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Published: Thursday, 11/5/2009

Mayor-elect plans for the transition - but first, a vacation

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

Fresh off a convincing victory Tuesday night over endorsed Democrat Keith Wilkowski, Mike Bell said yesterday he felt good about winning, but was not overwhelmed.

"I'm so used to high-profile employment I've been very relaxed through this whole thing," Mr. Bell said. "But understand what it's going to take to turn it around, so that keeps you very real."

Added Toledo's former fire chief: "It's great to get the coaching job, but you've got to get the team up and running."

Toledo's unofficial mayor-elect said he plans to have a transition team and at least some of his cabinet in place by the time he takes office Jan. 4.


Mike Bell bumps fists with classmates of Alannah Hardy, who had given the mayor-elect a good-luck rock, above, during his campaign. Mr. Bell promised that her class, below, would be the first he visited if he won.
Mike Bell bumps fists with classmates of Alannah Hardy, who had given the mayor-elect a good-luck rock, above, during his campaign. Mr. Bell promised that her class, below, would be the first he visited if he won.
JETTA FRASER Enlarge

But first, as he said during the campaign, Mr. Bell intends to take a vacation now that the election is over. He said he would be gone 7 to 10 days, to an undisclosed location, and would use some of that time to think about his transition.

Mr. Bell, a lifelong Democrat who ran as an independent, won with 52.3 percent of the vote. The unofficial tally was 35,390 to 32,266, with a 36.9 percent voter turnout.

He carried 18 of Toledo's 24 wards, including all of South Toledo and the 12th Ward where both he and Mr. Wilkowski live. Mr. Wilkowski carried the two wards north of Laskey Road, Point Place, and three East Toledo wards.

Mr. Bell also carried Ward 4, the Lagrange area that was once home to a concentrated population of Polish-Americans who voted reliably Democratic, and where both he and Mr. Wilkowski grew up.

CTY bellschool04p  Mayor-elect Mike Bell with the second graders in teacher Susan Ocker's class.  Toledo mayor-elect Mike Bell visits a Crossgates Elementary School second grade class to thank student Alannah Hardy for the good luck rock she gave him during his campaign, in Toledo, Ohio on November 4, 2009. Bell had kept the rock with him since she gave it to him, and had told her that if he won, hers would be the first class he would visit after the election. The Blade/Jetta Fraser CTY bellschool04p Mayor-elect Mike Bell with the second graders in teacher Susan Ocker's class. Toledo mayor-elect Mike Bell visits a Crossgates Elementary School second grade class to thank student Alannah Hardy for the good luck rock she gave him during his campaign, in Toledo, Ohio on November 4, 2009. Bell had kept the rock with him since she gave it to him, and had told her that if he won, hers would be the first class he would visit after the election. The Blade/Jetta Fraser
JETTA FRASER Enlarge

It appeared that Mr. Bell inherited most of those who voted for Republican Jim Moody and independent D. Michael Collins in the primary election, although neither made an endorsement.

"[Mr. Bell] was by and large the second choice for a lot of those people," said Jennifer Sorgenfrei, a campaign spokesman for Mr. Bell.

Andy Douglas, a retired Ohio Supreme Court justice and a Republican, recorded an automated call that was transmitted to Republican voters for Mr. Bell the day before the election.

The other major vote-getter in the primary, Democrat Ben Konop, endorsed Mr. Wilkowski.

Mr. Wilkowski received prominent endorsements in the black community, but Mr. Bell had the backing of Toledo's first black mayor, Jack Ford, who made automated phone calls to central-city voters Tuesday morning. Mr. Bell carried the five substantially black wards, 6, 8, 10, 13, and 14, by wide margins, but he also carried much of the white wards in Toledo by slim margins.

Mr. Wilkowski was not taking calls from reporters yesterday, but his campaign spokesman, Marlene Harris-Taylor, said, "We did everything we could; we thought we did all the right things.

"I think there was a substantial group of undecideds right up until the end. Two good candidates battling it out to the end, somebody had to win," she said.

