Like many of Toledo’s leaders, Paula Hicks-Hudson was visibly shaken Friday, holding back tears when talking about D. Michael Collins, but she vowed to hold the city together in his place.
When Ms. Hicks-Hudson was elected Toledo City Council president two years ago, it seemed unlikely she’d be thrust into the mayor’s office, making her the first African-American woman to fill the post in the city’s history. But that mandate, spelled out by Toledo’s city charter, became reality when Mayor Collins suffered cardiac arrest Sunday, was hospitalized in critical condition, and then died Friday shortly after he was taken off life support.
During Mayor Collins’ seemingly poor prognosis, Ms. Hicks-Hudson said she had held onto hope that he would recover. His death was a shock.
“I [had] hope and even though with all the facts, and that he was put into an induced coma, and was critical,” the new mayor said. “I do believe in miracles. I am saddened by the fact he couldn’t come back to this position or just to his family.”
Like Mayor Collins did, Mayor Hicks-Hudson believes in God.
“It’s the Lord’s will, and we have to deal with it,” she said.
The new mayor, who was sworn in as acting mayor hours after Mayor Collins’ cardiac arrest Sunday, said she would wait until after funeral services and for Mr. Collins to be “properly honored” before being officially sworn in.
City Law Director Adam Loukx said any such swearing-in will be a formality.
“It is automatic by virtue of his death,” Mr. Loukx said. “She becomes mayor, and there is a council vacancy now, which council has 30 days to fill.”
Council Clerk Gerald Dendinger said Mayor Hicks-Hudson holds the mayor’s seat until either she or a replacement is elected in November.
“There will be no primary, and in the Nov. 3 general election, it could be one person or 100 people running for mayor,” Mr. Dendinger said.
Ms. Hicks-Hudson said she has not thought about the November election and has not considered running. This is a time for mourning, not making political plans, Mayor Hicks-Hudson said.
“Am I thinking about it? I am not thinking about it at this point,” she said. “We need stability and continuity.”
Discussing such aspirations so soon is disrespectful, she added.
“Mayor Collins really cared about this city, and that was always the focal point, and we had that common ground,” Ms. Hicks-Hudson said. “His legacy is one of hard work, wanting the best for the city.”
She plans to continue Mayor Collins’ work trying to persuade Fiat Chrysler Automobiles that Jeep Wrangler production should remain local, helping ProMedica complete its headquarters relocation to a downtown campus, passing a balanced 2015 budget, and promoting economic growth.
“I am still gathering information, still trying to understand the fine details,” Ms. Hicks-Hudson said. “I come from a different political vantage point, so that is the lens from which I look at things, but the basic philosophy of trying to increase the economic benefit and opportunity of people is very similar.”
Officials started mourning Mayor Collins on Friday but also threw support behind the city’s new leader.
Councilman Lindsay Webb, who encouraged Ms. Hicks-Hudson to seek the council presidency in 2013, said her work history prepared her for the new task.
“She has a tremendous set of skills,” Ms. Webb said. “She is a highly competent and an impressive individual with an impressive resume.”
A native of Hamilton in southwestern Ohio, Ms. Hicks-Hudson, 63, moved to Toledo in 1982 after graduating from law school at the University of Iowa. She is married to Freeman Hudson and has two daughters, Patricia and Leah Hudson.
Her first job locally was a two-year stint at the Toledo Legal Aid Society, where she was a staff attorney and director of a senior legal services program. After that, Ms. Hicks-Hudson spent five years as a Lucas County assistant prosecutor in the child support division.
Other career highlights include posts as legislative director for Toledo City Council from May, 1998, to June, 2002, and as director of the Lucas County Board of Elections, from March, 2004, to January, 2005.
She was chief legal counsel for the Ohio Office of Budget and Management from February, 2007, through the end of Gov. Ted Strickland’s administration in 2011, when she was first elected to city council.
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) both met with the late mayor’s senior staff and Mayor Hicks-Hudson on Friday to offer condolences.
“She has a tough transition to go through,” Mr. Portman said.
Mr. Portman said he worked with Mayor Collins on several issues, including Lake Erie water quality, the harbor and port of Toledo, the future of Jeep Wrangler in Toledo, and abandoned housing.
“The people of Toledo are going to miss him because he was a true public servant,” Mr. Portman said. “He was an optimist. He believed that Toledo’s and northwest Ohio’s best days were ahead.”
Miss Kaptur said the new mayor would effectively carry through with the projects Mayor Collins set into motion during his 13 months in office.
Coming Sunday: A profile of Paula Hicks-Hudson.
Blade staff writer Tom Troy contributed to this report.
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