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First in a series
Mayoral candidate D. Michael Collins grew up helping his father, Irish immigrant Michael Collins, train and care for thoroughbred racehorses, and unfortunately lost him to a fatal accident involving a horse when Mr. Collins was 17.
As a politician, however, Mr. Collins doesn't see much of a parallel between the race he’s in now and the contests that used to take place on the oval dirt tracks at the Lucas County fairgrounds and around the state of Ohio.
“There’s a difference between an equine race and a political race,” Mr. Collins deadpans. “Horses are generally more honest.”
Mr. Collins, 69, District 2 city councilman since January, 2008, and a political independent, sees himself not as a politician — even though he fits the definition as one who seeks political office — but as a truth-seeker on behalf of citizens.
“I’m pretty straightforward. If I’m mayor, the citizens will be told the truth and there will not be spin applied to the truth,” Mr. Collins said.
Mr. Collins is one of seven people whose names will appear on the Sept. 10 ballot for mayor. An eighth person has registered as a write-in. The two candidates who win the most votes in the nonpartisan primary election will face off in the Nov. 5 election.
Mr. Collins is up against the incumbent mayor, independent Mike Bell, and two Democrats — Councilman Joseph McNamara and Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez, each of whom has proven the ability to raise money to get their message across to voters and to deploy teams of volunteers to make phone calls, knock on doors, and drive voters to the polls.
Mr. Bell, Mr. McNamara, and Ms. Lopez all raised more than $90,000 during the the first six months of 2013. Mr. Collins, who said he doesn't like to call people and ask for money, mustered less than $11,000.
Also running are independent candidate Alan Cox, Libertarian Michael Konwinski, and Opal Covey, who says she’s a Republican, but last voted as a Democrat.
Mr. Collins, former head of the police patrolmen’s union, is hoping for support from the city’s police and fire unions, most of which have not endorsed in the race, and says he was the only councilman to testify to the Ohio General Assembly against Senate Bill 5 — the Republican-backed law to undermine collective bargaining rights for public employee unions. The bill was defeated in a statewide referendum in 2011.
And his desire to be mayor has pushed him to lower the conditions he set for himself. Early on, Mr. Collins said he would not run unless people who supported him were able to commit to a campaign fund of at least $200,000. Later he lowered that threshold to $70,000 — way more than has actually materialized.
The former Toledo police detective, who still proudly carries his badge, has earned a reputation as a watchdog and a digger. No longer teaching criminal justice part-time at the University of Toledo, he now spends a lot of time on his job as councilman. Mr. Collins chairs the Public Safety, Law & Criminal Justice Committee.
Among the issues he championed was restoring money to homeless shelters that the Bell administration wanted to direct toward “rapid re-housing.”
He warned about the environmental impact of sludge being dumped on an artificial island in Lake Erie and asked for a federal review.
Under Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, Mr. Collins discovered that the administration was quietly converting the city-owned Erie Street Market into an entertainment center and avoiding notice by making purchases of under $10,000, the level of spending that must be approved by City Council.
Under Mayor Bell, he uncovered that the Bell administration had hidden purchases of two luxury SUVs in other departments for the mayor’s staff to use. He’s demanded an investigation by the state auditor.
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An exasperated Mayor Finkbeiner once remarked, “Mr. Collins considers himself the world’s most outstanding expert on any and all subjects.”
Some of his efforts have fallen flat. Mr. Collins accused the Bell administration and Police Chief Derrick Diggs of misrepresenting crime statistics to portray a safer city than exists, but a recent release of new crime statistics supports Chief Diggs’ and the mayor's claims of a downturn in crime since 2011.
One person who is supporting Mr. Collins is John Bibish, who was budget director under Mr. Finkbeiner.
“He’d be a no-nonsense, hands-on city manager-type of mayor,” said Mr. Bibish, who likes Mr. Collins’ promise to reopen the northwest district police station on Sylvania Avenue. “That means that he’d know what’s going on, and he would have the capacity to assist in the management of different operations.”
As one who had appeared before council to explain administration positions, Mr. Bibish said, “When he starts to quiz you on something, that means he already knows what the problem is and you better play ball with him.”
