I went to hear Mayor Mike Collins talk about blight at the East Toledo Family Center a week ago Wednesday.
But the mayor didn’t talk much about blight. He talked about policing.
He talked about movies, newspapers, and his theories about the future.
He talked about street repair — he apologized for not doing more for East Toledo.
He belittled Chinese investors in the Marina District.
He said he would have done more for East Toledo’s streets but he was hemmed in by the Bell administration’s game plan. That seemed lame and unworthy.
The mayor also struck a populist pose. He said the people of East Toledo had not been treated fairly through the years. And he said he shared their chip on the shoulder.
But what has that got to do with getting trash off the streets?
Here’s what a recent phone caller said to me: “Getting things done with the city bureaucracy is like trying to swim in quicksand. Why can’t the city just pick up the junk?”
What most disturbed me is what the mayor did say about blight. If I heard him correctly, he said it’s primarily up to neighborhoods, not the city.
That’s just wrong.
The city must take the lead on blight. The neighborhoods and homeowners must have buy-in, sure. But only the city can act when a home is abandoned and the grass is taller than Lurch.
Councilman Mike Craig was at the East Toledo meeting. He told me: “People expect the city to protect them, pave the streets, put out the fires, and clean up the messes.” All four.
If blight is not the responsibility of the city, why do we have a large and expensive municipal government? It’s like saying people should put out their own fires.
Yes, they should accept personal responsibility. They should have smoke detectors, for example. But if there is a fire, that’s not a neighbor’s problem, that’s a city government’s problem.
I’ll say this: Overall, the neighborhood groups have done a better job of acknowledging and addressing blight than the city administration has.
It is the city that needs to step up its game.
I like and admire Mayor Collins. But I am disappointed in his unwillingness to acknowledge that the city must do better blight abatement. I am disappointed in his unwillingness to work with Councilman Jack Ford and to acknowledge that others besides himself have good ideas on blight.
And I am disappointed in his failure to flesh out his Tidy Towns idea. It has not progressed much beyond campaign rhetoric.
This is what politicians do when they are playing for time. They campaign and play to the crowd.
This crowd loved it.
But another one of my callers said: “The mayor says he won’t run again if the city looks this bad in three more years. But if it does, no one would vote for him anyway.”
Mr. Craig told me: “We actually don’t need more concepts or plans, at this point. We need a series of small, concrete actions.”
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6266.