Mike Bell told the East Toledo Club yesterday that some people need a "reality check" about what the city can afford to spend money on, and Keith Wilkowski told the same group that's not leadership, that's pessimism.
In their latest joint appearance, the two mayoral candidates clashed over the role of the cash-poor city in economic and community development in front of about two dozen people at the Navy Bistro restaurant at The Docks.
Mr. Bell, an independent and former city fire chief, and Mr. Wilkowski, the endorsed Democrat and a lawyer, are vying for the mayor's job in the Nov. 3 general election.
Asked whether they would support maintaining the police substation in the East Toledo Family Center at 1020 Varland Ave., Mr. Wilkowski promised to recall the laid-off police officers, start planning for a police class, and then, "to the extent that we can, I'm going to make sure we have neighborhood-based operations, much like the Northwest District station, as well."
Mr. Bell used the question to highlight his concern that the public may not be aware of the extent of the city's budget crisis. He said the first priority is rehiring police officers and lowering response times.
"We need a reality check. We have to play inside our means. We have to make sure that we call the officers back first," he said.
"If we're able to get to that second part of doing substations, fine. But a station doesn't respond to you, an officer does," Mr. Bell said.
The city laid off 75 police officers in May, and still has 14 on layoff. The current mayor, Carty Finkbeiner, has warned of a potential $25 million deficit in March.
When asked about the Marina District, a proposed commercial and residential development on the east bank of the Maumee River, Mr. Bell said it is "dead" from a city funding viewpoint.
"If we can't afford to pave our streets. If we can't afford to tear houses down, how do we continue to go down a road to nowhere right now," Mr. Bell said.
He said the city should be able to pay for basic services of police and fire protection and refuse collection before allocating money to the Marina District. Mr. Bell said the best hope for the project is for a private developer to put his or her own money into it.
Mr. Wilkowski said, "I reject that pessimistic view of our future and of our city."
He called the Marina District "very important" to the future of East Toledo and reiterated his proposal to invite suburban communities to invest in the project in exchange for a share of tax revenues.
"That is something a mayor can do," Mr. Wilkowski said. He said Mr. Bell doesn't believe a mayor can do anything to create jobs.
"I believe a mayor has an obligation to lead economic development," Mr. Wilkowski said.
Also yesterday, a group of African-American elected officials and church ministers endorsed Mr. Wilkowski at his headquarters. All were registered Democrats, and about half have active roles in the party.
The Rev. Donald Perryman, pastor of The Center of Hope Baptist Church, said Mr. Wilkowski was "early and correct in his support of Barack Obama for president. He was early and correct in his positions on green jobs, the economy, and inclusion."
Aji Green, an endorsed Democrat running for the Toledo Board of Education, said Mr. Wilkowski "has made several commitments in working with the school board and moving this district forward."
Later, he said Mr. Wilkowski had made no specific promises but rather had proved his support of public education through his record and service on the Toledo school board during the 1980s.
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