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Published: Tuesday, 10/27/2009

Candidates cite goals to improve city's image

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

Toledo's mayoral candidates discussed how they'd position Toledo to have a more favorable national reputation, and other challenges they might face as mayor, in a forum before the Toledo Rotary Club yesterday.

Independent Mike Bell and Democrat Keith Wilkowski addressed a lunchtime crowd of about 225 people at the Park Inn downtown.

To improve Toledo's image in the region, Mr. Wilkowski said it's going to require more than an advertising campaign.

"We have to have substance here. That's what will drive up our image," Mr. Wilkowski said. "We need to focus on the industries of the future and our image will take care of itself."

Mr. Bell said he has a record of improving the city's image with its regional neighbors, and said he would do that has mayor.

"They're experiencing the same thing we're experiencing. We're all in the same ship," he said.

Mr. Bell said the city could keep residents from fleeing to the suburbs by providing the services they expect. Mr. Wilkowski said it was essential to rein in city budget growth by not allowing it to grow more than the rate of inflation.

To remove the obstacles that discourage business development, Mr. Wilkowski revived an idea he broached as a candidate in 2005, which was to establish a commission that would review the city charter and municipal code for obsolete laws and regulations.

Mr. Bell said he earned a record as state fire marshal of breaking down barriers on the state level. He denied a questioner's premise that he's been ambiguous about whether he would raise taxes.

"Citizens are telling us to play inside the perimeter, they don't want new taxes, they don't want new fees," Mr. Bell said.

But he said that sometimes school districts pass levies after voters didn't like cuts to popular programs.

"People can be fickle. You have to have enough movement there in case they change their minds," he said.

Mr. Wilkowski said he is confident the city's budget can be balanced without a tax increase, by using technology and consolidating services with other local governments.

Asked for innovative ideas they have proposed, Mr. Bell cited his plan to create the position of business advocate, a kind of deputy mayor who would reach out to the business community.

Mr. Wilkowski named three ideas: a solar special improvement district to encourage people to convert their homes to solar power, tax credits to Toledoans to earn patents in solar or biofuel technology, and a loan fund to help Toledoans make energy-saving improvements.

On the subject of campaign finance, Mr. Wilkowski said he spent about $200,000 during the primary and the same amount again in the general election campaign. He said he would support campaign-finance restrictions, but didn't suggest a possible dollar limit.

Mr. Bell said his campaign would cost about $250,000, and said the post of mayor should not be bought.

"As an independent, you don't have a machine throwing you money," Mr. Bell said.

Mr. Bell denied that he is a Republican, but didn't embrace his Democratic registration either.

He said an attack ad paid for by the Ohio Democratic Party portraying him in a photo with former President George W. Bush was designed to make people think he is a Republican.

"That made me a Republican. I'd like to have a picture with somebody who is rich. I guess that would make me rich," he joked.

Mr. Wilkowski said he was proud to be a Democrat, and said he would not be dogmatic as mayor.

"There is no particular agenda when it comes to the delivery of municipal services," Mr. Wilkowski said. "I will welcome all points of view."

Both said voters will have a checklist of sorts by which to measure their success.

Mr. Bell said he would establish a strategic plan with benchmarks and goals and the voters will be able to see at the end of four years if they've been met.

Mr. Wilkowski said he would be judged by the promises he's made as a candidate.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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