Toledo mayoral candidates faced off tonight at the University of Toledo in front of a crowd focused on issues of fair housing and vibrant neighborhoods.
The Fair Housing Center sponsored the event, along with the UT School of Law.
It’s the second major candidate forum today for most of the candidates. United Way of Greater Toledo sponsored a forum in the morning.
Michael Marsh, president and CEO of the Fair Housing Center, said 45 years after passage of the Fair Housing Act, “most housing in America remains segregated along racial lines.”
He said studies show that the average white person lives in a neighborhood that is 75 percent white, while the average black person lives in a neighborhood that is 65 percent black.
Candidates Michael Bell, D. Michael Collins, Anita Lopez, Joe McNamara, and Alan Cox each got seven minutes to share their “vision for creating neighborhoods of opportunity.”
About 80 people showed up for the forum - many of them supporters of the candidates themselves.
Mr. Bell, the only black candidate and the city's second African-American mayor, said he experienced housing discrimination growing up, but he focused most of his remarks on the city's job in improving the quality of neighborhoods.
He said the city has lost population and many people have simply walked away from their homes, dumping them on the city.
"We work with a limited amount of dollars. None of government works without appropriate funding. We go out and cut it even though we know it’s somebody else’s responsibility," Mr. Bell said. "You have a role to play in this also. If I see something across the street that’s bothering me I need to cross the street and cut that grass."
He said diversity was improving.
"I think in Toledo people move around pretty good, when you look at the Old West End and some other places.We’re moving in that direction we need to keep moving forward," Mr. Bell said.
Mr. Collins recalled an episode when he was 7 and a black family moved into his all-white neighborhood in the Old South End.
"The streets of south Toledo responded in a most uncivilized way, burning dummies, screaming and chanting, using profoundly unacceptable language," Mr. Collins said. He said he made a sign reading, "welcome to our neighborhood" and carried it in front of the house.
"Within about 30 seconds I didn't have a shirt on my back, any part of my face that wasn’t bleeding, and I lost my sign," he said. "We must end the circumstances that give people the distinct feeling that we’re being treated different because we’re different."
Mr. Cox called on the Bell administration to "recirculate" federal block grant money that the city receives to improve housing, rather than use it as grants that never get paid back.
"We don't have the funding that we need. We need to think about ways we can be more effective with those dollars," Mr. Cox said.
Ms. Lopez, who early in her career was general counsel for the Fair Housing Center, said, "elected officials must vigorously oppose discrimination and racial profiling in our community."
Without naming Mr. Bell, she seemed to respond to his stance on the shortage of federal funding.
"It is too often that we say funding is the reason that we cannot provide better and responsive services to our citizens," Ms. Lopez said. She said she came from poverty and managed to graduate from law school and achieve her dream.
"As we still face housing discrimination our children are subject to more challenges - high concentration of gang activity, high crime predominantly in the central city, high dropout rates," Ms. Lopez said. She told the crowd she is the candidate with the vision and experience to solve the problems of crime and discrimination.
Mr. McNamara called for a four-point plan and credited former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, who was in the audience, with creating a housing task force, which created, among other things, the vacant housing registry.
"We have to have a housing czar, a high ranking official who would go beyond the silos," Mr. McNamara said. His plan has four goals: increase home ownership, save and preserve housing stock, promote racial and ethnic diversity of neighborhoods, and "continue the fight for equal access to housing."
Eight people - including three other candidates who were not invited to the forum - are competing in the Sept. 10 primary election. The two candidates who get the most votes will go on to the Nov. 5 election.
Contact Tom Troy at email@example.com or 419-724-6058.