Unions representing about 1,000 Toledo police officers and firefighters, still smarting over Mayor Mike Bell’s support for “exigent circumstances” in 2010 and the failed 2011 Senate Bill 5 effort, on Friday threw their support behind former police union president D. Michael Collins.
The presidents of the Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association and Toledo Firefighters Local 92 said they were backing Mr. Collins in the Sept. 10 mayoral primary because he understands collective bargaining and the role of the safety forces. Mr. Collins is a political independent.
The show of uniformed support boosts Mr. Collins’ campaign, which has been lagging, at least in fund-raising, far behind three other competitors — independent incumbent Mayor Mike Bell and Democratic candidates Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez and Councilman Joe McNamara.
TPPA President Patrolman Dan Wagner said of Mr. Collins, “his integrity is not for sale, not to this union, not to any special interest group. He has always done what’s in the best interests of the city of Toledo.”
Mr. Collins, 69, was president of the TPPA, which now has about 500 members, from 1989 to 1999 and has represented Council District 2 in South Toledo since 2008.
Fire Capt. Jeffrey Romstadt of Local 92 said Mr. Collins “understands what it’s going to take to have a harmonious relationship between administration and labor, and he understands safety forces.”
How much difference the endorsements will make in the election is unclear. Many police and firefighters live outside the city and cannot vote in the election. And if Mr. Collins loses in the Sept. 10 primary, it would be awkward for either of the unions to then back another candidate.
Mr. Bell responded to the endorsements by two unions that supported him in 2009 by saying he took unpopular measures to get the city out of a potential $48 million deficit in 2010.
“I had to choose between the taxpayers and my employees. The taxpayers were telling me not to raise their taxes so that meant I had to deal with things internally and we continued to deliver services without laying anyone off,” Mr. Bell said. “They may be mad at the mayor but they are still gainfully employed.”
Mr. Bell said his administration has provided the equipment safety forces need — including 225 new police cars, a new ladder truck, and construction or rehabilitation of three fire houses. He also said he is on track to by the end of the year to have hired 180 police officers and 192 firefighters, and said that tracked crime is down 17 percent.
Ms. Lopez’s campaign issued a statement saying it was not surprising that a former police union president would get the backing of safety unions.
“Anita Lopez is proud to have the overwhelming support of Toledo’s labor unions,” said spokesman Diane May. “His endorsement is further evidence of the deteriorating relationship between Mayor Bell and his safety forces.”
The McNamara campaign declined to comment.
Mr. Collins expressed appreciation for safety forces’ willingness to face danger on their jobs and referred to them as brothers and sisters.
“When the men and women who put their lives on the line for the safety of this community stand behind you I think that’s pretty significant. I believe that this support will resonate throughout this community,” he said.
The union leaders objected to Mayor Bell’s “exigent circumstances” legislation of 2010, which he used to force concessions from city unions.
Mr. Bell has said he demanded concessions because the union presidents insisted he lay off police and other employees rather than agree to cuts that would preserve jobs.
Mr. Wagner denied that was the case, and said police officers have taken retirement earlier and in larger numbers than expected because of what he said was the mayor’s “attacks” on officers’ working conditions.
“He has claimed he hired more police officers in the last three and half years than in the last 12 years but we are still left today with fewer officers on the streets than when he took office,” Mr. Wagner said. “And that is because of the attacks on the officers.”
The gulf between the city unions and the mayor widened again in 2011 when Mr. Bell publicly supported Senate Bill 5/Issue 2, the Republican-backed measure to weaken public employee bargaining rights.