Mayor Jack Ford set an ambitious course in his first State of the City address last night, promising to promote technology, improve basic services, keep the parks open, and lose some weight.
He announced the appointment of two consultants to the Marina District project for East Toledo.
The speech stressed themes Mr. Ford outlined in last year's winning mayoral campaign - education, “elegance,” and youth. But he put himself squarely at the lead of traditional mayoral duties - tree-trimming, aggressive law enforcement, and economic development.
“We have challenges, starting with cuts in spending and smarter allocation of tax dollars toward those services that contribute to a more elegant Toledo,” the mayor said.
He assured listeners he would not allow the $175 million Marina District proposal to languish. Mr. Ford said he has hired Hull and Associates engineering firm to do a brownfield report and Tom Chema, Lucas County's consultant on the construction of Fifth Third Field, to coordinate the project with developer Frank Kass of Columbus.
“We will work with the county and the port authority to make [the Marina District] happen in Toledo,” Mr. Ford said. “I am prepared to seek tax increment financing to fund some of the project, as well.”
The costs of those appointments were not available. City Council is set to consider legislation Tuesday to request two $3 million grants from a new state fund for reclaiming brownfield sites. The Marina District is planned for land now occupied by a former Toledo Edison power plant.
Mr. Ford emphasized repeatedly his determination to involve citizens in city policymaking. “The state of the city's future is in good hands: yours,” he said to close the 52-minute speech.
Mr. Ford summed up his priorities as SITE - Safety, Infrastructure, Technology, and Education.
He spoke in Nitschke Auditorium at the University of Toledo at a rostrum flanked by lavish flower arrangements. The speech was applauded repeatedly by the spectators who filled most of the 1,000-seat hall. The invited guests included local government officials; community activists, business, neighborhood, and labor leaders, and political supporters.
The mayor made no mention of predecessor Carty Finkbeiner, in contrast to Mr. Ford's inaugural speech in which he asked for a standing ovation for the outgoing mayor.
Mr. Ford and his staff have been struggling to understand the city's finances. He said the budget situation is “grim,” including an “inherited” $16 million deficit. He said a series of “poorly scripted downtown residential deals” contributed to the deficit and said those deals could end up costing the city millions more this year.
Mr. Ford said cuts will be made but did not say how. He promised that city parks and pools would not suffer because of the belt-tightening and that no police or firefighters would be laid off.
The administration recently discovered a $1.2 million deficit for fiscal 2001, which will be made up from money in the city's workers' compensation fund.
“During my campaign, I heard complaints that city service departments were not doing their jobs - that crews were not maintaining alleys, curbs, and sidewalks,” Mr. Ford said. “I pledge to you now that will not be the case with this administration.”
Dressed in a businesslike gray suit with blue Oxford shirt, Mr. Ford stabbed the air repeatedly for emphasis.
“If we are successful in our efforts, Toledo's beautiful streets, comfortable homes, and enhanced quality of life will become major lures for new businesses. Companies will choose to come here, not just for the tax abatements, but for the enviable lifestyle,” he said.
He said he made no apology for using the mayor's office to push Toledo Public Schools to do a better job. He said the district must adopt “major reforms” but didn't say which ones.
He called on residents to participate in better schools by agreeing to tutor 30 minutes a week in a district program called “Making the Grade.” He said he could give city employees administrative leave to tutor. And he endorsed “without reservation” an expected school levy this November to pay for the city's 23 percent match of $600 million in state funds for school construction.
For security, he said the administration would follow the trail blazed by former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani in fighting the symptoms of crime, such as litter, abandoned property, and broken streetlights.
“We will help our police force aggressively pursue criminals - particularly repeat offenders - by offering rewards for information leading to their arrest and conviction. We will be ruthless in tracking down those individuals who assault women, seniors, and children,” Mr. Ford said.
The mayor promised to stress services to youth. And with a sheepish grin that clearly referred to his own ample waistline, Mr. Ford said he would set a personal example by walking once a week in a Toledo park with children.
“I may not cover a lot of ground at first. But as the number of children in the program increases, so will my endurance,” Mr. Ford said to laughs.
In health care, he repeated earlier assertions that he would work with major hospitals to provide health care for 44,000 uninsured citizens.
To promote jobs, he said he has directed his economic development department to start establishing a multimillion-dollar seed and venture capital fund. “To fund it, we're going to have to make sacrifices because that's our future,” Mr. Ford said.
The mayor promised a new police substation in East Toledo. And he endorsed “upscale” housing downtown and on the east side, a possible reference to the proposed Starboard Side condominium project that the mayor has held up over financing questions.
Mr. Ford said that his election as the city's first African-American mayor proved that Toledoans voted not on the basis of race or ethnicity, but on who they felt could best do the job - a message he said that “has resonated strongly with our young.”
“There are young folks who I think have never thought about politics,” but when they see him, “they say if he can be mayor I can be mayor.”