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Published: Wednesday, 9/9/2009

Toledo mayoral contest heats up as attacks fly

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

The gentlemanly tone of Toledo's race for mayor gave way to hard-nosed politics last night in a live televised debate with Mike Bell fending off attacks from Democrats Keith Wilkowski and Ben Konop over his support from Republicans.

Mr. Konop criticized Mr. Bell, a registered Democrat running as an independent, over the number of Republican contributors to his campaign war chest and tried to get Mr. Bell to name three Republican Party policies which he agrees with.

Mr. Bell defended his independent stance, saying that he is seeking to get people of all political persuasions to work together.

Mr. Wilkowski then took Mr. Bell to task for a remark he made on a local public affairs program that, "Republicans create jobs and Democrats work in them," and demanding to know, "Do you really believe that old stereotype?"

And when Mr. Bell likened Toledo's situation to that of the Titanic, Mr. Wilkowski - a former Lucas County Democratic Party chairman - fired back, "Mike you've got the Democrats rowing the boat and the Republicans owning it."

The heated exchange took place at the new Bowsher High School auditorium in South Toledo at a mayoral debate carried by WTVG-TV Channel 13 and co-sponsored by the Press Club of Toledo and other media outlets.

Mr. Konop tagged Mr. Bell repeatedly as having too much confidence in "vague" plans to sit down and talk with sometimes warring constituencies in and around the city.

When Mr. Bell said he would promote a partnership to raise the quality of education in Toledo, Mr. Konop said, "At some point you have to take bolder action, not just getting people together in a room."

Toledo Public Schools' achievement of only six out of 24 state goals this year suggests the need to "explore a different form of operation of Toledo Public Schools," Mr. Konop said.

"The real challenge is giving a voice to those who need it, working people, minorities, and others who feel left out. I have that record as a commissioner, unlike Mr. Bell's talk with his service and 'Kumbaya,' " Mr. Konop said.

Mr. Bell replied that tough tactics between independent bodies such as the city of Toledo and the Toledo Board of Education won't solve Toledo's problems.

"When you're dealing with contracts and with people that you have exactly zero authority over, unless you can figure out a way to find middle ground with those individuals, they don't have to do anything," Mr. Bell said. "We can sing and hold hands, I don't care, as long as the tide raises all the ships in the harbor."

Mr. Bell, a former city fire chief, tried to fire back, at least to Mr. Konop.

He challenged Mr. Konop to pledge that, if elected, he would serve his full term as mayor and not run for Congress, a reference to Mr. Konop's promise in 2006 that he would serve his full four years as county commissioner if elected to that post.

Mr. Konop didn't answer but gave the explanation he has given several times, that he believed Toledo's economic problems are of such historic proportions and that he was the only candidate with the ideas to tackle them.

Mr. Bell even had to explain to WTVG questioner Lee Conklin why he doesn't wear a helmet when he rides his motorcycle as a way of modeling safety.

"Regardless of whether I'm running for mayor I still have freedom of choice for what I do. I'm an adult and I try to do as much as I can, but I'm a free spirit too," he said. "But one thing I've always been willing to do is put my life on the line for this city, and that's what I'll continue to do."

The WTVG debate followed an earlier debate last night at the Main Library's McMaster Center televised by WUPW-TV Channel 36. The five major candidates for mayor - Mr. Bell, Mr. Wilkowski, Mr. Konop, independent D. Michael Collins, and Republican Jim Moody - participated in both forums.

The first televised debate of the primary season was held on Aug. 24 by WTOL-TV, Channel 11 and was co-sponsored by The Blade.

Voters will choose the two top finalists Tuesday to go on to the general election Nov. 3.

At the WUPW debate, it was mostly Mr. Collins and Mr. Moody who went after one another, with Mr. Collins being the aggressor.

Mr. Collins, a sitting city councilman, ripped Mr. Moody as "clueless" for promising that, if elected, he'd try to reduce Toledo's 2.25 percent income tax within 100 days.

"Mr. Moody, when I said you were clueless, you just proved it beyond a reasonable doubt," Mr. Collins said, questioning how Mr. Moody could eliminate a portion of the city's major tax revenue and still come up with $160 million for the police and fire budgets. "Clueless, believe me, I believe you're clueless."

In response, Mr. Moody alluded to the current mayor of Toledo.

"Let me be respectful and calm when I respond, because I think that's what a mayor should be," Mr. Moody said. "Belittling people is not what we want as mayor. We're getting through with four years of that."

Mr. Collins was asked later whether he had a temper problem.

"I believe in protecting people's rights. I will not stand by and be silent when rights are being violated, and, yes, I will be vocal when I see things happen that aren't right," Mr. Collins said.

Mr. Collins also tried to land a glove on Mr. Wilkowski. After Mr. Wilkowski boasted of having brought the cities of Maumee and Toledo together in 1990 to create a joint economic development zone, Mr. Collins said the two sides settled only because a Lucas County judge forced them to do so.

Mr. Wilkowski didn't deny that there was a legal battle but claimed it ended with Toledo getting $1 million in tax-sharing from the former Monclova Township land, and that the outcome proved his ability to work out arrangements that benefit entities regionally.

Mr. Collins also claimed to be the only "true independent" in the race because he has never registered with a political party.

"Some may profess to be independent, but nothing could be farther from the truth," he said. "I will have no party bosses, I will have no party politics," he said later.

Mr. Wilkowski tried to stick mostly to the message on which his campaign is centered, that Toledo needs a plan for economic development and he's the only candidate experienced in that department. He also claimed the temperament to be mayor.

"I am that well-adjusted middle child, with an older sister, a younger brother. I'm the peacekeeper," he said.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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