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Published: 10/15/2009

Wilkowski rebukes Bell, says he lacks own plans

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

Mayoral candidate Keith Wilkowski accused Mike Bell of failing to spell out his specific plans while Mr. Bell described Mr. Wilkowski as a candidate who is tied to "doing things the old way," in a one-hour televised debate last night.

The live forum on FOX Toledo, WUPW-TV, Channel 36, was at least the 10th time the two have appeared together since winning the primary election Sept. 15, and was one of the sharpest confrontations.

Mr. Wilkowski, the endorsed Democrat, chided Mr. Bell, a political independent, over his oft-stated intent to investigate problems, such as the continuing city budget deficits, before spelling out solutions.

"The people of Toledo are entitled to know what we think about these things and where we think we need to go, not simply, 'Hey I'll get in, I'll look at it, I'll figure it out, let's see what we can do, we'll all work together,'" Mr. Wilkowski said.

Mr. Bell reminded Mr. Wilkowski that city employee contracts, which account for a large portion of city's general fund budget, have been negotiated by the mayor and approved by City Council.

"You have to be open enough to be able to figure out what the problem is before you even start to attack the issue," Mr. Bell said, and he said Mr. Wilkowski appeared to have borrowed from his 25-page platform.

"Some of that stuff you've talked about, it's almost like you've read my plan," Mr. Bell said.

He said he would be willing to ask employees to take cuts in their compensation, but said he doesn't have enough information to know if that's necessary.

"How do you ask for concessions if you don't know what the number is," he said, referring to the city's revenue estimates for the budget.

In response, Mr. Wilkowski again accused him of keeping voters in the dark.

"It's always a moving number, but that is not an excuse for failing to have some specifics, for failing to have a plan," Mr. Wilkowski said.

The two touched on taxes several times, with Mr. Wilkowski again vowing not to ask for a tax increase.

Mr. Bell said he would "stay inside the perimeter" on taxes, but he used a discussion about repaving downtown and neighborhood streets to point out how crimped the city's style is likely to be.

"If we only have the money for 50 miles or 25 miles of road, if we're not going to increase taxes, if we're going to stay inside the perimeter, that's all we're going to be able to do," Mr. Bell said.

As mayor, he said he would make sure the worst and the most heavily traveled streets are maintained.

Mr. Wilkowski replied that the job of the mayor is to do "creative things that lower the cost of government," such as sharing costs with other jurisdictions and making better use of technology.

Mr. Bell said he did not agree with Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's intention to close the Route 66 tavern, 406 North Westwood Ave., that was the scene of a shootout last week.

He said the shootings were the fault of the shooters, not the owner of the bar, and "we can't afford to be closing things that actually create revenue and provide jobs for people."

Mr. Wilkowski said, "that bar is not an issue of jobs, that's an issue of safety."

He said he would act on the advice of his "police professionals," and said he would follow the process the city uses in deciding whether to ask the Ohio Division of Liquor Control to deny renewal of the bar's license.

On whether the former United Way building downtown should be demolished, Mr. Wilkowski said he would hold up the demolition until the building has gone through a process in the city's zoning law to find out whether it can be preserved.

"One thing anybody who goes downtown sees is that we have lots and lots of bare land and surface parking lots. A downtown consists in having a mass of buildings. That's sort of what it's all about," Mr. Wilkowski said.

Mr. Bell has said he would allow the owner to tear down the building if that's what he wants to do with it, and called Mr. Wilkowski's remarks an example of "how government slows things down."

And on Issue 3, the proposed constitutional amendment to allow four gambling casinos in Ohio, including one in Toledo, Mr. Bell reiterated that he supports the issue because out-of-work Toledoans need the jobs.

Mr. Wilkowski said, "I'm still listening to both sides," and said he was concerned about reports of an unidentified substance leaking from the proposed casino property on Miami Street into the Maumee River.

He said any city could have a casino simply by passing a law, but that Toledo should focus on using its work force and strategic location to promote advanced manufacturing, construction, and passenger and freight rail transportation.

They clashed on who better deserved the label "change agent."

Mr. Bell described Mr. Wilkowski as "probably more connected to doing things the old way than I am."

Mr. Wilkowski told him, "Mike, I just disagree that you are a candidate of any change. For 25-plus years, you have been part of a system that has developed over time. But what the future needs is someone with ideas and the willingness to do things differently."

That brought a strenuous defense from Mr. Bell of his record as fire chief and state fire marshal.

"I have never sat back and just let things stay the same way they are," he said.

The forum, held in the University of Toledo's Driscoll Alumni Center, was co-sponsored by SSOE engineering firm, UT, FOX Toledo, the Toledo Free Press, and Glass City Jungle, a Toledo-centered blog.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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