Mayor Mike Bell and his mayoral challenger, Councilman D. Michael Collins, clashed in a heated debate Thursday night over each other’s claims about job creation and public safety, with Mr. Collins stepping up his references to the mayor’s stance on right-to-work laws.
The two independent candidates met before an audience of about 70 inside a church at 1411 Broadway that also serves as the South Toledo Community Center.
Mr. Collins, claiming a home-court advantage because he grew up in the neighborhood, said crime has grown, and Toledo has fewer jobs than when Mayor Bell took office. Both contentions were attacked by the mayor as untrue.
The mayor, fighting audience complaints in the form of questions about neighborhood decay the last four years, argued he had to battle a $48 million deficit.
“We are taking down houses. We are doing anything that is asked of us,” Mr. Bell said, adding he is getting no credit for the improvements that are occurring. “In Walbridge Park, we just put a new road in and we’re getting ready to put tiles on the shelter house. We are trying to do it fairly across the city, 80 square miles-plus, and we have to be fair to each of our six districts.
“You’ll find our budget is balanced, so whatever we did is working,” the mayor said.
Mr. Collins fired back that the questioner was exactly correct.
“Mayor Bell took all the credit for what he did. He took concessions in the labor force, working men like us, and cut their wages $13.6 million. What did he then do? Mayor Bell took it upon himself to give his administrative personnel a 9.9-percent weighted raise across the board,” Mr. Collins said.
“I did not insult the working men and women by being the poster child for Senate Bill 5/Issue 2 and I did not say, ‘Let's make this state a right-to-work state,’ ” the challenger added.
He quoted crime statistics he said showed that during Mayor Bell’s term, homicides rose 69.6 percent; aggravated assaults, 25 percent, and rape, 23 percent. As to the mayor’s claim that crime is down, Mr. Collins said the police captain who compiles Toledo’s crime statistics is called “chef” because “he’s cooking the numbers, and that’s a fact.”
Mr. Collins’ statistical thrusts finally got a rise out of Mr. Bell, who said that during Mr. Collins’ watch on council, 75 police officers were laid off and that if Mr. Collins’ policies had been followed when Toledo faced its peak deficit, 271 city workers would have been laid off.
“He twists it, he knows he’s twisting, he knows you don’t know any better,” Mr. Bell said, citing The Blade’s report Sunday verifying the city faced a potential deficit of $48 million in 2010. “He knows the numbers are good.”
Later on, Mr. Collins told the audience that Mr. Bell “just told you that you did not have enough intelligence to understand what I was saying.”
The mayor’s staff argued after the forum that Mr. Collins used crime statistics for 2010 through 2012 when crime did indeed spike — a condition Mr. Bell has blamed on reduced police manpower he inherited from the previous administration.
Jen Sorgenfrei, the mayor’s spokesman, said more current figures, through 2013’s first six months, show violent crime has dropped 19 percent and property crime is down 23 percent.
The mayor said crime has dropped because of changes made by police Chief Derrick Diggs, such as “data-driven policing” and the Toledo Community Initiative to Reduce Violence.
“We’ve got a police chief interested in data-driven policing. He uses data to move his troops where they need to be,” Mr. Bell said. “We’ve got a police chief who is pretty dynamic.”
Mr. Collins also claimed employment in Toledo had fallen by 4,100 jobs during Mayor Bell’s tenure — a flat contradiction of the mayor’s oft-stated claim to have created more than 6,000 jobs.
However, Mr. Collins may have been using his own badly cooked numbers. He provided numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that Toledo employment fell from 290,701 jobs for 2009 to 285,401 jobs in January — figures Ms. Sorgenfrei said apply to the four-county Toledo Metropolitan Statistical Area, not just the city.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment inside the city grew from 114,800 in 2010 to more than 120,000 in 2013.
“I should have said metro Toledo,” Mr. Collins acknowledged initially, but then later insisted his numbers were a correct reflection of total employment in the city.