TOLEDO MAYORAL PRIMARY

In a surprise, Collins joins Bell as winner

Pair advance to Nov. election to see who will lead city next

9/11/2013
BY TOM TROY AND IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
With supporters, Mayor Mike Bell celebrates his first-place showing.
With supporters, Mayor Mike Bell celebrates his first-place showing.

D. Michael Collins can’t help but smile as he looks at the early results.
D. Michael Collins can’t help but smile as he looks at the early results.

It's Mike versus Mike, independent versus independent, police versus fire.

Toledo Mayor Mike Bell will run for re-election in November against an unexpected challenger: Toledo Councilman D. Michael Collins, a former police officer and union president who raised the least amount of money among four leading candidates. Mr. Collins' attempt at the mayor's office ended in a fourth place finish in the 2009 primary.

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The two independent men nudged out union-backed Democratic Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez, who failed to show up Tuesday night at her own election night party near downtown Toledo until just before midnight. Ms. Lopez raised the most money in the primary election bid.

Mr. Collins, 69, called himself the "long-shot horse in the race who came from behind" and stressed that the November election is still a David and Goliath contest.

He put out a detailed platform that called for a reduction in the city's income tax rate, from 2.25 percent to 2.20 percent, and also doggedly campaigned door-to-door. Mr. Collins said he would reach out to the Lopez and McNamara campaigns for help against the incumbent mayor.

"I feel each camp has value and they both did outstanding jobs," he said. "If we want to turn this city around, and we are not happy with or believe in the direction that Mike Bell has taken this city, then they can help."

During an election night party with some 100 supporters, one-term Mayor Bell, 58, said he had expected a general election face-off with Mr. Collins all along.

"I told these guys it would be Collins," the mayor said pointing at his re-election team. "The two [Democratic] candidates were shooting at each other, which they did."

The mayor, a former Toledo firefighter and fire chief, said he already has the experience needed to govern and described himself as pro-citizen.

"We are this close to turning around this city," he said amid the chants and cheers of his supporters at Mulvaney's Bunker — the site of his victory party. 

Cornelius Collins high-fives his first cousin D. Michael Collins after the mayoral candidate captured second place in Tuesday's mayoral primary.
Cornelius Collins high-fives his first cousin D. Michael Collins after the mayoral candidate captured second place in Tuesday's mayoral primary.

Turn city around
"The first four years were about patching holes in the ship and the next four years are about increasing quality of life for the people who live here," Mr. Bell said, pointing to the Marina District and Promenade Park, among other projects.

Ms. Lopez came just before midnight to greet those supporters who still remained at her campaign party at Michael's on Monroe Street in downtown Toledo. She said she would support Mr. Collins in his race against Mr. Bell.

"Foremost I'm concerned about the leadership of Mike Bell. We need a change in the leadership of the city," she said. "I do respect the wishes of the voters. As soon as the votes are official, I will be supporting the next candidate against Mike Bell. I will be supporting D. Michael Collins for mayor."

She said both she and Mr. Collins were similar in that they had the backing of labor in town. Ms. Lopez said she was not in a position to analyze what went wrong in her campaign and declined to say if she would run again.

Voters also rejected the candidacy of Democrat Joe McNamara, a longtime Toledo city councilman who took fourth place. 

Democratic mayoral candidate Joe McNamara, watches the results come in along with his wife, Valerie Moffitt, during his election-night party at The Attic.
Democratic mayoral candidate Joe McNamara, watches the results come in along with his wife, Valerie Moffitt, during his election-night party at The Attic.

McNamara grateful
Mr. McNamara expressed gratitude for his many supporters and campaign staff.

“I’ll finish my council term and then it’s time for me to do something else with my life. I enjoyed every single minute of this race,” he said.

Dan Wagner, president of Toledo Police Patrolman's Association union -- which along with the Toledo firefighters rank-and-file union endorsed Mr. Collins -- said support surged after the most recent televised debate, sponsored by The Blade and WTVG, Channel 13.

"People saw how knowledgeable Mike Collins is ... and he took on a whole new persona for people," Mr. Wagner said at the Collins victory party at Doc Watson's bar in South Toledo.

Of the four, Mr. McNamara was the only one with his political career entirely on the line. He opted not to run for another term as an at-large councilman, while Mr. Collins was midway through his term. Ms. Lopez retains her job as county auditor.