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner sent Mr. Bell a letter congratulating him and inviting him and his finance team to a meeting with Mr. Finkbeiner and his budget team.

Mr. Bell's cell phone rang continuously yesterday. The day began at 6 a.m. with television and radio interviews, and continued with other meetings and interviews through the day, including a 6 p.m. meeting with the United North neighborhood organization in North Toledo, which he committed to attend during the campaign.

In what the mayor-elect described as his first public appearance, he told the umbrella group that he would fulfill a pre-election promise to assign a staff member to attend North Toledo neighborhood meetings and keep him apprised of the latest developments in that part of the city.

After lunch, he visited Crossgates Elementary in South Toledo to thank a 7-year-old girl, Alannah Hardy, who had given him a polished rock on Monday while he was walking door-to-door in her neighborhood.

In the classroom, he thanked the girl for the polished stone, and offered to return it, but she insisted he keep it.

Mr. Bell bumped fists with all the children and thanked Alannah with a hug.

Mr. Bell, who was fire chief from 1990 to 2007 and state fire marshal from 2007 until April of this year, said he hoped to have his cabinet in place by Jan. 1.

He said the city's current directors and commissioners could interview for the openings.

"What we're shooting for is total efficiency in operation and people who can deal with change," he said.

He said there was no commitment of employment to people who helped him in his campaign, including former Democratic chairman John Irish, former Republican chairman Bob Reichert, and former Republican Toledo Mayor Donna Owens.

"None of them did it looking for a job. They did it because they believed in me and the direction we were trying to take this city," Mr. Bell said.

He said one of his first actions as mayor will be to launch a "citizen special investigation," a team made up of bankers, business people, union representatives, and regular citizens to produce a transparent and independent review of city finances.

The next step will be to set the city's priorities, beginning with the basics - police and fire protection and trash collection.

Mr. Bell declined to say how he'll balance the 2010 budget, which may have to overcome a $25 million deficit, but said he hopes to do it through transparency and working together.

"We need to come up with some real-time solutions so this doesn't happen again in 2011," he said.

He said a sign will be posted in the reception room of his office notifying people arriving for meetings that they should think in terms of "we" rather than "I."

Of his campaign, Mr. Bell said he worked as hard as Mr. Wilkowski did, and took pride in making it fun.

"I think we were in accordance with the benchmarks we were attempting to meet in the campaign," he said.

Mr. Bell said his goal is to orient Toledo to present itself as a business-friendly city to the world.

"If we can create a competitive environment that lets them know that we're attempting to be as competitive as anywhere else in the nation, or in the surrounding communities, I think that we can actually get this thing moving in a very energized way," Mr. Bell said.

In Columbus, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern noted that Democrats held onto the mayor's offices in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Youngstown.

"Neither candidate [in Toledo] started out as an incumbent," he said. "Mayor-elect Mike Bell started out as a very well-known, very-liked candidate. He's been a long-time Democrat, although he was not endorsed by the local party. In Toledo, Democrats maintained control of City Council as well as picking up unanimous control of the city school board."

Ohio Republican Party Chairman Kevin DeWine said Democrats should be worried about their mayoral losses Tuesday in Toledo and, in particular, in Dayton, where eight-year incumbent Rhine McLin, a member of a Dayton Democratic dynasty, was defeated by a political unknown.

"What happened yesterday in Toledo and Dayton was essentially a rejection of the traditional Democrat line, method, and mantra of bigger government and a lack of vision on economic development, jobs, and prosperity," he said.

Gov. Ted Strickland said he did not see Mr. Bell's victory on Tuesday as strictly a repudiation of the Democratic Party.

"I think it says something about the Republican Party as well," he said. "For whatever reason, given this particular election, people were willing to vote for an independent. Mr. Bell has always been a Democrat. I appointed him fire marshal. He was part of my administration. He did a superb job in that position. When he stepped down to run for mayor, he did so with my blessing. I consider him a friend."

Columbus bureau chief Jim Provance contributed to this report.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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