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Published: Thursday, 10/11/2001

Commercial development Brown's goal

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Editor's note: This article is one of a series of profiles of the candidates running for Toledo city council district seats in the Nov. 6 election.

Wilma Brown is assured of at least two more years on Toledo city council, but she has a 10-year agenda that focuses on improving safety, housing, and retail services in District 1.

Ms. Brown, 65, is unopposed for re-election in the district, which covers parts of central and southwest Toledo. A former member of the Toledo school board for 12 years, she has represented District 1 since 1997.

“I've got two more terms after this two-year term, so if I have the strength, I'd like to continue,” she said. “This is my second life.”

Ms. Brown is one of six district city council members running for two-year terms this fall because of a city charter change that provides for staggered council elections. In 2003, district council candidates will compete for four-year terms.

Ms. Brown calls redeveloping the Bancroft, Dorr, and Monroe street business corridors her top priority. She said those streets, lined by abandoned storefronts, must be improved, and residents there need retail services like bookstores, restaurants, and dry cleaners.

“Those are the three main streets in my district, and they've been neglected for the last 20 years,” she said. “We're working right now with the department of development and the department of neighborhoods to find the money to widen Dorr Street.”

She points with pride to a Walgreen's pharmacy that opened last year at the northeast corner of Dorr and Reynolds, an intersection that had three drugstores before it opened.

Ms. Brown fought for construction of the store, which she calls an anchor for additional retail development, despite opposition from Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and District 2 Councilman Rob Ludeman.

“It's a special one. It's all brick,” Ms. Brown said. “If they ever went out of business, we could use it as a library or something else.”

The biggest development in District 1 since 1997 has been the city's effort to clean up the Oakwood Avenue neighborhood bounded by Dorr and Detroit, Lincoln, and Smead avenues.

A police enforcement blitz in 1998 helped reduce drug sales and other crime in the neighborhood, once known as “Cokewood.” Patrols have paid extra attention to the area since. Ms. Brown pushed for the city to buy a police helicopter that is a frequent sight over the neighborhood.

In addition, a $4.9 million project to build 35 houses and rehabilitate five homes this year is proceeding on schedule, and 40 more houses are scheduled to be built in 2002.

Ron Grant, executive director of Toledo Central City Neighborhoods Community Development Corp., said Ms. Brown has been helpful with the housing work and other development projects.

“If we have issues with projects or money, she's one of the best people to go to,” he said.

Jim Larson, acting executive director of the Ottawa Coalition, said Ms. Brown has helped obtain funding for projects such as the renovation of the Ottawa Park amphitheater and the planned fix-up of the Ira Apartments at Dorr and Parkside Boulevard.

Both the Oakwood and Ira Apartments projects have benefited from millions in state tax credits.

“I think she's done a very impressive job,” Mr. Larson said. “She's managed to bring about major changes by the money that she's brought to our district.”

Born in Birmingham, Ala., Ms. Brown has been a Toledoan since 1949 and spent her teenage years living on Oakwood. She has lived in the same house in the Secor Gardens neighborhood for more than 30 years.

Ms. Brown graduated from Scott High School, then went to work performing alterations at a Maumee dress shop. Ms. Brown worked for the American Cancer Society and the city of Toledo before taking a post with the Maumee Valley Girl Scout Council.

She retired as the council's membership and marketing director in 1997.

Ms. Brown was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Toledo school board in 1985 and subsequently won election three times.

She served three terms as school board president. In 1996-97 she was chairwoman of the Council of Great City Schools, a coalition of urban school districts that lobbies the federal government for funding.



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