Democratic mayoral candidate Anita Lopez, center, calls on young boxers to say what they want to become when they grow up during a talk she gave on Wednesday at Soul City Boxing and Wrestling Gym in Toledo.
Anita Lopez is no Laila Ali, but she promises to fight.
Ms. Lopez, the Lucas County auditor running for Toledo mayor against incumbent Mike Bell, Joe McNamara and D. Michael Collins, paused from campaigning Wednesday to speak with 20 young boxers at the Soul City Boxing and Wrestling gym in central Toledo.
Laila Ali, a retired American professional boxer and daughter of heavyweight boxing legend Muhammad Ali, was a powerhouse in the ring. Ms. Lopez on the other hand admittedly had some trepidation about getting in the ring but did so with assistance after spending about 15 minutes talking to the children about staying out of trouble.
Ms. Lopez praised them for participating in boxing and staying off the streets while telling them about her upbringing in the old south end. After the visit, she said she would create a committee to focus on Toledo children, but it is strikingly similar to groups in operation. “Right now is the time for you to really start thinking about what you are going to become,” she said. “When I was growing up I would see a lot of my friends who would run the streets … and I saw a lot of my family struggle,” she said. “There’s a lot of my girlfriends who got pregnant really early — the youngest girl was 13 when she got pregnant. I saw a lot of my friends get locked up.”
She added: “Now, I am going to be able to be your mayor and help you even more.”
Ms. Lopez spoke at the gym after getting an invitation this week via Twitter from owner Roshawn Jones. All mayoral candidates are invited to speak to the children, Mr. Jones said.
After her talk, Ms. Lopez said that as mayor, she would establish a Toledo “Children First” Committee.
She said it would comprise representatives of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Toledo, Lucas County Children Services, Toledo Public Schools, the United Way of Greater Toledo, and the Mental Health & Recovery Services Board of Lucas County.
Democratic mayoral candidate Anita Lopez, center, watches Rubin Swain, center left, and Roshawn Jones, right, put on a demonstration for herself and a group of young boxers.
Part of its charge would be to keep children from joining gangs and getting in trouble. The announcement prompted swift head-scratching from Mr. McNamara, a Toledo councilman.
“It sounds like she is calling for a committee that already exists in the [Toledo] Youth Commission and with Lucas County,” he said. “That is what the Youth Commission is supposed to do. This is yet another example of Lopez not doing her homework — she called for a committee that already exists.”
The Lucas County Family and Children First Council, also known as the Lucas County Family Council, is established by state law, Director David Kontur said. One exists in each of Ohio’s 88 counties. “It is intended to be a coordination body to prevent duplication of services,” Mr. Kontur said.
Lucas County Children Services, Toledo Public Schools, Lucas Jobs and Family Services, Lucas County Child Support Enforcement Agency, Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities, the United Way, and the Lucas County Educational Service Center are all represented on the board — chiefly by the leaders of those agencies. Its Web site says the council is “a collaborative effort focused on improving outcomes for children and families.”
During his first term, Mayor Bell reinstated the Toledo Youth Commission and has taken a seat on the board of Aspire, which operates to create a communitywide collaboration to help children. Also under the mayor’s watch, the city sponsored three youth jobs fairs during the last two years.
“The mayor has a strong interest in youth and education, and he also talks about the important of Toledo Public Schools and Washington Local Schools,” Bell campaign spokesman B.J. Fischer said. “You will see the mayor continue to focus on education.”
Mr. Collins, also a Toledo councilman, said he wants to start a pilot mentoring program within Toledo Public Schools and Washington Local Schools. “I will ask each district to identify five schools each and identify kids in each school who demonstrate a need for assistance in grades kindergarten through third,” he said. “Then, find the kids who are academic stars in grades six through eight and have them mentor the younger children who are challenged.”
Mr. Collins said the mentors would be paid $15 an hour, for five hours a week. “I am going to use neighborhoods department money — HUD money — to fund this program,” he said.