Signs of the Bell administration’s impending end in five days are everywhere in the mayor’s office.
A dozen boxes filled with books, pictures, and mementos are packed and ready for movers. Sticky notes mark possible future locations for items, including plaques honoring Mike Bell plus various gifts presented by Chinese investors such as tea sets and small statues.
A printed sign sits on the edge of Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat’s desk: “I am a free man in Paris.”
As for his future, Mayor Bell is somewhat coy. He is not running for another public office “anytime soon,” and plans a vacation when his term expires Thursday evening. But he does plan to keep attracting international businesses to Toledo — something that partially cost him re-election to another four years.
As for his legacy, the mayor said he is unconcerned, but he cannot deny his efforts to attract foreign direct investment — especially from China but also from Europe — dominated the final three years of his term. The Chinese investments and the sale of city-owned waterfront property to Chinese investors were used against him during a negative campaign waged by unions vexed over his support of a repealed anti-union proposal.
“I don’t plan on going away on that issue. I still plan on being involved with international businesses coming to Toledo, even when I leave this office,” Mr. Bell said Friday shortly after his final scheduled official act as mayor — the promotion of two firefighters to battalion chiefs.
“I may start a consulting business. I may do a couple of other things that will allow for me to do that,” he said. “A lot of the investment was focused on Toledo because I was here, but they will go anywhere, so it’s about being able to establish those investments inside the United States and doing it in a way that will be a positive financial generator for the United States, Ohio, and Toledo, if possible.”
It is not clear what qualifications Mr. Bell has to start a consulting business, nor what connections he will have in Toledo after angering the Democratic Party for the anti-union positions he took as mayor and after shunning the endorsement of the Republican Party.
Mayor Bell — an independent defeated last month by an independent district councilman from South Toledo who needled him on myriad issues consistently for four years — doesn’t think his successor will continue looking for foreign cash with the same gusto. “His [focus] is not global. His is local. He said he will concentrate on local,” Mr. Bell said.
D. Michael Collins, who takes office at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, said he will direct Matt Sapara, his new business development director, to split his time between looking for domestic investment and foreign business.
“I am not going to China. That is out of the question,” Mr. Collins said. “I am going to turn it over to Matt Sapara, and he can work with Dean Monske of the Regional Growth Partnership.”
The new mayor wants to meet with officials from Dashing Pacific Group, the Chinese firm that bought 69 acres in the Marina District, but so far hasn’t been able to make contact with them.
“I do want to get some commitment as to what their plans are and when they will get started,” Mr. Collins said. “I have every intention to work with them, however, it is impossible to work with them unless you know what their schedule is. I am not going to suggest they are cool on the deal because I don’t know that to be true, but the community has a reasonable expectation of knowing the timetable.”
The company bought the Marina District in July, 2011, and the city can buy it back between July 1, 2016, and July 1, 2017, if there hasn’t been “substantial” development, according to the purchase agreement.
Company officials and Simon Guo, the deal-maker who introduced Mayor Bell to numerous Chinese investors, could not be reached for comment Friday. Mr. Guo also is an investor and bought the downtown Park Inn Toledo hotel and other properties.
Mayor Bell said he spoke with the Chinese investors and hopes they’ll stay dedicated to the city. He said he doesn’t care if people voted against him because of the trips to China or the sales to Dashing Pacific. “I was doing what I needed to do to move the city forward and it worked,” he said.
Mayor Bell said four years ago the job wouldn’t change him and he believes that’s true. “As I’ve said before, I will miss influencing young kids and letting them know they have a high potential to do whatever they want. I won’t miss the day-to-day grind and the politics.”