The four main Toledo mayoral candidates took off their gloves Wednesday and tussled while stumping for votes during a live televised debate that pitted them against each other on such issues as the city budget, crime, and the condition of neighborhoods.
The hour-long, live televised debate sponsored by The Blade and WTVG-TV, Channel 13, turned heated at times, with the candidates attacking each other.
Mayor Mike Bell, a political independent, dished out heavy criticism to opponent Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez, a Democrat, saying she dodged questions by answering without specifics. Toledo Councilman D. Michael Collins, also an independent, and Councilman Joe McNamara, a Democrat, sparred with Ms. Lopez, but they also took turns swinging at the mayor.
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Midway through the debate, Ms. Lopez was asked how she would assure taxpayers that her strong support from unions would not affect how she decides issues involving unions. Her answer included a listing of unions that support her and how she made changes in the auditor’s office.
“You need your work force, you need the morale to be high, and I am against right-to-work, and I will do everything I can to turn the city of Toledo around, also lifting up my work force with me,” Ms. Lopez said.
Mayor Bell used his rebuttal to say: “There you go, Anita. They asked a pretty specific question. You never gave an answer.” The mayor pressed her to be specific on what actions she would take, which he boasted to have done when the city faced a huge deficit at the start of his term in 2010.
“It’s not about talking, it’s about action,” Mayor Bell said.
Mr. Collins pounced on the mayor and hammered him for his stances against some city unions, indirectly referring to Mayor Bell’s push for forced concessions on city unions in 2010 to slash the city budget.
“It is about talking, Mayor Bell. It is about talking civilly with the unions, something that you never had an application in your life to do,” Mr. Collins said.
Mr. McNamara turned his attack back toward Ms. Lopez.
“The number of children of labor leaders in the auditor’s office is staggering,” he said. “What we have seen in the auditor’s office under Anita Lopez is a modern-day Tammany Hall where she has turned the office into a political machine, hired the children of politically connected people, and raised money from these people and used them to work on her campaign.”
The debate included a chance for each candidate to ask a question to one of the other candidates. The order was assigned at random.
In her question posed to Mr. McNamara, Ms. Lopez asked if he takes responsibility for Toledo being listed as a top miserable city by Forbes Magazine in 2012.
Mr. McNamara said that the listing was exactly why he is running for mayor and that he has specific plans about economic development, crime, and neighborhoods.
Ms. Lopez shot back, saying the incumbent mayor and the two councilmen in the race do not take responsibility for the designation.
“We will create jobs with a business-friendly environment; we will create safe and strong neighborhoods with 700 [police] officers on the streets in our neighborhoods, and as auditor I will create an office that is responsive to citizens and businesses first in Toledo first,” she said, misspeaking and saying auditor instead of mayor.
Mr. Bell said he does accept responsibly and used his rebuttal to again raise the fact he balanced a $48 million deficit in 2010. He also pointed out the city is not miserable, citing amenities such as Mud Hens games at Fifth Third Field downtown and dining at The Docks along the Maumee River.
“I think it’s all perception. I refuse to believe what she said,” the mayor said.
Ms. Lopez drew the first question of the night, in which she was asked about her accusations against Mayor Bell for “being out of touch.” She was asked to specifically cite how the mayor is out of touch and how she would be in touch with the citizens.
“As I have gone door-to-door talking to citizens and talking to them about their concerns about safety of neighborhoods and the safety of their families, we are going to create Toledo Neighborhood Teams, we are going to be in the community, and we’re going to be accountable to them,” Ms. Lopez said. “We are going to get out of One Government Center, we are going to stop traveling, and focus on Toledo first.”
She did not offer any specifics about Mayor Bell, who then said he is “the most grounded mayor” Toledo has ever had.
“As far as dealing with the neighborhoods, I think we are doing an excellent job of that,” Mayor Bell said. “Our crime is down 24 percent. So when [Ms. Lopez] talks about how the crime is running rampant, most cities would love to get to that particular point.”
Mr. McNamara also said Ms. Lopez failed to be specific in her answer.
“Specifically, we need a mayor who is going to be focused on creating jobs for the people who live in Toledo,” he said. “Poverty is growing in Toledo; 25 percent of Toledoans live below the poverty line.”
Ms. Lopez was also asked by Blade politics writer Tom Troy, who sat on the panel of journalists asking questions, about her claims that she lowered property taxes.
“Taxpayers did receive lower [property] values, did receive lower taxes, particularly those that applied at the board of revision,” she said. “So we have lowered values, we have done our job, which is to overhaul the auditor’s office, and I look forward to making the city of Toledo work for citizens and businesses.”
Mayor Bell likened her actions as auditor to a motorist stopping at a red light. “It’s required by the law; it’s what she had to do.”
Mr. Collins said Ms. Lopez didn’t do anything different than the other 87 county auditors in Ohio. “For you to say you lowered taxes, that’s really not honest,” he said.
Mr. McNamara said: “If Ms. Lopez wants to take credit for lowering people’s taxes, then she also needs to take the blame for putting people under water and their mortgages. I mean, it is ridiculous. The auditor measures the value of the property, which is set by market conditions.”
The four candidates also took questions on the state budget that took money away from local governments, privatization of city services, and a possible regional water authority.
During closing statements, Mr. McNamara said he is “extremely concerned about the state of poverty” in Toledo and the 9.2 percent unemployment rate. He also plugged his support for reopening the Northwest District police station in West Toledo; his support of senior citizens’ water-rate discounts, and a local preference ordinance for Toledo businesses to get city contracts.
Mr. Collins said he would hire 160 police officers, reduce the city’s income tax, and lower water rates for senior citizens.
Mayor Bell again raised the $48 million deficit, stressing that his first term included hiring about 180 police officers and 192 firefighters, and that he has reached out globally to find investments. “We weren’t really fixing roads before. This year alone, we are fixing 61 miles of road,” he said.
Ms. Lopez reinforced what the other candidates blasted her for. “As auditor, I did lower taxes and I made that office work for you,” she said. “I helped seniors apply for homestead taxes.”
The primary is Tuesday. The top two advance to November’s election.
WTVG politics reporter Bill Hormann and WTVG anchorman Lee Conklin also sat on the panel. WTVG anchorman Diane Larson moderated the debate, conducted in WTVG’s studios.