Toledo Mayor Mike Bell talks to Steven Banks, 15, during the Warren Sherman community fest. Mr. Bell said he will expand his focus to quality-of-life issues.
THE BLADE/LORI KING
Toledo’s mayoral candidates today enter the final stretch of campaigning for Tuesday’s primary election, which so far shows little promise of a large voter turnout.
As of Friday, early voting and absentee voting trailed turnout from the 2009 election, leading some to expect an even lower turnout than that year’s primary, in which about 18 percent of the city’s 203,630 registered voters participated.
Vying for support in Tuesday’s election are Mayor Mike Bell, a political independent who highlights the unpopular “tough choices” he made in a fiscally stressed city; Democrat Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez, who has union backing; Democratic city Councilman Joe McNamara, who won the endorsement Saturday of former Mayor Jack Ford; and independent Councilman D. Michael Collins, a retired city police officer with a reputation for digging into the fine print of budgets.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to see more candidate photos from the weekend
Rounding out the eight-candidate mayoral field are Alan Cox, a city employee and political independent who preaches a return to the city manager form of government; Michael Konwinski, a retired city finance worker with Libertarian backing; perennial candidate and evangelist Opal Covey; and Donald Gozdowski, a certified write-in candidate whose name won’t appear on the ballot.
The top two primary finishers will advance to the general election on Nov. 5.
Political observers said that the most predictable outcome Tuesday is a Bell-Lopez contest, but they would not rule out a surprise strong finish by either Mr. McNamara or Mr. Collins, based on the vigorous campaigns the two have run.
“I think everyone, including the candidates, knows there’s some uncertainty remaining,” said Paula Ross of Ottawa Hills, who led the Lucas County Democratic Party from 1997 to 2004. “A large field of credible candidates and low turnout means anything’s possible.”
Her advice to the candidates was to keep on raising money to buy television and radio time.
“I think it’s kind of late for retail politics. For the next few days I would think at least Anita Lopez and Joe McNamara are still raising money to increase their TV buys,” Ms. Ross said Friday afternoon. “You want to move people in a more broad way.”
But Jerry Chabler, a veteran Lucas County Democratic Party operative, said going door-to-door and being at churches and festivals is the best use of a candidate’s time now.
“It’s going to be a tight race the way I see it, so they need to concentrate on their ground game,” Mr. Chabler said. “It’s a combination of wholesale and retail politics, identifying your voters and then calling those voters and making sure they’re going to be voting.”
According to Jon Stainbrook, the Lucas County Republican Party chairman, 3,135 absentee voter ballots have been requested, compared with 4,451 for the 2009 mayoral primary. The in-person early vote count on Friday was 721, compared with 863 at the same time four years ago.
Mr. Stainbrook said only about 70 percent of the requested ballots had been received by the Lucas County Board of Elections. He said that reflects an electorate that’s comfortable with the incumbent, Mr. Bell, a former Democrat who has Republican backing, though he declined the GOP endorsement.
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Mr. Stainbrook said. “If people were really psyched up or [upset] at the economy, they’d be mailing them back.”
County Democratic Chairman Ron Rothenbuhler said the low early vote means either “people just don’t have the interest or maybe they’re waiting for the election.”
“The numbers are certainly not what we’d expect in a hotly contested mayoral primary,” he said.
On the trail
Ms. Lopez rallied supporters at the Teamsters Local 20 hall in South Toledo before they went out Saturday to canvass for her door-to-door. She also attended a fund-raiser sponsored by Women for Lopez. Ms. Lopez has the backing of the Teamsters, the AFL-CIO, and such construction unions as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Many of the unions have vowed to defeat Mayor Bell because of his support two years ago for Republican-backed Senate Bill 5, which would have curtailed public-employee unions’ bargaining rights. Mr. Bell also burned some union bridges with his “exigent circumstances” ordinances in 2010, giving him power to impose concessions on union contracts.
Ms. Lopez, 44, who also has served on the Toledo Board of Education and as Lucas County recorder, highlights her family’s struggle to give her an education in South Toledo and promises a customer and business-friendly administration as mayor. She intends to hire more police officers and create strong, safe neighborhoods.
“I’m very excited about the next few days. We are moving in the right direction,” Ms. Lopez said during a stop at the Teamsters Hall later in the day to thank volunteers and work the phones. “I believe that folks are tired of candidates who are negative, and they are focusing on what we’re going to do for the city of Toledo.”
“We work for citizens and taxpayers — they come first in our office, and they will come first when I’m mayor of the city of Toledo,” Ms. Lopez said.
Mr. McNamara, 36, a lawyer and at-large city councilman since 2007, has been running the heaviest television commercial schedule, with about $79,000 worth of TV ad buys — more than twice that of Ms. Lopez, his closest competitor in television advertising.
A former president of council, Mr. McNamara has run on progressive themes and job creation, while relentlessly attacking Ms. Lopez for what he says are unethical campaign contributions and volunteer time from her taxpayer-funded employees in the auditor’s office. Mr. McNamara has vowed to never accept contributions from people who work for him.
On Saturday, he had a news conference to advocate better funding for the Toledo Community Initiative to Reduce Violence, aimed at breaking gangs’ criminal power.
“It was a big mistake of the Bell administration not to release the gang map, because involving the community is a big part of T-CIRV,” Mr. McNamara said, referring to Mayor Bell’s year-long delay in releasing a police-created map of suspected gang territories to The Blade in response to a newspaper public-information request.
He said the administration needs to give T-CIRV a budget and said $100,000 would pay for an additional half staff and a marketing plan to reach out to the public.
Mr. Collins, 69, is a 27-year retired city police officer who has a master of business administration degree and who served for 10 years as president of the Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association. He was elected in 2007 as the District 2 councilman.
On Saturday morning, Mr. Collins walked door-to-door in the morning on Bancroft Street. In the afternoon, his team of volunteers waved green “Collins Cares” signs on Summit Street in Point Place.
Mr. Collins has touted the platform he has proposed and said voters like his willingness to ask tough questions.
“I’m telling them if there’s a desire to see me on the ballot, the only way for that to happen is I have to come out of the primary in the top two,” Mr. Collins said.
Mr. Bell, 58, was elected mayor in 2009 after 17 years as Toledo fire chief and two years as state fire marshal. His four years have been marked by a slow slog out of a fiscal crisis with a threatened $48 million deficit and an economic development strategy hinging largely on marketing the city of Toledo in a series of trips to China, Germany, Japan, and India.
Today, the mayor boasts of a city fiscally in the black and that has begun rebuilding police and fire departments decimated by retirements — all while avoiding a tax increase.
“The bottom line is we’re only half done,” Mr. Bell said while putting in an afternoon appearance at the the sparsely attended Warren-Sherman Festival on Bancroft Street near Cherry Street. “The first half was stabilizing the budget and trying to get the services back together. The second portion is now I’m starting to focus on quality of life.”
He pointed to the nearly vacant shopping center next door his part of his second-term agenda.
“We’ve been working on it for the last six months. To us it’s a nuisance, and we’d like to fix it,” Mr. Bell said, noting that he has been meeting with a ministers’ group and has his law department trying to contact the property’s owner.
Earlier in the day, the mayor spoke to a Block Watch group, attended an event at the 180th Ohio Air National Guard base at Toledo Express Airport, and made a stop at the Warren-Sherman Festival downtown. His later plans included a gala for the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library’s 175th birthday and a stop at the Greek-American Festival near downtown.