Editor's Note: This article corrects Theresa Gabriel’s political affiliation to independent.
Toledo city councilman Sandy Spang sits inside Plate 21, the coffee shop she owns in South Toledo. She is a candidate for mayor of Toledo. Mrs. Spang is hoping to leverage her newness into support from those who are tired of seeing the same people in office.
Sixth in a series of Toledo mayoral profiles
It’s hard being the new kid.
Sandy Spang is one of seven candidates hoping to be elected mayor and, although she’s in her second year as a councilman, is a rookie in Toledo politics. People might be more likely to know her as the owner of Plate 21, a South Toledo coffee shop.
Being a little-known politico, running against some big, local names — such as Mike Bell and Carty Finkbeiner — may work against Mrs. Spang, 55, as voters head to the polls, but she’s hoping to leverage her newness into support from those who are tired of seeing the same people in office.
“Why do we want to go back?” Mrs. Spang said. “Why would anyone want to go back when we can go forward?”
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She’s running on a platform that’s based largely on overhauling the city’s finances. She wants to introduce a new way to create and manage Toledo’s budget, which has a projected year-end deficit of up to $4 million. Economic development is critical to “writing the next chapter of our story,” she said.
Mrs. Spang is a native of South Toledo, where she grew up, raised a family, and owns a small business.
She graduated from Bowsher High School and earned a bachelor of fine arts degree, concentrating in metal, specifically glass on metals, in 1982 from Bowling Green State University.
While in college, Mrs. Spang, then Ms. Shank, worked at Keidan’s Jewelers at the former Southwyck Mall. She was promoted to management and, when the owner died in 1983, when Mrs. Spang was 24 years old, she became a buyer for the nine-store chain. Twice annually she would fly to New York to purchase diamonds and other precious gems from major suppliers, including Harry Winston.
In 1986, Mrs. Spang married her husband, Mark. The couple have three children: Ben, Lily, and Elijah.
The year Mr. and Mrs. Spang married, they became “accidental landlords” by purchasing the duplex they lived in. With the capital from that building, the Spangs bought a four-family building. They continued to buy and rehab properties, including a 32-unit apartment building, and flipped several houses.
Now, in addition to their family home, the couple own the four and 32-unit buildings; 3664, 3666, and 3668 Rugby Dr., where Plate 21 is located, and 10 storefronts in the Country Charm shopping center at 140 W. Boundary St. in Perrysburg.
In 2013, Mrs. Spang — after years of rebuffing those who suggest she ought to — ran for an at-large city council position when Phil Copeland’s seat opened. In a primary field of 17 candidates, Mrs. Spang came in third with 9,923 votes. In the general election she maintained third place, behind Rob Ludeman and Jack Ford, with 23,783 votes.
Councilman Lindsay Webb, a Democrat, said Mrs. Spang, an independent, has brought a “fresh perspective” to council and that her connections with the “urban artists and young, progressive, innovative folks” is beneficial. And while she “does her homework and is very thorough,” Mrs. Webb thinks Mrs. Spang could use more time immersed in city politics before being ready to lead.
“I think it takes more time,” Mrs. Webb said. “Toledo politics is like a hot tub. ... You can’t just jump in and expect to not get scalded.”
Councilman Theresa Gabriel, an Independent, said there are too many major issues, including city finances, money owed to and a relationship with the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio, and infant mortality, for a “freshman politician to be placed in the position of mayor at this time.”
Mrs. Gabriel said Mrs. Spang has the enthusiasm, but worries that isn’t enough.
“I know she has the desire, but wanting a position doesn’t mean you can do it. You can talk a big game, but can you produce?” she said.
Mr. Ludeman disagreed and said Mrs. Spang’s short time on council is only a perceived weakness.
“She’s very diligent,” he said. “She’s traveled quite a bit to different conferences to see what they’re doing in other cities. That’s more than what a lot of elected officials would do.”
Mrs. Spang said her greatest accomplishment on council was to pass building maintenance legislation to put into place a maintenance plan for all of the city-owned structures. She also is proud of having a small business navigator and sign inspector put into the current budget, although neither have been implemented.
In mid-August, Mrs. Spang announced she would run for mayor as the second-to-last candidate to declare.
