Velasquez’s idea, and he meant it


At the first Toledo community forum, co-sponsored last week by the Toledo Community Coalition and The Blade, Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Toledo-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee, laid out a challenge.

His proposal, put forth with Mayor Mike Bell sitting in the front row and with the caveat that Mr. Velasquez was not singling out any particular candidate, was this: The mayor should cut his salary and those of all his senior staff in half. (The double dippers would get half of just one salary.) That money — several hundred thousand dollars — would begin funding an anti-gang initiative. What would this initiative be? Two things, together: Teacher-coach mentoring and jobs counseling and placement. One-to-one help.

This was was received with a standing ovation but perhaps understood as a mostly rhetorical challenge. But why? Mr. Velasquez meant it. He does not understand paralysis by analysis. His attitude is that when we are faced with a problem, we organize.

What if we regarded his proposal as a deadly serious one? What if Mike Collins pledged to adopt the idea and challenged Mr. Bell to do the same?

Suppose the two candidates made a series of joint appearances in Toledo’s black chur-ches the remaining Sundays of the campaign, during which they’d discuss racism, poverty, homelessness, and gangs. And specific things they would do about each problem. They don't have to be grand plans. But some kind of plan, or at least approach, for each problem.

Such a commitment on the part of both candidates would show these two conservatives care about the inner city (I think they already do, but many people doubt that either Mike really knows what's going on with the poor). And it would lock both men into an ongoing commitment to these issues as mayor.

Why not specific mayoral commitments on gangs? Check out Tattoos On The Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, by Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who works with gangs in their home territory in Los Angeles. The book will touch you. It could also be a model for action. Boyle's formula is not rocket science: Intense personal involvement. (Like coach mentors.) Tutoring. Job training and placement assistance. And there is a spiritual element. Nobody is made to pray. But what you learn about Rev. Boyle's approach to gangs is that some sort of holy spirit manifests itself in the particular necessities of practical love.

There is no reason we cannot take up Mr. Velasquez's challenge. There is no reason we can’t house the homeless or give young men of the inner city work and other forms of community support. We need to stop dithering and act. Start small. Put some points on the board.

Robert Kennedy said: “Some men see things as they are and ask, why? I dream things that never were and ask, why not?"

Why not take up Mr. Velasquez's proposal?

Why not?

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: or 419-724-6266.