Four candidates are vying for two at-large seats on Toledo City Council in the Nov. 4 general election.
The race is a battle between newcomers, as only one of the four - endorsed Republican David Dmytryka - has run before for public office.
And he has run just once, losing to Democrat Tina Skeldon Wozniak in a 2001 race for Toledo council District 5.
The candidates said public safety is at the top of their agendas.
“The police and fire need to be fully staffed, fully trained, and fully equipped. That needs to be the top priority when the budget comes down. We cannot make public safety secondary to anything else,” said Mr. Dmytryka.
Endorsed Democrat Karyn McConnell downplayed the recent “rash of crime in the Old West End” but said police and fire services need top billing in the city budget process.
“It's always on our radar screen. Just finding money to fund those kinds of police activities is always difficult,” she said. “You have to ensure safe neighborhoods.”
Endorsed Democrat Frank Szollosi said the looming threat of terrorism forces the city to make sure it funds public safety services.
“To that end, we need to get more of our tax dollars returned from Columbus and Washington to address this. I think that my set of intergovernmental skills and relationships is a benefit to the city of Toledo,” he said.
Mr. Szollosi once worked for U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo).
Mr. Szollosi and Ms. McConnell, both appointed to council earlier this year, now hold the two seats that are up for grabs. Mr. Szollosi took the seat in January that was vacated by Democrat Peter Ujvagi, who left to join the General Assembly. Ms. McConnell was appointed in February to the seat once held by Republican Gene Zmuda, who left to take a seat on the Toledo Municipal Court bench.
The two top vote-getters will win the right to serve the remaining two years on the unexpired terms of Mr. Zmuda and Mr. Ujvagi. Council members are paid $27,500 per year.
Mr. Dmytryka, Ms. McConnell, and Mr. Szollosi face unendorsed Democrat Bill Graving. He said he did not “know that much about it. I am not affected that much by it.”
While the city's smoking ban created a lot of heat when it was enacted late this summer, there has been only limited fire over the issue on the campaign trail this fall. The candidates are split on the ordinance.
Ms. McConnell said she had “wanted to see some amendments prior to passage.” But now, she said “it is too soon to push the panic button. Give it six to nine months, and see what kind of economic hardship, if any, actually has taken place. Right now, I think it is too soon to tell.”
Mr. Szollosi said he recognizes some businesses may suffer, but that it “is a public health matter for me. It is the type of progressive decision that Toledo needs to make. We are the No. 1 metro area for tobacco use.”
He predicted that, in the long run, the ban may actually attract business to the city.
Mr. Dmytryka said he would have “an exception for bars, bingo halls and bowling alleys. There were some provisions of the ordinance that were not fully investigated” before it was enacted.
Mr. Graving said he would like voters to get a chance to decide the matter.
“If it passes, and I would be hopeful that it would pass, I would like to see it implemented over a longer term, let's say three to five years. From what I understand, in most states and most regions where these laws have been put in effect, they have not been so tough on restaurants” as is the Toledo ordinance.
The candidates said they are concerned about economic development, in part because of the national recession and in part because projects, including the Marina District development on the east bank of the Maumee River, appear to be stalled.
“I would split the Department of Neighborhoods and Development. There needs to be more of a focus on development, and a separate and strong focus on the neighborhoods,” said Mr. Dmytryka, an owner of a small engineering firm based in Perrysburg Township.
Mr. Graving, a small businessman who sells snacks, soft drinks, and assorted items in his small “lobby shop” in the basement of a downtown building, said Toledo should work to compete with surrounding communities.
“We cannot ask more from businesses in Toledo than what the suburbs do. I don't think we can continue to slap businesses in the face with tougher requirements or higher taxes than what the suburbs are charging and expect businesses to open up shop in the city,” Mr. Graving said.
He said the smoking ban and the living wage ordinance are two examples of policies that discourage businesses from coming to or starting up within the city.
Ms. McConnell agreed the city needs to “make it attractive” for firms to take up residence in Toledo. “We did pass the tax abatement now to cover the whole city, not just in specific areas. We have our downtown groups and the regional growth partnerships working together to make it more attractive, but we are behind the eight ball.”
“There is no way in the world that Arrowhead Park should be where it is and the city of Toledo should be in the condition it is in. People need to know that the city is willing to help,” she said.
Mr. Szollosi said he thinks area schools could help build a strong economic base.
“We need to position Toledo to be propelled forward by knowledge economy jobs over the next 20 years. Every city that is doing that has a research institution at its heart. We need to help the University of Toledo, Bowling Green, MCO, and to a lesser degree Owens, to become research institutions,” he said.
Thinking about building a new sports arena, the candidates had different ideas.
Mr. Dmytryka said he has a problem “resolving the potential synergy of having one on the west side of the [Maumee] river [near Fifth Third Field] versus the people having voted two years ago for the [Toledo city charter] Section 79 waiver to spend money for it on the east side of the river. There absolutely should be further analysis of the issue.”
Mr. Graving said he would “like to see it downtown. Downtown has been neglected, and we have lost a lot of what made downtown downtown.”
Ms. McConnell said she is set on moving forward with an east side arena.
“We have to support the east side arena because that's what the voters wanted. Unless we hear otherwise from the voters, we have to honor their wish, which was to have it on the east side,” she said.
Mr. Szollosi said he is on the fence.