Mayor Mike Bell — confident as ever in his record over the past four years — said he's glad the general election campaign has arrived and he welcomed the opportunity to contrast his vision and record against that of his new opponent in the Nov. 5 election, Councilman D. Michael Collins.
Mr. Collins was equally eager, and said he’s happy to make the case for a reduction in income taxes and a more harmonious relationship with city employees.
The two men emerged from the dusty heap of Tuesday’s low-turnout primary to start the eight-week campaign for the general election.
Out of 23,748 votes cast, Mr. Bell won about 27 percent, or 6,340 votes, while Mr. Collins collected 5,806 votes, or 24 percent. Falling just short of Mr. Collins was Democratic Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez, with 5,443 votes, and Democratic Councilman Joe McNamara, with 5,328 votes. Four other candidates together garnered fewer than 1,000 votes.
The two survivors have some things in common. Besides being known as “Mike,” both are political independents and both have spent the bulk of their careers in public safety working for the city of Toledo — Mr. Collins as a police officer and Mayor Bell as a firefighter and then fire chief.
But the similarities end when it comes to Toledo public policy.
Mr. Collins said he wants to reduce the city’s payroll tax from 2.25 percent to 2.20 percent as an incentive to get voters to make the 0.75-percent temporary income tax permanent. The change would need voter approval, and could cost the city $3.4 million in lost tax revenue, with its current business and worker taxpayers. Mr. Collins says the lower rate would put Toledo in a favorable position in comparison to other cities in the region, and would contribute to reducing the city’s interest rates when borrowing money.
“When you are looking at a permanent income tax of 2.20 percent, you are talking about a foundation of money that can be readily identified, as opposed to 1.5 percent firm and 0.75 percent soft,” Mr. Collins said. “We should be able to address our bond rates that currently exist and it is also going to encourage retention for businesses.”
He said the lower rate also would make the city more competitive for development at vacant properties such as the former Southwyck Shopping Center and the old North Towne Square mall.
“The fact is that I believe we have a plan to do it, we have the ability to do it, and I think that having had the experiences on city council, there are areas of the city of Toledo that we can effectively manage much better,” Mr. Collins said. “Since Mike Bell came into office, we have 53 additional employees in the Department of Public Utilities, so what happened that we need 53 extra employees?”
Mr. Collins said he plans to be realistic with city employees.
“You sit and you tell the work force, this is where we are at financially and you give them an open book,” he said. “You don't cook the numbers or find new numbers because I firmly believe in a union-management team that works together is the answer.”
As a former president of the Toledo Police Patrolman’s Union for 10 years, Mr. Collins said the officers were his constituency. As mayor, he said, the people would be his constituents.
Mr. Collins said there was a false perception promulgated by the other candidates that he was not a serious contender. He said advancing to the general election was not a surprise to him.
“I believed in it all along. I honestly did,” Mr. Collins said. “I believe I have the skill and the capacity to listen and to write the next chapter, which will be the first chapter of the book called ‘new Toledo’.”
During the interview in his office, Mr. Collins had a copy of a portrait of Irish leader Michael Collins on a shelf. The leader of the Irish Republican Army, who fought for Irish separation from England, was assassinated in 1922 during the Irish Civil War. Mr. Collins said the Irish leader was a distant cousin, three generations removed from his grandfather.
Mayor Bell said he is confident his vision of pro-development policies will hold up well against what he says are internal contradictions in Mr. Collins’ prescriptions.
“By the time January rolls around, I’ll still be in this chair,” Mr. Bell said, during the interview in his office in Government Center.
“He’s talking about lowering taxes — and hiring police officers,” Mr. Bell said. “Mathematically, that does not calculate.” He said the city’s income tax revenue, while recovering, is still not back to 2007 levels, and is opposed to working against a weak economy.
“Nobody in their right minds would be proposing a tax decrease under the circumstances when people want services,” Mr. Bell said. Of Mr. Collins, the mayor said, he should tell people what services he’s going to cut to be able to reduce taxes.
Mr. Bell said another difference he expects to contrast with Mr. Collins is their approach to economic development.
“I’m still about international global development as well as domestic development,” Mr. Bell said. The mayor said his quest for international investors is being followed by other mayors and governors.
He cited a new Forbes Magazine ranking showing Toledo with the 12th-best outlook for employment of metro areas in the country — and the only city in the Top 12 from the Midwest or the Northeast. Of Ohio cities, Cincinnati was next highest, at 26th.
And he said his independent stance on unions has begun to change Toledo’s reputation as a town from which employers steer clear. Mr. Collins is expected to attract the union support that previously flocked behind Ms. Lopez, but may find himself in a box when he goes to defend his positions, the mayor said.
“The picture that everybody likes to paint is I’m an anti-union guy and I’m not. I'm just very pro-citizen,” the mayor said.
Mr. McNamara attended council’s 2 p.m. agenda review meeting Wednesday, but declined to talk about the election.
Lopez supporters continued for a second day to criticize Mr. McNamara for his campaign against Ms. Lopez, which included a bevy of negative television commercials.
Bill Lichtenwald, president of Teamsters Local 20, which endorsed Ms. Lopez, said he does not know yet if the union will support Mr. Collins.
“My gut feeling is anybody is better than Bell, or almost anybody,” Mr. Lichtenwald said. “Mike Collins is an ex-union president, he supported the unions on various issues, and he has done a decent job as a city councilman.”
Still, Mr. Lichtenwald said he was disappointed there is not a Democrat challenging Mayor Bell.
“Honestly, one of the candidates was pretty negative toward the other from the same party,” he said. “Of course, we are disappointed. The idea was to take out the incumbent mayor and Joe McNamara concentrated more on taking out his fellow Democrat.”
Mr. Collins said he would accept support from unions, including their money, but he is not going to declare a party affiliation. Mr. Bell already has rejected the Lucas County Republican Party's endorsement and said he’ s not interested in either party’s backing.
“I said I’m an independent and I’m going to remain an independent,” Mr. Bell said.