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Toledo Mayor Mike Bell and challenger Councilman D. Michael Collins started civil but turned aggressive during a live televised debate today that pitted the two men against each other on jobs, the state of neighborhoods, relationships with city unions, and again raised the long running dispute over the city's 2010 finances.
The debate sponsored by The Blade and WTVG-TV Channel 13 opened with a question for the incumbent mayor regarding the creation of jobs from the sale of city property to Chinese investors, such as the Marina District.
Mayor Bell instead responded that his administration assisted Chrysler in expanding its operations in Toledo and, more recently, was behind the decision by Owens Corning to remain in the city.
Mr. Collins shot back, saying Mayor Bell cannot take credit for the Chrysler expansion since it began in 2009 under the previous administration.
But records provided by the Bell campaign after the debate show communications between Chrysler and Mayor Bell beginning in April, 2011, regarding an incentive package for the expansion.
Mr. Collins dropped in a fact on unemployment, stating it is currently 8.7 percent, up from 8.4 percent a year ago.
Mayor Bell diverted from another question to remind viewers the unemployment rate was 13.8 percent when he took office on Jan. 4, 2010.
"So we have dropped immensely in the past four years," he said.
During his closing statement, Mr. Collins said he would demand a development plan for the Marina District in East Toledo from Dashing Pacific Group, the Chinese firm the city sold the property to in 2011.
The candidates were each given 45 seconds to answer questions from Blade staff writers Tom Troy and Marlene Harris-Taylor and WTVG news anchors Bill Hormann and Lee Conklin. Each answer was followed by 30-second rebuttal.
Regarding jobs, Mayor Bell was asked if his pro-business approach is working to get more Toledoans back to work.
"I think that my pro-business initiatives are working," the mayor said. "To be able to keep two major companies in town... and the idea of a company such as Hickory Farms moving back into the city is a great thing so I think it's working in the way it's supposed to be."
He said reaching out internationally was also part of his attempt to reduce the jobless rate.
Mr. Collins turned the question toward safety, saying new businesses would not move to an unsafe city.
"Frankly, our crime rate for the first three years of Mayor Bell's administration is up 17.2 percent," Mr Collins said.
According to the FBI numbers, Toledo’s total crime was down 9.49 percent in 2012 over 2011. A police department annual report, however, reported a decrease in total crime of 18.34 percent, and it was down 17.82 percent according to a April 16 memo written by Police Chief Chief Derrick Diggs.
Mayor Bell saved the issue of Toledo's $48 million deficit in 2010 for his last question to his opponent - asking if he would have pushed for concessions from city unions or laid off employees.
"You have only two choices here: keep the budget and lay them off or go for concessions. Which one of those things would you have done?" the mayor asked.
Mr. Collins again stuck to his assertion from throughout the campaign that there was never a $48 million deficit.
"There was not a $48 million deficit on the books and secondly ... when you finished your first year in office, there was a greater deficit," Mr. Collins responded. "I will tell you right now. I have the experience. I will sit down and I will discuss. I'm not going to sit there and ... say it's my way or the highway."
A Blade review earlier this month showed the red ink Mr. Bell faced when he walked into the mayor’s office in January, 2010, was more than $8 million debt left over from 2009, the last year of Carty Finkbeiner’s third term as mayor. Mr. Bell also inherited a 2010 budget submitted by the Finkbeiner administration that included $30.24 million in nonexistent revenue and an additional $8.75 million in overstated revenue.
The televised debate began at 7 p.m. today on WTVG. It is being held in the studio of WGTE-TV, Channel 30 and was not open to the public.
Brian Trauring, executive news director of WTVG, said the debate's format is allowing viewers to evaluate the candidates’ positions on issues as well as how they perform under pressure.
Today’s debate will be rebroadcast by Buckeye CableSystem on Cable Channel 69 along with several other mayoral debates that have been recorded by Buckeye in a marathon starting at noon Saturday, according to Brad Mefferd, chief administrative officer for Buckeye.
The debate will also be available on Buckeye’s Video on Demand service, which can be reached by digital cable subscribers at Buckeye Channel 1 or by opening the menu and selecting News and Information. It will be available on VOD beginning at midnight.