Attendees of the forum at Mount Ararat Missionary Baptist Church include, from left, city council incumbent Rob Ludeman, school board candidate Chris Varwig, city council candidate James Nowak, school board candidate Perry Lefevre, and city council candidate Larry Sykes.
THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER
City Councilman D. Michael Collins stepped into Mount Ararat Missionary Baptist Church, and nostalgia swept over him.
He received his first Communion here, at the then-St. James Catholic Church in South Toledo, and as a child lived just blocks away at Orchard and Hawley streets.
Saturday, he returned to continue his campaign to unseat Mayor Mike Bell at a breakfast forum hosted by Mount Ararat, a roughly 120-member congregation that moved into the former Catholic church at 912 Colburn St. in 2008.
The forum was also attended by candidates for Toledo City Council and the Toledo Board of Education.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to see more photos from the event
Mayor Bell was absent because of a prior commitment to a WCWA radio program that conflicted with the forum, according to spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei. Deputy Mayor Shirley Green attended but did not publicly address the gathering of about 20 people.
If elected, Mr. Collins promised to launch a “vibrant, active program” within his term’s first six months aimed at educating local entrepreneurs on how to win some of the many contracts awarded by state agencies.
“We don’t get our fair share of contracts coming out of Columbus,” he said. “We are going to have to come together as a city, as a mayor, in economic development and set forth a program where we’re going to open the doors to everyone.”
Mr. Collins, who called small and midsized businesses the foundation of the economy, said the state enters major contracts for everything from paper clips to street sweepers. His proposed program would train entrepreneurs to get more of that business.
Bell campaign spokesman B.J. Fischer, reached by phone, said such assistance is available through the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce and other economic development agencies.
“Obviously, the mayor believes entrepreneurialism is important ... [but] we don’t need another program,” he said, arguing the focus instead should be on continuing “to provide a city that is safe to live in and that is prosperous.”
Many other political talking points expressed during the forum were recycled from previous campaign events. Mr. Collins repeated his promise to create a transparent, smaller government.
As he did during a mayoral debate last week, Mr. Collins again quoted crime statistics he said showed Toledo’s homicide rate increased 70 percent during the first three years of the mayor’s term. Ms. Green disputed that assessment, saying statistics the city reported back to the federal government from January to June, compared with the same months last year, show a 19 percent decline in violent crime.
City council candidate Sandy Spang, owner of a South Toledo coffeehouse, discussed all the positives small businesses can bring to neighborhoods. Councilman Rob Ludeman, running for re-election to an at-large seat, said the church’s South Toledo neighborhood needs more people to own and live in houses there.
Toledo Board of Education member Larry Sykes, running for city council, called for more help launching small and minority-owned businesses and said the city should hire more police officers.
Also in attendance were city council candidates Jim Nowak and Bill Delaney.
School board candidates Chris Varwig, Perry Lefevre, Aji Green, and incumbent Bob Vasquez also attended the event, though Mr. Vasquez left before candidates began making public remarks.
The Rev. John Walthall, pastor of Mount Ararat, said he wanted to host the event to encourage voter turnout. His message to candidates seeking votes in this neighborhood is simple.
“Just remember us,” Pastor Walthall said.