With the presidential election out of the way, a likely roster of candidates is emerging in the race for mayor of Toledo in 2013 — the incumbent mayor, two Democrats, at least one Republican, another independent, and perennial candidate Opal Covey.
The race will come down to a referendum on the sometimes rocky first term of independent Mayor Mike Bell, with unions taking a role in the opposition, and on the question of who has the best plan for moving Toledo forward.
Toledo Council President Joe McNamara and Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez are considering getting into the race and told The Blade they’re concerned with the direction of the city under Mayor Bell. Theresa Gabriel, a retired former administrator under Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, said she's considering getting into the race.
Ms. Lopez, 43, a lawyer in her second term as Lucas County auditor, said she's been talking to citizens and business owners and is hearing concerns related to crime, development, and interacting with city government.
“Seniors are telling me they don’t feel safe in the city of Toledo. The city is not a citizens and business-first environment. If you’re not related to Bell, you’re not politically connected, you get third-class service,” Ms. Lopez said.
“I think, overall, citizens and businesses are saying they want more attention [paid] to the city of Toledo. They want more attention to home. There's too much attention abroad.”
She criticized the mayor’s plan to raise the pay of top officials, his administration’s purchase of a sport-utility vehicle, and his request to raise water rates to pay for improvements at the city’s water-treatment plant while blaming previous administrations for “kicking the can down the road.”
The administration purchased a 2013 Chevrolet Tahoe through Toledo’s Streets, Bridges, and Harbor Fund for $42,000. And Mr. Bell said he tried to get council to raise water rates in 2010 to make repairs at the water treatment plant, but council turned down his request.
Ms. Lopez was more direct about her political ambitions to a town hall meeting Nov. 3 that was sponsored by the Network of Arab-American Professionals, United Muslim Association, and Midwest Retailers Association, according to a cell-phone video obtained by The Blade. Ms. Lopez was one of at least a half-dozen speakers.
“I have not officially announced that I will be running for mayor. But I am seriously considering running for mayor of the city of Toledo,” she told the group.
“We must come together to find a strong candidate to run against Mayor Bell,” she said.
Mr. McNamara, 35, also a lawyer, declined a question-and-answer interview, and was more circumspect in his comments about Mr. Bell, with whom he interacts as the point man on city council.
“I am exploring the possibility, but haven’t made a final decision,” Mr. McNamara said in a statement emailed to The Blade. “I’m very concerned about economic development and the need for the city to focus more on creating good jobs for Toledoans and supporting locally owned businesses.
"But I will make a final decision of how best to serve the citizens of Toledo next year.”
Mr. McNamara was elected to an at-large seat on council in 2006 and re-elected in 2009. He is also chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party's Central Committee.
He would not be able to run for re-election to council if he runs for mayor, while Ms. Lopez would be able to continue as auditor if she loses.
Toledo officially has nonpartisan elections, which means that the top two vote-getters in the Sept. 10 primary, regardless of party label, will go on to the general election in November. Political observers expect Mayor Bell to make it through the primary, which means most of the race until then will center on who goes to the general election with him.
Mr. Bell, 57, said Toledo has made a turnaround on his watch and that there’s more he wanted to do than could be done in four years.
“When I came in the taxpayers said, ‘Mayor, we want our services maintained, we want our roads fixed, and oh, even though you have a $48 million deficit, do not raise our taxes.’ We have done that. We haven’t raised their taxes and have provided all those services actually in a more abundant way than any other previous administration,” Mr. Bell said.
“Sometimes I think we’ve moved so quietly, and done our jobs, that people don’t remember where we started at,” he said.
He points to the city's rainy day fund, which now has $326,0000.
“At least when [Gov. John Kasich] started, he had 8 cents. All I had was dust. Now we’re back in the black and our bond ratings are stable,” Mr. Bell said.
