Mayor Mike Bell and his challenger in the Nov. 5 mayoral election, Councilman D. Michael Collins, went at each other in a no-holds-barred way Monday night in their first televised debate of the general election campaign.
Mr. Bell repeatedly parried his attacks, accusing his opponent of hallucinating, of being responsible for the purported $48 million deficit he confronted in 2010, and of not knowing Toledo’s gangs as well as he thinks.
The forum between the two political independents took place in the studio of WNWO-TV, Channel 24 and was aired live both on television and WSPD-AM 1370.
The moderators, WNWO News Director Jim Blue and WSPD morning host Fred LeFebvre, asked the questions, but the candidates supplied the fireworks.
Mr. Collins said he would not go on international travels without specific expectations of having the trips convert into jobs in Toledo, and repeatedly attacked Mayor Bell over the lack of progress in the Marina District.
“I’m not planning to travel anywhere in the world just to seek out jobs,” Mr. Collins said. “There has to be a magnet there and there has to be a reason.
“We are engaged in a war. It’s called the jobs war,” Mr. Collins said. He said population has dropped, the city is not safer, and the community is less attractive than it was four years ago.
Mr. Bell replied that city council had approved the $3.8 million sale of the property to Dashing Pacific Group Ltd. and the owners are saving the city from paying for lights and maintenance of the once publicly owned property. The owners also are paying Lucas County $100,000 a year in property taxes, he said.
“It’s impossible to be in competition internationally unless you compete internationally,” Mr. Bell said, adding that investors he recruited have put $10 million in the city.
The two argued whether crime was declining or rising. Mr. Bell said crime is down 17 percent since he took office.
Mr. Collins, reading from statistics he said came from the city police department, recited what he said were increases in murders, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, and arsons.
“You’re suggesting that crime is down. Those numbers are numbers your department reported to the FBI,” Mr. Collins said.
Mr. Bell promised to release figures to the media that he said would disprove Mr. Collins’ claims.
Mr. Collins accused the mayor of exaggerating the deficit he encountered and read a letter from City Auditor Scott Wheelock, a position that reports only to city council, stating the deficit was $8 million, not $48 million.
“You’re the only one hallucinating on this, you and maybe the auditor. You don’t want to take responsibility because you were councilman when it was going on,” Mr. Bell said.
Mr. Bell said voters had told him to balance the budget without raising taxes, and that his decisions to seek concessions rather than lay off employees saved 271 jobs.
The mayor accused Mr. Collins of refusing to believe his $48 million figure because it developed during his term as councilman. He called Mr. Collins’ claim that he will introduce “new ideas” “a lot of horse malarkey.”
“One of his biggest consultants is former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner,” Mr. Bell said. Mr. Collins denied Mr. Finkbeiner is his consultant.
Mr. Collins accused Mr. Bell of not being transparent, bringing up the scandal that came to light early in Mr. Bell’s administration that led to a house-cleaning in the Department of Neighborhoods.
He also alluded to Mr. Bell’s niece having won contracts with the city to renovate houses even though she had no construction experience, and the administration’s acquisition of two luxury-style SUVs — one of them under the heading of a street sweeper.
He also accused the mayor of seeking concessions from employees, but sparing himself and his staff.
“What sacrifices did you take? Did you lose a penny’s pay?” Mr. Collins asked.
Mr. Bell countered that his salary was reduced the year before he took office, from $136,000 to $122,000.
“You guys refused to act on anybody else except the mayor. You knew there was a $48 million problem, but the only strength you showed was to take on the one person who couldn’t do anything about it,” Mr. Bell said.
Undeterred, Mr. Collins said, “You could have said, ‘I will make a greater sacrifice than any man or woman working in the city of Toledo.’ That would have showed your character. You didn’t do that.”
“Oh, I don’t have no character?” Mr. Bell asked in reply.
The two disputed the impact of The Blade’s gang map published this summer showing a gang territory map developed by the paper.
Mr. Collins criticized the mayor’s claim that shootings jumped 300 percent because of The Blade’s map and ridiculed the idea that gang members read the paper.
“When The Blade published that gang map, it is totally fiction when Mayor Bell said shootings went up 300 percent because of it,” Mr. Collins said. “The Fourth Estate doesn’t cause crime.”
A momentarily flustered Mr. Bell said the shootings were documented by the police department and occurred because gang members “were questioning the districts.”
“We knew it would happen and that’s why we asked that it not be printed,” Mr. Bell said.
Mr. Collins asked somewhat sarcastically if the mayor was suggesting that, “Those who perpetrate crimes of violence are frequent readers of The Toledo Blade and they got up that Sunday morning and said ‘My goodness, We’ve got to react to this’.”
The mayor said, “I’m quite sure they got up and read it that weekend.”
When Mr. Collins started to talk about his exposure to gangs as a police officer for 27 years, Mr. Bell said, “You have, but I think I’m pretty much a street person and I think I probably know more gang people than you’ll ever know.”
The dispute was soothed by Mr. Blue, who said, “Both of these gentlemen have worked in the public services, police and fire, and you’re both to be commended for your service.”
WNWO planned to post video of the debate on its Web site. Chris Topf, president and chief executive officer of WNWO, said the debate will air on Channel 24 at 10 a.m. Sunday.