Toledo’s mayoral candidates, Mayor Mike Bell and Councilman D. Michael Collins, squared off over Southwyck and other issues in a public forum Tuesday at Sanger Branch Library.
The event was co-sponsored by the Ability Center of Greater Toledo and other groups and drew about 70 people. Both candidates are political independents and are competing in the Nov. 5 election.
The two differed over the stalled Southwyck project in South Toledo. Mr. Bell said the city would like to get control of the property. Mr. Collins blasted the administration for its lawsuit against the out-of-state owners of the former shopping center property for failing to keep it mowed.
“If we get it under our control of the city, we can have a bit more options to be able to do things,” Mr. Bell said. “There’s really not a lot of things we can do without the permission of the owner.”
Mr. Collins said he apologized to Southwyck’s owners because of the suit, which he said was lodged without warning.
“I had to explain to them that I was totally sorry because I had no knowledge until it was in the paper. You haven’t treated people who have invested in this city in a very professional way,” Mr. Collins said.
Mr. Bell said later that “they knew we were coming.”
Mr. Collins said it’s “ridiculous” for the city to seek to acquire control of Southwyck.
“I believe Southwyck is going to be defined by whoever sees the puzzle coming together,” Mr. Collins said, adding that, as the district councilman, he stays in touch with the owners’ representative.
Mayor Bell told the group the city has spent $1.3 million on sidewalk ramps and has added ramps at each of the city’s pools. In response to a question about the lack of public activity downtown, he said the city’s revenues, at about $161 million from the income tax, still lag behind the $167 million in revenue in 2007 before the recession.
He said the city started work Tuesday on the second phase of its renovation of Promenade Park.
“I think I have to give you basics before I start other things. ... A lot of things are happening in the downtown area, maybe more than you think,” Mr. Bell said.
Mr. Bell said 30 businesses have been created this year in Toledo.
“It is a city in transition,” Mr. Bell said. “This city has been undermarketed for years. We want to re-energize our [industrial] corridor between Toledo and Detroit, same as between Forth Worth and Dallas.”
Mr. Collins said he and the mayor have a lot in common, but differences as well. He blasted the Bell administration’s acquisition of two luxury sport utility vehicles under deceptive language in the city budget, and said the 2010 deficit was well below the $48 million often claimed by the mayor.
He said the city is laboring under “stagnant thinking” and said there’s not enough opportunity to give young people the choice to stay.
“How many of us can say we have children who left Toledo because of a lack of opportunity? I know I can — three daughters. Would they be here today if there was more opportunity? I would hope so. It should be a choice to move because they want to rather than because they have to,” Mr. Collins said.
He cited the city’s continuing practice of dumping treated sewage sludge on an island in Maumee Bay.
“We live on 20 percent of the freshwater supplies in this entire planet. We have not been good stewards of that environment. The city of Toledo may very well have contributed to that through its practices,” Mr. Collins said.