Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez, who has run for and won three elective offices, set her sights on the post of mayor of Toledo on Tuesday, promising a job-creation plan to bring the city back from what she called a course of decline.
Ms. Lopez, 43, a Democrat, kicked off her campaign with about 300 people in the Aurora Gonzalez Community Center in South Toledo, near where she grew up as the youngest of seven children of Latino migrant workers.
If elected, she would be the first Hispanic mayor and the second female mayor, after Donna Owens, a Republican mayor in the 1980s.
She is competing against Mayor Michael Bell, an independent; Democrat Joe McNamara, a city councilman; city union president Alan Cox, an independent; Libertarian Michael Konwinski, a retired city worker; and Republican Opal Covey, an evangelist. More candidates could enter the race; the filing deadline is July 12.
A nonpartisan primary will narrow the field Sept. 10, with the two top vote-getters moving on to a runoff Nov. 5.
Without naming Mr. Bell, Ms. Lopez criticized the state of the city in terms of economic development, neighborhoods, and safety.
“It is clear that what we are doing is not working,” she said. The election, she said, will determine “whether we continue down a path of stagnation, decline, and divisiveness, or we work again to make Toledo a great city.”
“As your mayor, I will focus on restoring Toledo to prominence by bringing meaningful job creation and excellent economic development practices,” Ms. Lopez said. She promised to focus on customer service and helping existing businesses.
“We must have an accountable economic development plan that creates real jobs and benefits the city of Toledo and the people of Toledo, not people far away in places like China,” Ms. Lopez said.
Criticizing the deteriorating state of the city water system, which Mayor Bell is proposing to rebuild with a series of annual water-rate increases, Ms. Lopez blamed “recent leadership” for the condition of the water system and vowed an audit of the Department of Public Utilities.
She said the Marina District was sold to Chinese investors in 2011 for $3.8 million in exchange for “empty promises.”
“I’ve been waiting to see the job creation in the Marina District that we were promised and I’m still waiting,” Ms. Lopez said. “We cannot afford to sit idly by while some of our greatest assets are squandered away.”
Ms. Lopez’s labor support was much in evidence, and many rank-and-file Democrats were on hand, as well as elected Lucas County Recorder Phil Copeland. But other elected Democrats were scarce. The party is not expected to endorse a candidate before the primary.
She touched on the issue that has particularly galled organized labor against Mr. Bell — his support in 2011 of the failed Issue 2 referendum, also known as Senate Bill 5, which would have weakened public-employee union bargaining rights.
“You won’t find me supporting Senate Bill 5 or any other attack on working families that damage the middle class,” Ms. Lopez said.
She attended Newbury Elementary School in South Toledo, Central Catholic High School, and the University of Toledo, where she also received her law degree.
In 1999, she was general counsel and director of enforcement and compliance at the Toledo Fair Housing Center and president of the Lucas County Latina Democratic Caucus. She was elected to the Toledo Board of Education in 2001 and was appointed director of affirmative action by Mayor Jack Ford in 2002. In 2004, she was elected Lucas County recorder, and in 2006 was elected for the first of two terms as Lucas County auditor. A resident of South Toledo, she is divorced and the mother of two boys.
Mr. McNamara criticized her for not signing his pledge not to accept contributions from people who work for her on the government payroll or to let them campaign for her during business hours.
“The people of Toledo deserve a mayor without any serious ethical questions. I was disappointed that Anita Lopez did not take the opportunity presented by her announcement to sign the ethics pledge I signed yesterday. I urge her to sign it immediately. I will bring an accountable, honest, and open administration to City Hall,” Mr. McNamara said.
Ms. Lopez said people have a First Amendment right to support who they want and said she would do not anything to restrict those rights.
Mayor Bell said that Ms. Lopez offered no details to back up her attacks. He refused to apologize for his support for Senate Bill 5 and said his similar efforts at the city level, known as “exigent circumstances,” helped him win nine concessionary contracts from city unions that he said put the city back on a strong fiscal track with no tax increases.
He defended the sale of the Marina District as the city getting rid of abandoned property that was not taxed and is now taxed, and said his administration has hired more police officers and firefighters than the two previous administrations did.
“Everything we have done in my administration has worked,” Mr. Bell said. As for his trips to to China and Germany to woo investors to Toledo, “it’s obvious you have to go outside the perimeter of our city to help economic development occur,” he said.
He said he would not sign Mr. McNamara’s pledge. “What it sounds like is a person that is having a hard time raising money,” Mr. Bell said.
Contact Tom Troy at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6058.