City Councilman George Sarantou, a Republican who has not endorsed anyone for mayor, said Mr. Collins won’t win any popularity contests on council.
“His approach sometimes can be controversial in that he goes public with something before giving the administration an opportunity to explain,” Mr. Sarantou said.
“One of his strengths is he does get into the fine details. He is very good at looking for information and getting his facts together. I don’t always agree with his facts, but he’s very thorough. I think he is a very effective watchdog for the taxpayers,” Mr. Sarantou said.
Mr. Collins grew up in the central city and the south end and graduated from Libbey High School. His father worked for the S.M.Jones Co., established by former mayor, Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones. When Mr. Collins was in fourth grade, his father returned to his first love, racing and stabling horses, often putting young “Mick” Collins to work with him.
One time the horse he was riding — despite his father’s admonition — crashed during a race and Mr. Collins severely fractured his lower leg, which one doctor proposed to amputate — a suggestion the elder Mr. Collins luckily rejected.
After high school and his father’s death as a result of being kicked by a horse, Mr. Collins enlisted in the Marine Corps for six years of active and reserve duty. Most of his service occurred early in the Vietnam War, before the large troop deployments began, and he served all his active duty stateside.
He joined the Toledo Police Department in 1973 in the uniformed division, and went on to work in the vice squad, metro drug unit, and crimes against persons.
In 1989, he was elected president of the Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association, a post he held for 10 years. After retiring in 1999, Mr. Collins became a visiting professor at UT in the criminal justice department. He also headed the Ohio Police Corps police academy and earned a master’s degree in business administration from UT in 1998.
Mr. Collins has three grown daughters from his first marriage, which ended in divorce. He also had a son who died. He is married to Sandra Drabik, who held top administrative positions in several Republican gubernatorial administrations and was general counsel and vice president of the University of Toledo, retiring in 2006.
He won his first election in 2007 by beating nine other people to win the vacant District 2 seat and he was re-elected in 2011. Mr. Collins ran for mayor four years ago, coming in fourth in the 2009 primary.
As policy prescriptions for the city, Mr. Collins said the city’s work force is top-heavy with administrators, too many of whom are already drawing retirement checks. He would combine the Departments of Public Service (street plowing and maintenance) and Public Utilities (water distribution and water treatment) into one organization called Public Works.
“I will completely change over the administration. I am going to bring in new minds, youthful ideas. And we need to downsize management. We need to gently take the pre-retired retired and have them go into retirement and take a serious look at the utility of hiring retired people and placing them back into their prior positions,” Mr. Collins said.
He proposes to make the 0.75-percent temporary income tax permanent, and as an inducement to voters, to lower the overall tax from 2.25 percent to 2.2 percent.
He believes that as mayor he would have avoided the confrontational showdown with the unions that Mayor Bell experienced in 2010, and rejects one of the tenets of Mayor Bell’s re-election campaign, that he overcame a $48 million deficit by taking a tough stand against city employee unions.
“There never was a $48 million deficit,” Mr. Collins said.
He said he would have communicated with the eight city employee unions “in a truthful way” and would have made changes with union agreement that would have avoided layoffs and concessions.
Mr. Collins supported the sale of the Marina District to Chinese investors Dashing Pacific Group Ltd. in 2011 with the condition that if it is not “substantially” developed by 2016 — which will fall in the third year of the next mayoral term, the city could buy it back at the same $3.8 million price.
As mayor, he said he would quickly convene a meeting of the investors and ask them to share their vision. “If I’m not satisfied with their plan I would initiate the recovery of the property,” he said
His plan for improving the attractiveness and safety of Toledo neighborhoods includes stepped-up enforcement of building and nuisance codes, and the reintroduction of beats for police patrolmen, a concept he calls “beat integrity.”
Mr. Collins would seek to revitalize the downtown “neighborhood” with two proposals: inviting ethnic groups to hold their festivals at Promenade Park on the waterfront and recruiting a high-end grocery business to the downtown.
He said he would promote recreation by using as a blueprint the recreation study the city just completed at a cost of $25,000.
Mr. Collins’ ideas for economic development are covered by the “meta plan,” a concept devised by former UT President Daniel Johnson, that builds on the plans already being implemented by the economic development agencies in the area.