D. Michael Collins’ campaign against incumbent Mayor Mike Bell picked up steam Monday with a major organized labor endorsement days after he received his largest-ever donation check courtesy of another union.
The United Auto Workers threw its support behind Mr. Collins, a Toledo councilman and political independent who edged out Democrats Joe McNamara and Anita Lopez to face Mayor Bell at the polls in November.
The union’s leaders praised Mr. Collins as much as they blasted Mayor Bell for his push for forced concessions for city unions in 2010; endorsement of Senate Bill 5 in 2011, and his openness toward a “right to work” law in Ohio.
“We are confident in [Mr. Collins’] leadership and convinced he is the right candidate to be elected the next leader of the city,” said Ken Lortz, director of the United Auto Workers union’s Region 2B, which encompasses Ohio and Indiana.
Even with no UAW members working for the city, Mr. Lortz said the mayor of Toledo has influence with employers to create jobs.
“Mike Bell has said he supports Right to Work and obviously that is a major issue for us,” he said. “All the statistics will show you that Right to Work states have higher health and safety issues in the workplaces and lower wages and benefits.”
Ray Wood, president of UAW Local 14, said he hopes defeating Mayor Bell is part of the process to defeat Ohio Gov. John Kasich in 2014.
Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges said earlier this month that the Democrats are “out of touch with the issues facing voters” if their goal in electing a Democratic mayor was to somehow affect the 2014 governor’s race.
Mayor Bell has said that he could support Right to Work under some circumstances. He was a proponent of Senate Bill 5/Issue 2, the bill that would have weakened public employee unions’ ability to bargain collectively. It was defeated in a referendum after a campaign in which Local 92 Toledo Firefighters, Mr. Bell’s former union, was one of the most active opponents.
Mr. Collins said the UAW’s “relevance” cannot be understated.
“There is no mayor, no governor who can take credit for what has happened in the city of Toledo and northwestern Ohio. That was because of the progressive leadership of the UAW and the ability to communicate in a 21st century environment that has preserved, and now increasing, the number of employed people in Toledo by 1,800,” he said.
Local 50 Plumbers, Steamfitters & Service Mechanics endorsed Mr. Collins last week and handed over a $10,000 check to him on Friday, said Lou Szabo, the union’s business manager.
“What the current mayor did with Senate Bill 5 was not good for us and our members so we are there to support Mike Collins and we like what he stands for,” Mr. Szabo said.
The local had supported Ms. Lopez, the Lucas County Auditor, in the primary.
In 2009, the UAW endorsed Democrat Keith Wilkowski against Mr. Bell, who was also an independent that year. The union wrote a $10,000 check to Mr. Wilkowski’s campaign.
Bell campaign spokesman B.J. Fischer said the mayor expected unions to endorse and finance his opponent.
“We’ve anticipated the opposition of the labor unions from the beginning of the campaign,” Mr. Fischer said. “The mayor has taken some difficult stands and we have always thought that organized labor movement would be opposed to us.”
Mr. Fischer said the mayor will concentrate on telling voters his plan for the next four years.
“Our objective is to talk to voters directly about his plan to create an environment for jobs and now that the budget is balanced, about his plans to work in neighborhoods, upgrading infrastructure — and we believe those messages will resonate with voters.”
Only one union, the 21-member Toledo Fire Chiefs’ Association, has endorsed Mayor Bell.
Mr. Collins, a retired Toledo police officer, was endorsed before the Sept. 10 nonpartisan primary by Toledo’s two largest public safety unions — the Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association and Toledo Firefighters Local 92. He was president of the police patrolman’s union for 10 years and was an outspoken opponent of Senate Bill 5/Issue 2 in 2011.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern and unions have fervently and openly opposed Mayor Bell since he endorsed Senate Bill 5.
Mr. Redfern was in Toledo recently to rally Democrats against the re-election of Mayor Bell. Mr. Redfern met with elected officials, candidates, and other Democrats at Michael’s Bar & Grill downtown — in place of a fund-raiser that was supposed to be planned for the party’s candidate for mayor.
“I cannot tell you who you should support for mayor of Toledo. I can surely tell you who not to support, and that gentleman’s name is Mike Bell,” Mr. Redfern said.
The Lucas County Democratic Party did not endorse a candidate before this year’s primary, following a rule that has been in the party’s bylaws for about 10 years. The party was expecting to endorse whichever of the two Democrats emerged from the Sept. 10 primary election. However, both of the Democrats were defeated, leaving the party with no Democrat in the general election for the first time in modern history.
There is some support within the labor faction of the party to get the party to support Mr. Collins, even though he is an independent.
Lucas County Democratic Chairman Ron Rothenbuhler said there could be a vote at tonight’s special meeting of the party’s executive committee.
“I’d like to encourage the Democratic Party to support the candidate that best represents the Democratic philosophy,” he said Monday.
Others, including Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz, have said the party should focus on electing Democrats to Toledo City Council and the Toledo Board of Education.
Staff writer Tom Troy contributed to this report.