Mr. Bell is seeking a second term and has promised more expansive policies aimed at restoring services that have suffered during a four-year period of austerity. The mayor, who lives in Old Orchard, was Toledo's fire chief for 16 years, the first African-American big-city fire chief in Ohio. He retired in 2007 and was appointed state fire marshal by Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland. Mr. Bell resigned from that job when he launched his first political campaign in 2009, putting aside his long-time registration as a Democrat to run as an independent. 

Mayor Bell notes his finish among the primary candidates during his election bash at Mulvaney's Bunker Irish Pub.
Mayor Bell notes his finish among the primary candidates during his election bash at Mulvaney's Bunker Irish Pub.

Fought unions
Mr. Bell bumped heads with unions several times as mayor. The first big instance was when he was confronted at the start of his term with what he said was a potential $48 million deficit. Mr. Bell said he went to the unions to seek concessions, but claims they refused concessions and told him to lay people off. Having been laid off as a firefighter in 1980, Mr. Bell declined that route and forced the unions to negotiate concessions by getting council to pass "exigent circumstances," an ordinance giving him the power to make unilateral cuts in wages and benefits.

The second battle with unions was his sale of the 69-acre Marina District on the city's East Toledo riverfront to Chinese investors for $3.8 million cash without a guarantee that investors Dashing Pacific Group LLC would develop the property using only union contractors.

In 2012, Mr. Bell, citing his own experience with exigent circumstances, endorsed Ohio Gov. John Kasich's attempt to rewrite state collective bargaining law to weaken public employee unions. The law was repealed in a referendum led by unions and Democrats, and making Mr. Bell the Democratic Party's No. 1 target for defeat in 2013.

The mayor did little outright campaigning, and didn't knock on doors, considered a necessity of a mayoral campaign, until the last weekend before the vote. He aired a television commercial that likened the situation Toledo was facing when he took office to that of bankrupt Detroit, and said he was forced to make "tough choices." He repeatedly challenged his opponents to say what they would have done in his situation.

Ms. Lopez, 44, who grew up in a low-income family in Toledo's heavily Latino South End, worked as general counsel for the Fair Housing Center and was director of Affirmative Action and Purchasing under former Mayor Jack Ford. She was elected to Toledo Board of Education, Lucas County recorder, and twice as Lucas County auditor. 

Anita Lopez speaks to the media at Michael's Bar & Grill after failing to land among the top two in the primary despite big financial support from unions.
Anita Lopez speaks to the media at Michael's Bar & Grill after failing to land among the top two in the primary despite big financial support from unions.

Lopez’s claim
She claimed success in turning around the auditor's office to make it more responsive to citizens, and said in her campaign commercial that she "lowered property taxes," because of her aggressive realigning of property values in Lucas County, resulting in a $31 million reduction in the overall property tax bill in 2012 after the six-year revaluation. Critics said the claim was factually inaccurate, since Ms. Lopez doesn't control tax rates.

The building and construction trade unions strongly backed Ms. Lopez's candidacy, as did Teamsters Local 20, which allowed her the use of its hall to run her get-out-the-vote operation.

While Ms. Lopez tried to keep the negative attention on Mayor Bell, Mr. McNamara focused almost exclusively on attacking Ms. Lopez over what he said was her unethical practices of giving pay raises and promotions to auditor's office employees who donated money and time to her campaign. While his commercials dominated the on-air campaign, Mr. McNamara doggedly walked door-to-door to meet and persuade voters, targeting those voters his well-funded campaign thought most likely to support him.

Mr. Collins, a District 2 city councilman since January, 2008, and a political independent, said he sees himself not as a politician. During his tenure on council, he has dogged Mayor Bell on issues like the purchase of high-priced vehicles and was equally hard on former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner.

The mayoral candidates met in public forums several times during the campaign, including in front of the Toledo chapter of the NAACP, the United Way, the Northwest Ohio Conservative Coalition, which was broadcast on WNWO-NBC-24, and finally in a live debate co-sponsored by The Blade and WTVG, Channel 13.

Contact Tom Troy: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419--724-6058 or an Twitter @TomFTroy.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171 or on Twitter @IgnazioMessina.