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Published: Thursday, 10/22/2009

Bell cites 'tough road' to Election Day, plans a vacation

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

Mayoral candidate Mike Bell is making plans for a vacation when the election is over, he told a North Toledo community organization Wednesday.

Mr. Bell, a political independent making his first run for public office and suddenly facing a barrage of attack ads from his opponent, told a community group that campaigning for mayor is "a tough road" and that he plans to go on vacation 24 hours after Election Day.

The former fire chief was in a joint appearance afternoon with his opponent, endorsed Democrat Keith Wilkowski, in front of the United North Planning Committee at the new United Way building downtown.

The members of the nonprofit organization representing North Toledo neighborhoods asked each candidate if he would agree to attend their neighborhood meeting at 6 p.m. on the day after the election if he wins.

Mr. Wilkowski agreed, promising to put it on his calendar immediately.

Mr. Bell asked, "How long is the meeting?" and said, "I plan on leaving everything on the field and then - I'm just being real with you - I'm out."

When the group told him the meeting would last about 90 minutes but that they would need him for only 10 or 15 minutes, Mr. Bell pledged to attend for that period of time.

Mr. Wilkowski told the group he is eager to meet with them.

"To me, this effort to talk about how we change Toledo has been a blessed journey and a joy," Mr. Wilkowski said. "It is not something I see as a burden."

Later, Mr. Bell explained to a reporter that "leaving everything on the field" is a football expression, meaning he would give 110 percent to the election campaign so that he would be sure he had done the best he could.

He said he would stick around Toledo for a day after the election to answer questions from the news media and to attend the United North meeting and any other required business, but then he planned to take a vacation.

He didn't say for how long or where he would go.

Mr. Bell also said he didn't believe Mr. Wilkowski's claims to be enjoying the campaign.

"Any person running for office will tell you this: This is a grind. And if he's acting like this has been such an exciting time, why does he always look so stressed out? Why doesn't he look like he's having fun? I'm the one that's always laughing," Mr. Bell said.

Told of that comment, Mr. Wilkowski denied that he is "stressed out," regardless of his appearance.

"That's the way God made my face," Mr. Wilkowski said.

He said he was not planning a break after the election.

"I don't think this is the time for vacations. I think this is the time to go to work," Mr. Wilkowski said.

The meeting with United North community development corporation came one day after Mr. Bell was hit with Wilkowski TV and mail advertising accusing him of contemplating a city income tax increase and of not having a plan for jobs.

Mr. Bell said the ads were misleading and showed that his opponent was getting into "the mud."

Julia Bryant, a real estate agent who presided over the United North meeting, said she was surprised by Mr. Bell's "noncommital" response.

"I would think that, as a new candidate, you would like to get off the ground running and take advantage of any opportunity to get before the community and help them feel confident they made the right choice," Ms. Bryant said.

Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz, a strong Wilkow-

ski supporter, said Mr. Bell's comments suggest he doesn't know what he's in for if he gets elected.

"I think that Mike Bell really doesn't understand the demands of being mayor," Mr. Kapszukiewicz said.

"It's a full-time job, a full-time responsibility, and I think he has proven during this campaign that he is unaware of the demands of campaigning."

Donna Owens, a Republican who was mayor of Toledo during the 1980s and now is a Bell supporter, said Mr. Bell was being honest.

"I think candidates are literally exhausted by the end of the campaign," Ms. Owens said. "It's easy to tell everybody what they want to hear. When somebody tells everybody what they want to hear all the time, I question that."

John Irish, a former Lucas County Democratic Party chairman who is advising Mr. Bell, said Mr. Bell is upbeat and positive about the election on Nov. 3.

"Campaigning is a grind, especially on a candidate, and I think toward the end it gets even tougher," Mr. Irish said.

"Every second is consumed with politics and campaigning, and quite often people need to just take a rest for a while and get fresh again before they take over the reins of the mayor's office."

Jon Stainbrook, chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party, who has not endorsed a candidate in the election, said being on the stump is grueling.

"I've seen what both these people have to go through. These guys are completely accessible to the voting public. Everyone wants their ear and everyone wants to tell them their story, and that's wearing and grating on both of them," Mr. Stainbrook said.

Ron Rothenbuhler, chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party and a Wilkowski backer, suggested Mr. Bell was being maybe a little too real in his public comments.

"I certainly wouldn't let the voters know that campaigning is more difficult than doing the job, because with the situation our city faces, this is just the beginning of a very difficult job," Mr. Rothenbuhler said.

"I can understand that feeling, but that would not be my way of gaining support for my campaign."

Jim Ruvolo, a former Lucas County and state Democratic chairman and a Wilkowski supporter, said a candidate has to want very badly to win and shouldn't suggest otherwise to voters.

He said former Gov. Richard Celeste once explained the desire that a politician must feel by pointing to a chair and saying, "you have to be able to eat that chair."

"Of course you're exhausted, but the public doesn't want to hear that. There are certain things you have to do. You may not like them, but it's part of running for office," he said.

Mr. Bell said his plan to take a break is normal, especially given that he will have no power to begin implementing his administration, and that it does not indicate any loss of commitment to the campaign.

"If I take two weeks to think about how I want to do things, who I want to bring in, away from this city, that makes me a bad guy? I don't think so. I think it's a logical approach," Mr. Bell told The Blade.

In their second public forum of the day, in front of the Point Place Business Association at the Friendship Community Center, the candidates clashed on the seriousness of the city's budget deficit, which stands at $7.8 million.

Mr. Bell noted that the city is facing another year, 2010, of a severe deficit forecast.

"If we don't do something totally different, we're going to put the city into receivership, and that's not going to happen on my watch," he said.

Mr. Wilkowski told the crowd of about 80 people, "I don't think that threats of going into receivership are valid in way, shape, or form."

He said the city is within a few million dollars of balancing the budget this year, and that could have been accomplished already under different leadership.

"It isn't the apocalypse," he said.

And he maintained a tax increase is an option Mr. Bell would consider and one that would drive people out of Toledo at a time when the city needs its population to grow. "I'm absolutely committed to not having a tax increase," Mr. Wilkowski said.

Mr. Bell said he would balance the budget within the revenues available, but he would be open to what the public wants.

"If you tell me the cuts are too deep after we get them in place, then I'm going to listen to you. I'm not going to box you in and say, 'This is how it's going to happen,' because I work for you," he said.

Also, Mr. Wilkowski announced that he plans to vote for Issue 3, the state constitutional amendment that would legalize a gambling casino in Toledo and three other Ohio cities.

He said a casino is not a panacea to Toledo's job shortage, but that on balance the measure is worth enacting because of the promises of jobs.

Mr. Bell previously has said he supports Issue 3 because of the jobs that have been promised in connection with the construction and operation of a casino.

The Toledo casino would be built on a 44-acre site near I-75 in East Toledo.

Proponents of the ballot question have said it would create 2,127 construction jobs and 1,831 operational jobs in its first year.

Opponents counter that the casino, if built, would result in a net loss of jobs, foster addiction to gambling, undercut existing area businesses, and benefit from a tax rate and licensing fee that are both low compared to those in other states.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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