Perennial Toledo mayoral candidate Opal Covey -- a self-proclaimed evangelist who claims to be on a mission from God to put an amusement park downtown – stirred up a United Way of Toledo forum today when she said domestic-violence victims were to blame for their own troubles.
Ms. Covey, who is making her fourth attempt running for mayor of Toledo, drew gasps and groans during the morning forum attended by representatives of social service agencies and nonprofit organizations.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to see more photos from the event.
She said domestic violence victims are "causing it themselves" by choosing bad mates and not leaving abusive mates.
Her comments came in response to the only question asked of the mayoral hopefuls during the hour-long session. The seven candidates each gave opening statements and were then asked for their stances on domestic violence, if it is a community problem, and how the mayor's office should address it.
“I have worked with domestic violence for probably 35 years and I counsel women and here is what I come up with: I am not going to go out there and marry someone that I know has a record and is an abuser and things like this,” Ms. Covey said.
“They should not be with that mate.... They've been told get rid of him. Now, you know you should wait,” Ms. Covey said. “One of the biggest problems is sex. People, when they get up to adulthood, of course they have the sexual feelings, all right. And so, therefore, they are going to go out and they are going to try it, but they are not realizing they are putting their lives at stake.”
Ms. Covey added: “People who receive domestic violence, a lot of cases, except the children, is [sic] causing it themselves because they are not keeping control of their lives, watching out, suppressing their feeling, which you should do – not every feeling that you have is going to work for you. It is going to have consequences and you will reap your consequences.”
Her comments were unilaterally condemned.
Mayor Mike Bell, the politically-independent incumbent, said Ms. Covey “was so out there, it was embarrassing.”
Also in the race for mayor are city councilmen Joe McNamara and D. Michael Collins; Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez; Alan Cox, a city neighborhood development specialist and president of the city’s supervisory and technical union, AFSCME Local 2058; and Libertarian Michael Konwinski, a retired city worker from the water distribution and finance departments. An eighth mayoral candidate, Don Gozdowski, registered as a write-in, sent a written statement saying he could not attend because he is attending Owens Community College and could not miss class so early in the semester.
The two candidates who win the most votes in the nonpartisan, Sept. 10 primary will face off in the Nov. 5 general election.
In the September, 2009 mayoral primary, Ms. Covey won 239 votes – 0.7 percent of the Toledo balloting. She is a former pet shop owner who says she is a "prophetess" and evangelist.
Mr. McNamara called Ms. Covey's comments today "disgusting."
“It shows her ignorance about the plight of the victims of domestic violence,” he said.
Mr. Collins said her comments were “uncalled for and inaccurate.”
Ms. Lopez said: “Ms. Covey's comment on domestic violence was reprehensible. Violence against women is never the fault of the victim, and it is irresponsible and repugnant to say otherwise.”
Each of the other candidates said the city needs to do a better job helping victims of domestic violence.
Mayor Bell said Toledo recently stepped up its efforts to help victims and prosecute offenders by creating a domestic-violence docket at Toledo Municipal Court and adding a dedicated prosecutor for those crimes.
“Obviously, it is a problem for the city of Toledo, and we are putting funds to it, we are putting people to it, we are putting action to it, we are working together to try and alleviate this particular issue,” the mayor said.
Ms. Lopez said she agreed with Mr. McNamara's statement that victims don't leave abusers because of their “lack of income and ability to support themselves.”
Mr. Konwinski told the group of about 70 people that his sister was a domestic-violence victim.
“A lot of time when her husband would hit her, as soon as she called the police, he fled, so a lot of time s when the police arrived he was no longer there,” he said. “Even on those occasions when he was there, all they would do was tell them [that] one of them had to leave the house.”
Mr Konwinski said first responders need better training to help the victims.
The seven mayoral hopefuls also voiced support during the forum for nonprofit agencies and organizations that help the less fortunate.
Mayor Bell said he would continue to be a partner for nonprofits like the United Way, but stressed the "bottom line is money" and there is no "money tree" from which to pluck funding.
“The key portion, I believe, to being able to assist you in what you do is actually being able to provide the appropriate publicity and education to people to be able to have them give to your organization,” Mr. Bell said.
Mr. Collins opened his statements on the offensive. He said conflict earlier this year and last year between council and Mayor Bell regarding federal funding for homeless shelters was unacceptable.
Ms. Lopez briefly told the group about her upbringing in Toledo's Old South End and talked about growing up in poverty.
"I am sure right now that the city of Toledo is not able to help a little girl growing up in the South End with the crime, gang activity, poverty," Ms. Lopez said. "I don't think a little girl could survive and make it out of the South End if we don't change the direction of the city of Toledo."
Ms. Lopez said too many families are "on the edge of homelessness."
Mr. McNamara said the number of Toledoans living in poverty is too high and "is crushing our city."
"The level of poverty in Toledo is unacceptably high, the number of children living in poverty is unacceptably high," he said. "I am running for mayor because I am upset with the state of Toledo."
Ms. Covey told the group that she's on a mission from God; that God gave her a vision to put an amusement park downtown, and Toledoans have to focus their minds with love.
Holly Ball, the United Way's public policy lead, moderated the forum.
Contact Ignazio Messina at firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6171, or on Twitter @IgnazioMessina.