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Published: Friday, 2/22/2002

Speech themes touch on respect, belt-tightening


For Dorothy Harris, Mayor Jack Ford's initiatives on a broad range of issues last night resonated with her.

“I think in the speech he said he is going to deal with crime in the city and deal with the educational system,” she said. “He wants to clean up neighborhoods and do something with health care.”

Mayor Ford's warmly received speech that stressed a new era of respect and cooperation came with a caveat that belt-tightening will soon loom for the city budget.

But the speech was rather thin and so were the answers from several members of City Council afterward about where reductions in expenses can be made.

However, Mrs. Harris didn't duck the question.

“I think there will be [city employee] layoffs,” she said. “In layoffs, there will be sacrifices.”

The retired department store employee who lives in the Secor Gardens neighborhood off Byrne Road said she is not worried that Mayor Ford's initiatives for the city are being undertaken in the face of a projected deficit estimated to be more than $16 million.

“I think it is something he can deal with,” she said. “It is something he inherited. He will have to move forward. With the citizens' help, he can make it happen.”

Council members, who received rare applause when Mayor Ford lauded their efforts last year to reign in spending, were tight-lipped about how they will balance the budget.

Councilman Gene Zmuda said it “wouldn't surprise” him if there were layoffs among the some 3,000 city employees as part of a plan to trim expenses. “But I am sure the goal will be to minimize any layoffs.”

Overall, the speech was a good one, especially comments on what it means to be a Toledoan, Mr. Zmuda said. The remarks were along the lines of statements made by President Bush in his recent State of the Union message, he said.

“I was struck by how much he reached out to touch everyone tonight - unlike his predecessor,” Mr. Zmuda said.

Council President Peter Ujvagi said budget decisions in the next 30 days will be difficult.

“I am sure we can make it a priority to maintain city services to the community,” he said. But as for the specter of layoffs, Mr. Ujvagi replied: “I don't know at this point. Every effort is being made to prevent that from happening.”

Mayor Ford's speech hit key points that must be acknowledged for a city to prosper, Mr. Ujvagi said. Those points are finding ways to increase the tax base and taking steps to keep it from shrinking.

Steve Serchuk, a commercial real estate agent, said Mayor Ford's stress on sacrifice and individual responsibility, and his comments about investment rather than spending, are common themes of Republican officials.

“It sounded like a Republican speech for the first three quarters and a Democratic speech the last quarter,” Mr. Serchuk said of the Democratic mayor's remarks.

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