The two candidates vying for Toledo City Council's District 2 seat took turns answering questions in a forum last night at Walbridge Park with no major disagreements between them, but with one candidate aiming a couple shots at the current mayor and city council.
Molly McHugh Branyan, 46, a real estate agent, and D. Michael Collins, 63, a part-time University of Toledo instructor, were the top vote-getters in a crowded primary field Sept. 11, and now face off to replace Councilman Rob Ludeman, who is stepping down. All six council district seats are up for election Nov. 6.
In the forum, attended by about 40 people, both candidates emphasized the importance of restoring financial vibrancy to the Southwyck Shopping Center and civility to city council.
Mr. Collins, a political independent, portrayed District 2, in South Toledo, as "the major resource, financially, for this city," with the highest-valued homes and the largest per capita income of the city's six districts.
He said the importance of the district is not reflected in the share of projects it gets in city funding.
He said Southwyck deserves a higher priority than the Marina District, and said if Southwyck becomes blighted, it will set back the city for decades because it will drive residents out of the city. "When people leave, they're not going to find their new address in Toledo, I assure you," Mr. Collins said.
He rejected Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's attempt to launch an eminent domain takeover of the mall as costly and probably not legally viable, but didn't say how he would get the shopping center redeveloped.
"What will happen to Southwyck will be determined by the market. It's a very attractive property. It just needs the right synergy to go, and I will protect that synergy," he said. "Once it's buttoned up, we will not allow that property to go to blight."
Mrs. Branyan, the endorsed Democrat, did not comment on the proposed eminent domain, which is sitting in a council committee with no action planned.
But she too set the rebirth of Southwyck as a high priority.
"I will work diligently to help find a solution to that. We've got to get it in the hands of someone who is willing to develop it," Mrs. Branyan said.
Both said they've met with Larry Dillin, the proposed developer of the mall, and said he was having trouble getting the current owners to sell, despite the continuing loss of tenants.
Asked how they would work to overcome the political turbulence of council this year, Mrs. Branyan said she would "build relationships with people, communicate, listen."
She described her leadership approach as "coach-style."
"I'm going to be open and honest, I'm going to stay out of the personal and political squabbles. I am going to stick to the agenda," Mrs. Branyan said. "I'm a good listener. I'm persistent. I can get along and work well with others."
Mr. Collins cited his 10-year experience as president of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association as evidence of his leadership ability.
"I will bring professionalism to city council by example. I will not depart my chair to run out in front of a camera in order to see myself on the 6 o'clock news," Mr. Collins said.
He said he'd refuse to accept any "discretionary" funds that might be available to council members in the future.
In the past, council has set up a fund of $90,000, out of which each councilman could allocate $7,500 for nonprofit entities. The fund was abolished after 2004 because of the city's budget deficits.
Mrs. Branyan said she considered how she would prioritize the money if it were available, but said she learned that was unlikely.
"I don't see that ever being able to get back in the budget," Mrs. Branyan said.
In response to a question about economic development, Mrs. Branyan suggested offering the sign and facade grants being made available on Reynolds Road to other business districts. She said she'd establish a small-business alliance.
Mr. Collins and Mrs. Branyan said they didn't expect the budget would have enough in the foreseeable future to build a bike path down the Anthony Wayne Trail to downtown.
Mr. Collins took several opportunities to decry the decline in the size of the police department. He said the department has 679 officers, but could dwindle to 625 officers with retirements. He said it should be at least 675 officers.
In response to a questioner who asked the candidates to comment on issues facing the Reynolds Corners end of the district, both talked about the importance of completing the widening of Haefner Ditch to prevent a recurrence of flooding that inundated dozens of homes in the Longwood Park neighborhood last year.
Mrs. Branyan said the Reynolds Corners community also is concerned about the proliferation of multifamily home developments, instead of single-family homes.
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