Incumbent mayor Mike Bell and City Councilman D. Michael Collins started out the live televised mayoral debate with smiles at the WGTE studio in Toledo. But after the night's questions on the city’s issues ranging from state of neighborhoods to city finances by Blade and WTVG-TV panelists, their exchanges became tense.
THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
Toledo Mayor Mike Bell and challenger Councilman D. Michael Collins started out civil but turned aggressive during a live televised debate Tuesday that pitted the two men against each other on jobs, the state of neighborhoods, relationships with city unions, and again raised the long-running dispute over the city’s 2010 finances.
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By the end the debate was heated, with the mayor deemed “dishonest” and the councilman accused of never giving a straight answer. Mr. Collins called city government “bloated.” Mr. Bell said Mr. Collins is incapable of making the big decisions.
Mr. Collins addressed several issues he needs voters to believe he can handle, including crime, neighborhoods, and dealing with city unions — one of which he once served as a president while he was a Toledo police officer. At the same time, he was questioned repeatedly by Blade and WTVG-TV, Channel 13 reporters, as well as by Mr. Bell, if he can in fact keep lofty promises he has made, such as slashing city spending, hiring more police, and fixing neighborhoods — all while cutting the city payroll tax.
The mayoral candidates’ debate, held in the studio of WGTE-TV, Channel 30, included several opportunities for the two independents to ask each other questions. It got most heated when they addressed each other directly. The mayor at one point taunted Mr. Collins, saying, “hit me with your best shot.”
Mayor Bell saved the issue of Toledo’s $48 million deficit in 2010 for his last question to his opponent — asking if he would have pushed for concessions from city unions or laid off employees.
“You have only two choices here: keep the budget and lay them off or go for concessions. Which one of those things would you have done?” the mayor asked pointedly.
Mr. Collins again stuck to his assertion that there was never a $48 million deficit.
“There was not a $48 million deficit on the books and secondly ... when you finished your first year in office, there was a greater deficit," Mr. Collins responded. "I will tell you right now. I have the experience. I will sit down and I will discuss. I'm not going to sit there and ... say it's my way or the highway."
A Blade review earlier this month showed the red ink Mr. Bell faced when he walked into the mayor’s office in January, 2010, was more than $8 million in debt left over from 2009, the last year of Carty Finkbeiner’s third term as mayor. Mr. Bell also inherited a 2010 budget submitted by the Finkbeiner administration that included $30.24 million in nonexistent revenue and an additional $8.75 million in overstated revenue.
Mayor Bell responded in a sassy tone.
"There you go again not being able to answer the question," he said. "It was A or B ... you are trying to play the middle."
Mr. Collins asked the final question — shooting it at Mr. Bell — regarding the 2010 approval to purchase a 2011 GMC Terrain. City records given to councilmen showed the city would be purchasing a street sweeper but the mayor's administration instead purchased the sport utility vehicle for less than $27,000.
“Then in 2013 ... it was a [Chevy] Tahoe that was supposed to be a service vehicle for a supervisor in Streets, Bridges, and Harbor,” Mr. Collins said. “How do you justify taking and representing to council the purchase of over $100,000 in vehicles for purposes that they were never intended to serve?”
The two vehicles together cost about $69,000.
Mayor Bell dismissed the purchases, as he has done repeatedly for the years Mr. Collins has dogged him about it.
“There are 37 other Tahoes inside the [city] system,” Mr. Bell said. "You were the councilman on board before I became mayor that didn’t see a $48 million deficit budget coming but you’re saying you discovered this Tahoe and it’s parked right next to you in the garage. I think that, here again, you look at little things, and what I do, is I deal with big things.”
The debate, co-sponsored by The Blade and WTVG, opened with a question for the incumbent mayor regarding the creation of jobs from the sale of city property to Chinese investors, such as the Marina District.
Mayor Bell did not answer the question directly and instead responded that his administration assisted Chrysler in expanding its operations in Toledo and, more recently, helped Owens Corning remain in the city by offering it an incentive package. The mayor mistakenly said O-I when he meant Owens Corning. He also said Hickory Farms Inc. relocated its headquarters from Maumee to downtown Toledo last year.
Mr. Collins shot back, saying Mayor Bell cannot take credit for the Chrysler expansion because it began in 2009 under the previous administration.
But records provided by the Bell campaign after the debate show communications between Chrysler and Mayor Bell beginning in April, 2011, regarding an incentive package for the expansion.
Mr. Collins tossed in a fact on unemployment, stating it is currently 8.7 percent, up from 8.4 percent a year ago.
Mayor Bell diverted from another question to remind viewers the unemployment rate was 13.8 percent when he took office on Jan. 4, 2010.
"So we have dropped immensely in the past four years," he said.
During his closing statement, Mr. Collins said he would demand a development plan for the Marina District in East Toledo from Dashing Pacific Group, the Chinese firm the city sold the property to in 2011.
The candidates each were given 45 seconds to answer questions from Blade staff writers Tom Troy and Marlene Harris-Taylor and WTVG news anchors Bill Hormann and Lee Conklin. Each answer was followed by 30-second rebuttal.
Ms. Harris-Taylor questioned Mr. Collins about racial profiling, which is an issue that has followed him since an NAACP forum before the September primary. During that event, Mr. Collins said Toledo police do not racially profile.
“Your response has created some concerns in the minority community and many people are worried that you are a racist," Ms. Harris-Taylor said.
Mr. Collins emphatically said he is not a racist and there is no evidence to support that assumption.
He said an internal police department report said there had been no reports of racial profiling.
“It was a report from the [Bell] administration,” he said. “I will take it one step further. Under my administration, there will be no tolerance for any activities that even purport to be a racial profiling or any other forms of discrimination.”
Regarding jobs, Mayor Bell was asked if his pro-business approach is working to get more Toledoans back to work.
“I think that my pro-business initiatives are working,” the mayor said. "To be able to keep two major companies in town... and the idea of a company such as Hickory Farms moving back into the city is a great thing so I think it's working in the way it's supposed to be."
He said reaching out internationally was also part of his attempt to reduce joblessness.
Mr. Collins turned the question toward safety, saying new businesses would not move to an unsafe city.
"Frankly, our crime rate for the first three years of Mayor Bell's administration is up 17.2 percent," Mr Collins said.
According to the FBI numbers, Toledo’s total crime was down 9.49 percent in 2012 over 2011. On the other hand, total crime was down 18.34 percent according to the police annual report, or it was down 17.82 percent according a April 16 memo written by Police Chief Chief Derrick Diggs.
The two men agreed that Toledo’s older and blighted neighborhoods need to be restored.
They diverged on Toledo’s downtown and riverfront.
Mr. Collins blasted the mayor for giving away the vacant historic Toledo Edison steam plant to developer David Ball and said taxpayers put $70 million into that building. The mayor criticized Mr. Collins for dodging the question on downtown and the riverfront.
“What I have done is I am doing these things that are progressive," Mayor Bell said. “We do have this Great Lakes Museum that is going to open in April and it’s going to be great. We are talking to the port authority about the ability to bring cruise lines in. We are doing the things we need to do to improve Promenade Park.
The Bell campaign after the debate said Mr. Collins was incorrect about the steam plant. “The mayor’s administration has put no money into the steam plant at all,” Bell campaign spokesman B.J. Fischer said. “The only thing Mayor Bell's administration did with the steam plant was put an end to a frivolous lawsuit filed by [then] Mayor [Carty] Finkbeiner and settle a countersuit at the same time.”
Contact Ignazio Messina at:
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