Mayor slams new rival as McNamara enters race; Council chief scoffs at Bell’s economic record

Supporters cheer as Joe McNamara, president of Toledo City Council, announces his mayoral candidacy in front of closed Fire Station No. 3.
Supporters cheer as Joe McNamara, president of Toledo City Council, announces his mayoral candidacy in front of closed Fire Station No. 3.

Hours after City Council President Joe McNamara declared his candidacy for mayor of Toledo, incumbent Mayor Mike Bell welcomed him to the fray, commended him for getting involved, then slammed him as having less backbone than he has.

“Running for mayor and holding the position of mayor are not easy, so I commend him for getting involved in the process,” Mr. Bell said. But Mr. Bell said he has taken steps as mayor that he said Mr. McNamara would not have been willing to do, and he dismissed much of Mr. McNamara's criticism as “political rhetoric.”

“I’m a change agent. I’m moving in totally different directions than he’ll ever move. I have more spinal cord than he has,” Mr. Bell said in the lobby of One Government Center.

Mr. McNamara, 35, a Toledo lawyer, opened his campaign in front of a shuttered North Toledo fire station Tuesday morning with an attack on the mayor's economic development record.

“Our mayor is responsible for making the most of the economic development opportunities that present themselves, and in this respect Mayor Bell has failed. I want to shift the focus of the city of Toledo’s economic development, [to] focusing on jobs,” Mr. McNamara said.

He said if people are earning paychecks, revenue would flow back into the city.

“We’ve seen a lot of turnover in the Department of Economic Development, we’ve seen the ball dropped many times,” Mr. McNamara said, promising to roll out examples as the campaign moves forward.

“We need to hire a professional staff in economic development that has a background, that is focused on creating jobs,” he said.

He also blasted the mayor’s record on safety, noting that there are fewer police today than in 2009 when Mr. Bell was elected.

Regarding the mayor’s “spinal cord” comment, Mr. McNamara responded: “Mayor Bell might have more spinal cord than I do, but I have a better vision to move this city forward.”

Mayor Bell, a political independent, declared his candidacy two weeks ago. Also running for mayor are Alan Cox, a city neighborhood development specialist and president of one of the city unions, and Opal Covey, a church minister. Both are political independents.

Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez and retired Toledo assistant chief of staff Theresa Gabriel are also mulling getting into the race.

Ms. Lopez, a Democrat, brushed off reporters seeking to interview her Tuesday, telling them to make an appointment.

Ms. Gabriel, a Republican, said she hasn't decided yet whether to become a candidate.

As of the close of business Tuesday, a Blade request for an appointment with Ms. Lopez had been ignored.

The filing deadline is July 12 to run in the Sept. 10 nonpartisan primary election. The top two vote-getters in that election, regardless of political affiliation, will face off in the Nov. 5 general election.

Mr. Bell rejected Mr. McNamara’s criticism on both economic development and safety grounds. He said the city’s income-tax revenues have rebounded by $19 million since he took office in 2009 while confronting a $48 million shortfall, which he did without raising taxes.

“We are meeting the goal of economic development, knowing that most of that is privately driven,” Mr. Bell said, noting that some other cities are facing deficits and layoffs. “I think we’ve done an unbelievable job of getting us where we’re at.

“All I know is the bottom line of the revenue that we have coming in helps the quality of life. I don’t have to quantify it.”

The mayor said he doesn’t keep records of how many jobs were created during his tenure, but spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei and Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat cited several expansions that Mr. Bell had a hand in, including the Chrysler Jeep assembly complex, the Hollywood Casino Toledo, and the Hickory Farms Inc. headquarters that moved from Maumee to downtown Toledo last year.

And to Mr. McNamara’s criticism that Mr. Bell is overly focused on business and profits rather than using his office to recruit jobs to the city, Mr. Bell said, “We’re in better shape today because we’ve reached out to the business community.”

The mayor also countered Mr. McNamara's criticism that fewer police officers are on the force now than when he took office, saying that no officers were hired in the four years preceding his term and that he has hired more police officers and firefighters than any previous strong mayor. Toledo’s strong-mayor form of government began in 1993.

Mr. McNamara chose to kick off his election campaign in front of Fire Station 3 on Bush Street, a historic building the administration closed because of structural problems with the building, and which Mr. McNamara said he fought to keep open because of its importance to the neighborhood.

Among those who cheered on the announcement speech was Sy Kreais, head of the neighborhood Block Watch.

“It’s great to have someone that’s concerned with the neighborhood and not sitting behind a desk and dictating,” Mr. Kreais said.

In the crowd of about a dozen family, political, and neighborhood supporters was Mr. McNamara’s wife, Valerie Moffitt, who is assistant director of the United North community development corporation, which serves the Vistula neighborhood.

Mr. McNamara said “the jury is still out” on the Marina District, the East Toledo riverfront parcel that Mr. Bell sold, with council approval, in 2011 to Chinese investors for $3.8 million.

Plans call for eventual construction of a commercial and residential project, though no work has begun. Mr. Bell has defended the move as raising money for the cash-strapped city and returning a tax-exempt property to paying property taxes.

“Selling city assets to foreign investors is not the same thing as getting investment,” Mr. McNamara said. “We hope they do something with it, but what jobs have been created?”

Staff writer Ignazio Messina contributed to this report.

Contact Tom Troy at: or 419-724-6058.