Toledo’s mayoral candidates hit the picnics, festivals, and the pavement Saturday, working at making positive impressions on voters now that the primary election is less than four weeks away.
Independent D. Michael Collins, fresh from winning the coveted endorsements of the rank-and-file police and fire unions, proposed a new mission for the Toledo Neighborhood Block Watch Program — cleaning up blighted neighborhoods.
He said the new concept for Block Watch might be that “blight will not be tolerated.”
“It’s time for us to quit crabbing about what’s going on in the neighborhoods because a neighborhood that isn’t tidy and neat is a neighborhood that’s never going to be safe,” Mr. Collins said during the few minutes allotted to him at the Block Watch’s annual picnic. He said he got the idea from a program in Ireland — “Tidy Towns” — where neatness is so cherished that a scrap of paper thrown from a car window is an insult.
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All four of the leading mayoral candidates — Mr. Collins, Democratic Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez, Democratic City Councilman Joe McNamara, and independent Mayor Mike Bell — as well as other candidates and public officials on hand were given a chance to speak to the assembled Block Watch volunteers in Ottawa Park Shelter House on Saturday.
For the candidates, the rest of the day was taken up with a variety of political activities, with plans by all four to finish up at the Birmingham Ethnic Festival in East Toledo.
Registered voters will select two candidates — based on vote totals, regardless of political party — in the Sept. 10 primary to face off on Nov. 5 to be mayor for the next four years.
Also on the mayoral ballot are independent Alan Cox, Libertarian Michael Konwinski, and unendorsed Republican Opal Covey. The Lucas County Democratic Party is expected to endorse after the primary. The Lucas County Republican Party is not expected to make an endorsement.
Ms. Lopez said the Block Watch picnic was not the high-turnout event it has been in the past, and she put the blame on the Bell administration and City Council — which encompasses all three of her major opponents. She told the crowd that she would appoint a permanent Block Watch coordinator between the city and Block Watch, as part of her “Neighborhood Teams” concept. Currently, the city has a full-time liaison with Block Watch, but on a temporary contract.
“If you make it temporary, that tells you how dedicated you are to responding to the crime in the neighborhoods. We have been to Block Watch meetings where no city official showed up. That is really killing the morale of the Block Watch groups,” Ms. Lopez said afterward.
The Bell administration has said tracked crime in Toledo has fallen two years in a row.
Ms. Lopez said the Bell administration’s litany of statistics doesn’t change that people don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods.
“The citizens feel the mayor and City Council are out of touch and they’re going to demonstrate with their votes,” she said. “The breaking-and-enterings, the breaking into cars, are happening in our stable neighborhoods, so people are making the decision to leave. They’re voting with their residency.”
Ms. Lopez said she liked Mr. Collins neighborhood cleanup idea, adding, “It would be nice if we heard that four years ago.”
Mr. McNamara gave the shortest speech to the Block Watch organization, explaining later that he wanted to adhere to the rule given to the speakers to be strictly nonpolitical because Block Watch is a nonprofit group.
He said he’s starting to see an uptick in voter interest. The city primary election four years ago drew less than 20 percent of registered voters, and some see that percentage dipping even lower this year.
“I think they’re just starting to pay attention,” Mr. McNamara said. “I’ve talked to a lot of voters who want to see change in the mayor’s office.”
He expressed interest in Mr. Collins’ Tidy Towns concept.
“Obviously blight is an issue in our city, and that’s why I’m supporting the blight authority,” Mr. McNamara said. He referred to a campaign proposal aired last week by City Council candidate Jack Ford to set up a volunteer and neighborhood-based group that would spruce up neighborhoods in collaboration with the Lucas County Land Bank.
During the middle of the day Mr. McNamara knocked on doors of likely primary voters in the Westmoreland neighborhood of central Toledo.
One homeowner joked that he hoped Mr. McNamara was there to tell him he’d won a sweepstakes but said afterward he was leaning toward Mr. McNamara’s candidacy.
“We do need some fresh blood in there,” said Willie Lee Howard, 63, of Potomac Drive, referring to the mayor’s office. “He [Mayor Bell] has been to China a couple times. It’s a vacation for him. We should be seeing some results downtown but we’re not seeing anything happen.”
The mayor has defended his trips to China, as well as Japan, India, and Germany, as aimed at attracting some new investors to Toledo. One of those trade missions was followed by a Chinese partnership buying part of the waterfront Marina District in 2011. The sale helped balance the city’s budget and put the real estate back on the property tax rolls but hasn’t yet resulted in new construction.
Mr. McNamara also knocked on the door of, and spoke with, Allenby Road resident Marc McClain, 35, a law student who chided the candidate for sending out two pieces of campaign literature that contained attacks on Ms. Lopez. But he said he liked the new political flyer he was handed by Mr. McNamara on Saturday.
“I like this. I like the positive stuff,” Mr. McClain said. Mr. McNamara defended his literature as setting out contrasts with Ms. Lopez. The McNamara mailings prompted an effort by Lopez supporters at the Lucas County Democratic Party Executive Committee meeting Thursday to publicly censure Mr. McNamara. The measure failed 19-18. Mr. McNamara declined to comment on that behind-closed-doors dispute.
On the move
Mayor Bell’s political dance card for the day included six potential stops, starting with the Block Watch picnic. In response to Ms. Lopez’s commitment to appointing a permanent Block Watch liaison, Mr. Bell said, “There are a lot of things that maybe we should be doing — more parks, more police, but you have to have the budget to pay for it.”
He said the city’s Block Watch liaison, Tracy Ellis, has been in the position about five months.
Mr. Bell said voters are paying more attention to the issues in the mayor’s race.
“When I talk to people they seem to get it, understand the importance of it. They’re alert to what the issues are,” Mr. Bell said. He said he couldn’t predict what the turnout will be — “but I think people need to vote.”
His events of the day were to include remarks at the Ministers’ Wives and Missionaries Lunch, the Hindu Temple and Heritage Hall, Barefoot on the Beach, a Salute to Dr. Dorinda Clark-Cole, and possibly the Birmingham Festival.
Call to action
Explaining the concept he dubbed “Tidy Toledo” to the Block Watch group, Mr. Collins suggested that the late Liz Pierson, who helped build Toledo’s Block Watch program and whose name is on the Ottawa Park shelter building, would not be satisfied with what’s been achieved.
“I firmly believe that she would tell us that we have a mission as Block Watch and that mission is to collectively quit telling the city to fix all of our problems that lessen our neighborhoods and fix it ourselves. The city can’t do everything because there’s no physical way we can handle all of the complaints that come in and answer everybody’s burdens. When a yard needs cutting, let’s cut it,” Mr. Collins said.
“If we eliminate the blight in the neighborhood we create a quality of life that will not be sustaining those thugs out there ... that keep us prisoners in our own homes,” he said. He said neighbors could clean alleys and mow the lawns of abandoned houses and call on the city to cart away the collected trash.
Contact Tom Troy at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6058 and on Twitter @TomFTroy.