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Published: Friday, 10/2/2009

Bell shows wellness, city promotion plans

BLADE POLITICS WRITER
Mike Bell says his proposals differ from Keith Wilkowski's plan. Later, Mr. Wilkowski questioned Mr. Bell's choice of advisers. Mike Bell says his proposals differ from Keith Wilkowski's plan. Later, Mr. Wilkowski questioned Mr. Bell's choice of advisers.
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Independent Toledo mayoral candidate Mike Bell rolled out more pieces of his campaign platform yesterday and said it sharply differentiates his campaign from that of endorsed Democrat Keith Wilkowski.

And for the first time since the primary election last month, the gloves came off in the mayoral race.

After spelling out his commitments for encouraging health and wellness and promoting cultural diversity and city attractions, Mr. Bell criticized Democrat Keith Wilkowski as "the ultimate insider politician" who will be resistant to change.

"He has surrounded himself with the same faces that have been in charge for years and led us to where we are today," Mr. Bell said.

Mr. Wilkowski shot back in a prepared statement, saying the label of "good-old-boys club" fits Mr. Bell's campaign better than his own.

"It is run by Tom Noe Republicans like Bob Reichert and disgraced Finkbeiner Democrats like John Irish," Mr. Wilkowski said in a prepared statement. "That's not what I call

'independence.'•"

Mr. Reichert is a former Lucas County Republican Party chairman and former party associate of Noe, who is serving an 18-year state prison term for stealing $11 million from the state's injured workers fund.

Mr. Irish is a former Lucas County Democratic chairman who was forced to step down after revelations that strippers participated in a 2007 party golf outing. Mr. Reichert was an early adviser to the Bell campaign, and Mr. Irish has become a more regular participant in Mr. Bell's effort.

"Mr. Bell has no plan for jobs and his only solution to the city budget crisis is to raise taxes on hard-working Toledoans," Mr. Wilkowski said.

Mr. Bell yesterday continued to clarify his stance on whether a tax increase would happen under his administration.

He said he was ruling out seeking a tax increase to balance the city's budget. But moments later he said he would be flexible if there were evidence of citizen support for a tax increase.

"I have heard the public loud and clear, they do not want a tax hike," Mr. Bell said. "They don't want even any type of fee increase."

But he added, "You can't do absolutes. You always have to have the flexibility to do what the public wants."

Mr. Bell has said that his intent is to make clear to city residents what the city's revenues are and what kind of services they can support.

Mr. Wilkowski flatly has ruled out support for an increase in the city's 2.25 percent income tax.

Mr. Bell also indicated he would not attempt to forcibly replace either Police Chief Mike Navarre or Fire Chief Mike Wolever. He said both are "civil-service protected."

Mr. Bell's new campaign promises yesterday also included working with park and recreation facilities to keep them operating during the budget crisis and setting up a so-called "Open Days" program that would help Toledoans reconnect with local venues the way tourists would.

"I do believe my plan is going to make city government more manageable," he said, of his seven-point platform that he said was devised after holding meetings with community leaders.

Also yesterday morning, Mr. Bell attended a forum on the proposed casino in Toledo that would be built if Issue 3 passes. He said afterward: "It is a very good economic development tool and from that standpoint, I support it."

Mr. Wilkowski did not attend the forum, and has not taken a definite position for or against the casino question.

- Tom Troy


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