In what was probably their last televised debate of the mayoral campaign, Toledo’s two mayoral candidates managed to agree on a few subjects Wednesday night on Fox Toledo TV, while disputing everything from whether to fire Police Chief Derrick Diggs to whether Mayor Mike Bell was right to sue the owners of the former Southwyck mall.
Political independents Mayor Bell and Councilman D. Michael Collins sounded like conservative Republicans in their agreement on the possibility of turning Toledo Express Airport over to a private entity for its operation.
The two also agreed on the safety value of red-light cameras at intersections, on the high-quality of homeland security preparedness, and that attracting jobs to Toledo is the key to defeating brain drain.
On each question, Mr. Collins rolled out details while Mr. Bell sketched the big picture.
On economic development, Mr. Bell said the approach he’s tried to adopt during his four years on the job is to cooperate with the economic development agencies, such as the Regional Growth Partnership and the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.
“It’s counterproductive if we don’t sit in the same room and talk to each other,” Mr. Bell said. “Now you have a more powerful economic development engine than just one individual.”
Mr. Collins sketched out the “meta plan” that was conceived by a former University of Toledo president.
“President Emeritus Dan Johnson brought forward a plan to take all of the silos and put them under one umbrella and have them all focused in their own independent niches,” Mr. Collins said. “I firmly believe that going back to that meta plan is the right answer, under one roof, branding this city and moving in one direction.”
His statement prompted moderator Jerry Anderson to point out: “You’re saying under one roof, he’s saying they’re already in the same room.”
“I have not had that experience. Really, everybody’s trying to hit the same home run.”
The two disagreed over whether Toledo should postpone Halloween trick-or-treating. Mr. Collins said that it should be delayed because of the likelihood of inclement weather. Mr. Bell suggested that trick-or-treaters could handle some rough weather, but he said he would make a decision by noon today.
Mr. Collins, who has said previously that he would replace Chief Diggs, revised his stance to say if he is elected, he would discuss with the chief whether they have a future together.
“We will have a discussion about where his loyalties are and what his plans are under my administration. I don’t believe I will summarily ask him to leave,” Mr. Collins said. But he said later in the debate that he would order the chief to reopen the northwest district police station, something Mayor Bell and Chief Diggs do not believe is necessary.
Mayor Bell praised Chief Diggs’ rise through the departmental ranks from sergeant.
“He’s got the department feeling good about themselves. He’s a person who could go anywhere else in the United States,” Mr. Bell said.
Mayor Bell announced that Chief Diggs has come up with what he called the community corridor initiative, dividing the city into five zones with two officers to each district.
That prompted a smiling Mr. Collins to say, “I’m very pleased to hear you’re using my initiative of beat integrity. That’s music to my ears.”
Mr. Collins has proposed assigning police to neighborhood-specific beats.
They agreed that a quietly circulating private business proposal to turn the city-owned Toledo Express Airport over to a business entity might be what the airport needs to start making a profit.
“This is nothing against the port authority. This new energy going in might just well be that which is needed to kick-start the airport,” Mr. Collins said.
The private entity was not identified during the debate, however, The Blade recently learned that Dock David Treece, a partner in Treece Investments, has been seeking the Bell administration’s interest in signing over control of the airport.
Mr. Bell said, “I’m open to the concept,” saying that the idea was discussed in his office.
Mr. Collins blasted Mayor Bell over his decision early in his term to withdraw the city’s lawsuit against the owners of the Steam Plant, the stalled site of a proposed development to be called Water Street Station. He blamed the owner of the Steam Plant for the disappearance of Friday night rock concerts in Promenade Park.
Mr. Bell gave little explanation of his decision to drop the lawsuit initiated by his predecessor, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, to reclaim the empty historic structure. He said the owner, David Ball, has several successful properties downtown and should be given the opportunity to make the Steam Plant another one. And he said many events had been held on the downtown riverfront this summer.
They took opposite stances on Southwyck. Mr. Collins attacked the mayor for filing a lawsuit against the out-of-state owners of the abandoned former shopping center.
“They weren’t taking care of their property. People around Southwyck were starting to complain,” Mr. Bell responded. He said the law department reached out unsuccessfully. “We got their attention,” Mr. Bell said.
Mr. Collins retorted that the administration should have asked for his help because he’s the District 2 councilman.
“All they had to do was pick up a phone and call me. I didn’t have one complaint from a citizen,” Mr. Collins said.
The debate was produced by WTOL-TV, Channel 11, but was broadcast only on WUPW-TV, Channel 36.