Toledo city councilman Sandy Spang out in front of Plate 21, the coffee shop she owns in South Toledo. In her bid for mayor, Mrs. Spang wants to introduce a new way to create and manage Toledo’s budget, which has a projected year-end deficit of up to $4 million.
“I was very unsettled,” Mrs. Spang said. “I really believed we would perhaps have two years of running out the clock, and we can’t afford it. We have to move forward.”
Two candidates are former mayors Mr. Bell and Mr. Finkbeiner. Also running are retired lawyer and widow of mayor D. Michael Collins, Sandy Drabik Collins; Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson; former councilman Mike Ferner, and evangelist Opal Covey.
“She’s smart, got a great deal of energy, and I think she loves our community,” said Mr. Ludeman, who encouraged Mrs. Spang to run. “She has a very watchful eye on our budget and, what I worry about with some of the former mayors that are running is they’re great at spending money, especially Carty, but aren’t able to really nail down the financial aspects of what it takes to make this city run.”
To move Toledo forward, Mrs. Spang believes in a management strategy called priority-based budgeting.
When she was elected to council, she was certain she could tackle the budget.
“I thought I would tear into the budget and find the money,” she said. “It’s incomprehensible. ... There’s no vision here, no innovation. It’s an old budget ... and we keep dragging it along and dragging it along.”
Implementing the new budget plan is a multistep process, which would require all city departments to take inventory of the programs they run and account for every dollar they spend. That would give a clearer picture of what is being done and point out any redundancies.
Such a budget process, she said, would allow for resources to be reallocated to align with “community priorities,” as necessary.
With the new plan, she expects “substantial savings.” Metrics would also be established to see if departments are running effectively and, eventually, residents would be able to participate in the process by going online and ranking priorities. With savings, additional money could be allocated to road repaving, work that Mrs. Spang said is needed, but not as a result of raising taxes.
“Increasing taxes, until we understand that we have maximized the budget in every way we can, to me, is not the right thing to do,” she said.
Working with a budget that’s not a “straight jacket” would open up the door to other projects.
“How often does someone suggest innovation and we say, ‘We can’t do that. We don’t have any money’?” she said. “Any kind of innovation, like bike paths. We can’t do that. We don’t have money.”
It’s all about the money.
“Isn’t it funny someone could be so passionate about budgeting?” she said.
Mrs. Spang said she wants to build a better Toledo. Much of that, for her, includes building up small, local businesses and fixing “hollow neighborhoods.”
“Historically you can see when you revitalize the retail, people think it’s worth investing in rehab on a house,” she said.
She sees great potential in West Toledo’s Library Village, along Broadway in the Old South End, and the Vistula neighborhood in North Toledo. She also has a vision of revitalizing the waterfront, which could mean buying back the Marina District.
The Bell administration approved the $3.8 million sale of the district to Chinese investors Dashing Pacific in July, 2011.This July, Dashing Pacific said the company would sell the 69-acre East Toledo property. Rather than again selling the property, Mrs. Spang would favor a use-of-land lease.
“We need to put fresh eyes on our waterfront,” she said. “In Vistula, how much more likely would people be to rehab old houses in our oldest neighborhood if they had a waterfront and not a pile of salt?”
Revitalizing neighborhoods and a developed waterfront could increase Toledo’s attractiveness to young professionals, she said. Retaining young people, and bringing them in, is also important for the city.
Mrs. Spang said she would like to “make the Youth Commission really strong or just get rid of it.”
She would like to work with Toledo Public Schools, and others, to create an internship program, where high school students could spend summers learning about and working in jobs that don’t require college degrees, like a water department operator. After two summers as an intern, the student could be placed in a preferential hiring pipeline, Mrs. Spang said.
“A robust youth program is important,” she said. “That’s economic development.”
Mrs. Spang would like to see new industries put roots in Toledo to bolster the economy. Such a thing would improve the city overall, but also to help avoid dilemmas like when Jeep suggests changes in its local work force.
“Jeep is an important employer in our community,” Mrs. Spang said. “... The Jeep Wrangler is an important part of who we are, but in the long term, we cannot dance this dance again. In 10 years we can’t go through this again. We need a stronger economic network. We need to build new industry. We’re so poised to be a choice community.
“What do we have going for us? We’re an incredibly affordable city, we have cultural infrastructure, we’re an urban waterfront, we have great people here. So many things. Why would we not be a city of choice?”
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