A former city fire chief and state fire marshal, Mr. Bell, a longtime Democrat, ran as an independent in 2009 and defeated Democrat Keith Wilkowski by 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent, with only 34 percent of registered voters participating.
He said he believes in finishing the job he was elected to do, contrary to what he said was the practice of some other elected officials who “all they do is bounce into an office and bounce out, and move here and move there and just never complete the task at hand.”
Asked if he was referring to Ms. Lopez, who is in the middle of her second term as auditor, he said, “In general, you can look at her, you can look at [Ohio Treasurer] Josh Mandel,” who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate this year in the middle of his first term as treasurer.
Ms. Lopez responded that it was Mr. Bell who said he could complete the task of turning around the city in one term.
“He said he was a one-term mayor, and he couldn’t do it, and clearly the citizens and business people I’ve spoken to are concerned about the state of the city,” she said.
Ms. Lopez was elected to a four-year term on the Toledo school board in 2001.
She ran for Lucas County recorder and was elected in 2004. She ran for auditor in the middle of her recorder term in 2006 and was elected.
She was re-elected auditor in 2010.
So far, Republicans have been quiet in the early phases of the campaign, if only because some high-profile Republicans are supporting Mr. Bell, among them Donna Owens, a former Toledo GOP mayor.
Ms. Gabriel, a former top official under Mayor Finkbeiner, said she’s thinking about running because it’s important for the Republican Party to show its flag, even though Republicans are routinely outnumbered in city elections.
“It's not about Bell, it's not about this administration,” Ms. Gabriel, 75, said. “I think it’s wrong to have no opponents.”
Lucas County Republican Party Chairman Jon Stainbrook said he encouraged Ms. Gabriel to run, and he’s also courting another possible candidate, whose name he would not divulge yet.
Mr. Bell might also get some help from Republican Governor Kasich, thanks to Mayor Bell’s support of the ill-fated Issue 2 last year, a referendum that would have weakened public- employee-union bargaining rights if it had passed.
In a July 30 interview at The Blade, Mr. Kasich said he supports Mr. Bell and has urged area business people to support him.
“He’s done a heck of a job up here. He’s a change agent,” Mr. Kasich said.
“I don’t know whether my comments help him or hurt him,” he said, with a laugh.
The governor acknowledged that he'll be in a difficult spot politically if the local Republican Party endorses a candidate against Mr. Bell.
The only declared candidate for mayor in 2013 is Opal Covey, 72, a self-described prophetess, social worker, and evangelist who says God told her in 2000 that she would become mayor.
Ms. Covey has run three times before and finished last in the 2009 mayoral primary.
Mr. Bell took over at a time of fiscal crisis for the city, and earned the enmity of city public employee and trade unions when he pushed through “exigent circumstances” legislation giving him the right to make unilateral cuts in city union contracts in 2010, after he was unable to reach agreements on cutbacks with union leaders. The following year he appeared in a TV commercial supporting Issue 2.
Mr. Bell said to withhold support of Issue 2 after having supported “exigent circumstances” would have made him a hypocrite, though he admitted the legislation was flawed.
Angry union leaders have been scouting for a candidate to defeat Mr. Bell. Labor courted Ms. Lopez, along with state Rep. Matt Szollosi (D., Oregon), who declined, and City Councilman D. Michael Collins, who has said he would run if supporters step up with a campaign war chest, something that no one has agreed to do.
Dennis Duffey, former head of the local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and now state secretary-treasurer for the Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council, said the group will back whoever emerges from the September primary election against Mayor Bell.
Jerry Chabler, a local Democratic fund-raiser who so far is neutral in the race, said both Democratic candidates have pluses and minuses.
He said people were surprised Mr. McNamara was defeated in the 2010 state Senate race in Toledo against then-state Rep. Edna Brown (D., Toledo).
As of the most recent campaign finance reports, dated July 31, Ms. Lopez had a balance of $25,265; Mr. McNamara had $20,120, and Mr. Bell had $46,312.
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6058.