his seven years as an at-large council member, representing the entire city, Mr. McNamara has sponsored an impressive array of major legislation and other policies. They include giving preference to local businesses for city contracts, using the resources of city government to promote alternative energy, expanding the legal rights of gay and lesbian Toledoans, fighting human trafficking, helping to keep city taxes and fees affordable for elderly households, and making it easier for citizens to find out what their government is doing.
A former council president, Mr. McNamara has the respect of council members of both parties. He has developed particular expertise in city fiscal issues; that knowledge helped resolve a budget crisis in 2010, Mayor Bell’s first year in office.
Mr. McNamara is running as a labor-friendly Democrat. But this year, he challenged his party’s most powerful interest group when he resisted the effort of local unions to muscle City Council members into supporting their candidate to fill a council vacancy. Mr. McNamara lost that skirmish, yet he set an example of political independence that Toledo voters would do well to reward.
More broadly, Mr. McNamara’s campaign places proper emphasis on ethics and transparency in local government. A lawyer, he seeks to break the iron link locally between campaign contributions and political preference. He offers detailed and sensible proposals for economic development, job creation, public safety, and neighborhood revitalization.
Again this year, Mayor Bell is running without a party label. Among the mayor’s other challengers in this week’s primary, Mr. McNamara’s strongest opposition comes from Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez. Ms. Lopez brings to the contest both needed diversity and a compelling personal history.
She overcame poverty as a child in the Old South End to graduate from the University of Toledo law school and serve in the administration of former mayor Jack Ford, on the Toledo school board, and as county recorder as well as auditor. She says the adversity she has confronted makes her more sympathetic than other mayoral candidates to the aspirations of struggling Toledoans.
If Ms. Lopez’s other qualifications matched her inspiring narrative and focused ambition, she would be a formidable candidate. But it isn’t apparent that her tenure in an obscure county row office has prepared her adequately for the much broader challenges of running a big city such as Toledo.
The knowledge Ms. Lopez expresses of current Toledo government and of urban issues in general is thin. That includes such basic matters as the number of city police officers and fundamental details of the municipal budget.
Ms. Lopez’s attacks on Mayor Bell’s efforts to attract foreign investment to Toledo have carried an unseemly whiff of nativism. And while she has criticized the mayor’s increases in water and sewer rates to pay for needed improvements to the city’s infrastructure, she has been much less clear about what she would have done differently.
Ms. Lopez, a Democrat, has the financial and organizational support of most local unions, both public- and private-sector. City taxpayers might fairly wonder how assertively she would represent them as mayor when their interests inevitably conflicted with those of the municipal unions that seek to put her in office.
City Councilman D. Michael Collins, who is running for mayor as an independent, has carved out a useful role as city-government gadfly during his six years on the council. He has raised pertinent questions about Bell administration policies on such matters as funding of homeless shelters, the city’s dumping of sludge near Lake Erie, and the official purchases of two luxury sport-utility vehicles.
But Mr. Collins’ capacity for inspirational leadership — a prerequisite for the mayor’s office — does not match Mr. McNamara’s; his demeanor is dry and professorial (he formerly taught at UT). His support by city police and fire unions — Mr. Collins is a former president of the police officers’ union —appears to respond to his backing of their agenda even when it was not always in the best interest of taxpayers.
Among the other mayoral candidates, Alan Cox — the president of a Toledo municipal union — and Libertarian Michael Konwinski — a former longtime city employee — have inside knowledge of how city government works, or doesn’t, and good ideas about how to fix it. Mr. Cox has specialized knowledge of the city’s neighborhood development programs, Mr. Konwinski of the city water and sewer system and personnel policies. Perennial candidate Opal Covey is also on the ballot.
Toledo voters deserve a clear choice this November between two experienced and well-qualified candidates for mayor. The Blade believes that JOE McNAMARA is best equipped to give Mayor Bell the principled challenge that he — and this city — need.