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Published: Saturday, 9/12/2009

Last Toledo mayoral candidate debate held

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
Opal Covey, center, has the floor as Democrat Ben Konop, left, and Independent D. Michael Collins listen during Friday's debate, the last scheduled before Tuesday's primary election, which will reduce the number of Toledo mayoral candidates to two. Opal Covey, center, has the floor as Democrat Ben Konop, left, and Independent D. Michael Collins listen during Friday's debate, the last scheduled before Tuesday's primary election, which will reduce the number of Toledo mayoral candidates to two.
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The ballot proposal to eliminate at-large City Council seats and reduce the size of council got zero support from the six mayoral candidates in an early morning debate Friday sponsored by the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The forum, to be aired on WGTE-TV, Channel 30, was the last major forum before Tuesday's primary contest in which the two top finishers will move on to the Nov. 3 election. It was also the first forum to which minor candidate Opal Covey was invited.

The Issue 2 proposal, if approved, would eliminate three of the six at-large council positions and replace them with "super-district" councilmen, to be added to the remaining six district council seats.

The candidates were usually eager to speak on any question that was asked by moderator Jack Lessenberry, ombudsman for The Blade. But when asked if any supported the ballot question none raised a hand, and only one offered a comment.

Republican Jim Moody, who was previously undecided, said the proposal was not well-researched and would open the door to corruption because the nine remaining councilmen would be underpaid if they are doing the jobs formerly done by 12 councilmen at the same pay. Councilmen are paid $27,500 annually.

On Issue 1, the candidates split 4-2. The issue would allow the mayor and city council to move $3.9 million raised under the city income tax from the capital improvements fund to pay for operations. Supporters say the transfer is needed to avoid a huge city deficit, while opponents contend it will undermine the fund needed to maintain city streets.

Independents Mike Bell, D. Michael Collins, and Opal Covey, and Democrat Keith Wilkowski said they supported Issue 1, while Democrat Ben Konop and Mr. Moody said they would oppose the proposal.

In response to a question about their ideas for getting the city's economy growing again, Mr. Wilkowski said he is experienced and has a plan to focus on the city's core strengths of manufacturing and transportation.

Mr. Moody said that as a businessman he would bring practical business experience to solve the city's problems. "I want to make sure I am an advocate for the entrepreneurial spirit and to protect the entrepreneurial spirit, and that spirit is under attack from City Council," he said.

Mr. Konop said he would stand up for the people and not the powerful.

He reminded listeners of the city's high rates of unemployment, foreclosure, and personal bankruptcy, and said he would invest in the city's people as the key to making the area more attractive to new businesses.

Ms. Covey said she had been waiting for the moment when all six candidates would debate together. "We are now in an economically destitute position from which only miracles from God can redeem us," she said.

"After God told me I was going to be mayor, he gave me a vision of the amusement park," she said, adding the detail of proposing a water park in the former Edison Steam Plant and a "big animated dinosaur" at Southwyck.

She also had a message for the departing mayor, Carty Finkbeiner: "It's election time again and you the voter can change Toledo. I'm saying goodbye to Pharaoh and hello to the new free government."

Mr. Collins emphasized his political independence, having never registered with a political party, and said he would seek new partnerships on behalf of the city.

He brought up the University of Toledo's "Meta Plan" for reinvigorating the existing economic development entities as "one of the key components to the future of our region."

Mr. Bell reminded listeners of his community record, including as city fire chief, asking, "If we ran into a disaster today, who would you trust with your life, your destiny, your kids, your future?"

On whether city taxes should be raised, Mr. Moody said the income tax penalizes successful individuals and should be phased out.

Mr. Wilkowski said raising taxes would be a burden on middle-class families and stop the city from learning to do things differently.

Mr. Konop claimed he and Mr. Collins were the only candidates with a record of voting against tax hikes. He said he was distressed at Mr. Bell's "openness to raising taxes."

Mr. Bell said he never said he was going to raise taxes, but was keeping his options open until after he had seen what the needs are and what the people want.

Mr. Collins said he would oppose further attempts to raise the trash fee. "Collect the money that's owed first," he said, a reference to $24 million in uncollected taxes.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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