Eleven of the 12 candidates for at-large Toledo City Council seats exchanged ideas with the audience and even occasional insults with one another during a forum last night.
The forum, held at the University of Toledo's Nitschke Auditorium and sponsored by the League of Woman Voters of Toledo-Lucas County and Greater Toledo Urban League Young Professionals, drew a small audience. About 40 people, many sporting stickers or T-shirts proclaiming their candidate allegiances, attended the two-hour event. Councilman Betty Shultz was absent.
The candidates fielded questions on a wide range of issues, including the role of council, minority business, poverty, the proposed sports arena, regional economic development, domestic violence, casinos, unions, downtown, brain drain, and partisan politics.
Those who took the question of how to prevent brain drain agreed it's a problem that mostly comes down to jobs.
George Sarantou said local leaders, including those in education and business, should get together to form solutions. Karen Shanahan noted the area loses some well-educated people but gains others. The area, she said, needs to do a better job creating good jobs for the young and the old. And Phil Copeland said Toledo needs to market itself more effectively and offer young people more opportunities.
The question of whether Toledo should consider having a casino if state laws changed sparked some passions amongst the four selected to answer it, with Bob McCloskey saying he'd love to see the jobs a casino would bring in downtown Toledo, but not local folks losing their money.
Mr. Sarantou proposed "controlled gambling" only in the Marina district.
"I'm tired of seeing people go up to Detroit and Canada," he added.
Karyn McConnell Hancock came down flatly against the proposal, calling gambling "a social ill we can't afford." Ernest Berry said even if state law changed, casinos in Toledo would fail.
On the proposed sports arena and where it should be, some of the candidates said the question needs to go to the voters, and the city may want to reconsider whether it should bear the financial burden of building it. "Let's put it on the ballot," said Terry Shankland. "The city doesn't have enough money to build it."
Dave Schulz said revitalizing downtown should take priority. Mr. Copeland said an arena should be on the east side.
Asked for their visions of what downtown should be, Bob Vasquez said it should be a place people want to go to, with a Marina district and the Docks. Ms. Shanahan favored the addition of a large retail store, such as The Andersons.
In speaking of how the city could better encourage small business development in the city, Mr. Shankland, himself a small business owner, had some blunt advice: "Get off our backs and out of our pockets. ... Be nice to the little guy."
Mr. Shankland ruffled feathers with his blunt references to the rift between Democrats on council, speaking of "the real Democratic party" and www.lucascountydemocrats.org, a political action committee to which several council members belong. During her open-round response time, Ms. Shanahan pointedly read a list of Democrats in the committee and criticized those who made sarcastic remarks regarding the group. Meanwhile, Frank Szollosi, the target of a couple of Mr. Shankland's remarks, remained calm and smiling.
Mr. Berry was one of the few candidates to speak of the role technology could play in keeping council in touch with constituents when he promised to keep his Web site up and running if elected.
Mark Sobczak spoke of the need for economic development when asked about smart growth and regional development.
"Regionalism is the way to go," he said. "But we have to remember, it's Toledo first. It's very important that we jealously guard what we have here in Toledo."
In the open round and in closing statements, the candidates focused on their pet projects, although some elected to simply thank their supporters.
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