Upstart Democrat Wade Kapszukiewicz claimed a decisive victory in the Toledo mayor’s race Tuesday over the Democratic Party’s chosen candidate incumbent Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson.
The Lucas County treasurer, Mr. Kapszukiewicz, won with 55.6 percent of the vote to the mayor’s 44.3 percent.
Mr. Kapszukiewicz, 45, of Old Orchard, relentlessly accused the current administration of failing to move the city forward, even while Toledo’s private sector was busy adding downtown development and new manufacturing projects. He also said repeatedly that he wasn’t chosen by “party bosses” and wouldn’t be beholden to them.
Mr. Kapszukiewicz, in a victory speech at his campaign headquarters downtown where supporters gathered to track the election results, said voters wanted change and “I will listen.”
“Tonight, Toledoans voted for a new direction,” he said. “Tonight Toledoans voted for a new future, a new future for themselves and their children.”
He thanked Mayor Hicks-Hudson, who he said became mayor at a tough time in Toledo history, calling her a “fantastic public servant.”
“All of us in Toledo regardless of our age, race, or neighborhood, we all have a role in what we can build,” he said.
He added he was “looking forward to moving Toledo in a positive direction.”
Mayor Hicks-Hudson, 66, of the Old West End, the city’s first black female mayor and the endorsed Democrat, battled to claim credit for the uptick in economic vitality in the city. As the former Toledo city council president, Ms. Hicks-Hudson automatically replaced Mayor D. Michael Collins, who died following a cardiac arrest in February, 2015.
In November, 2015, she won a special election to serve the two years remaining in Mr. Collins’ term, receiving 35.6 percent of the vote in a seven-way race — a foreshadowing of the results Tuesday night.
Her campaign attacked Mr. Kapszukiewicz for accepting free office space from a developer who did business with the Lucas County Land Bank, which he chairs, and for accepting contributions from a handful of people who had delinquent property taxes.
But Mr. Kapszukiewicz’s advantage in fund-raising left her campaign unable to compete with his dominance of the TV airwaves and direct mail campaigning.
The mayor arrived at the United Auto Workers Local 12 hall shortly after 9:30 p.m., just as the most recent set of early results placed her opponent in the lead — news that turned the atmosphere in the room from upbeat to gloomy.
“Thank you for believing in what we stand for,” Mayor Hicks-Hudson said to roughly 100 supporters.
“It’s not over with. The fat lady hasn’t sung yet,” she said. “It is a shared vision, a shared dream, and it requires all your help to achieve that dream.”
“We ran a race that was one of truth, one of integrity, one of really showing the possibilities of what this city has to do and what it can continue to do,” the mayor said in her concession speech.
Mr. Kapszukiewicz’s family, staff, and volunteers ate, drank, and waited Tuesday evening to see if he had successfully unseated the incumbent mayor.
“I am just astounded by the turnout tonight and your friendship and hard work,” he said.
Supporters wore his campaign colors of blue and yellow and greeted him with boisterous applause and chants of his name. He thanked those who worked on his campaign.
Mr. Kapszukiewicz voted early Tuesday morning at Old Orchard Elementary School in West Toledo and then spent the day stumping for last-minute votes.
He started the day at 4:30 a.m. with the Teamsters “and a lot of coffee,” said campaign manager Gretchen DeBacker. He then did some radio appearances and spent the day at polling stations until 7 p.m. Other supporters spent the day making calls reminding residents to vote.
Sarah Weglian, Mr. Kapszukiewicz’s wife, echoed Ms. DeBacker’s enthusiasm and said she was excited and “a little nervous” about what is to come.
“I think that I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback for Wade,” she said. “I think people are really excited about his message of new ideas and bringing change to our city. I hope that the results tonight reflect that and I believe they will.”
Mr. Kapszukiewicz, who has been the Lucas County treasurer since 2005, declared his intent to run in May and vowed to have an “outsider’s perspective” and to offer bold ideas.
“He’s worked harder than I’ve ever seen him work in my entire life,” Ms. Weglian said Tuesday. “He is really passionate about this and feels like he can make a difference and do a good job.”
Mr. Kapszukiewicz grew up in West Toledo, the son of a Toledo police officer and a pre-school teacher. He attended Regina Coeli School and St. Francis de Sales High School.
Mr. Kapszukiewicz touted his independence from the political parties, even as he amassed endorsements from Toledo’s police and fire unions, the building trades unions, and local business associations.
He and Ms. Weglian have two children, Emma and Will.
He graduated from Marquette University in 1994 with a dual degree in journalism and political science. Mr. Kapszukiewicz was still working on his graduate degree in public policy at the University of Michigan when he landed his first elected job in 1995, the Lucas County Educational Service Center Governing Board.
He worked for New Ohio Institute think-tank, the Lucas County Mental Health Board, and COMPASS addiction treatment agency.
In 1999, he was appointed to represent Toledo City Council District 6, made up of West and North Toledo. He held onto his council seat in a 1999 special election, and was re-elected in 2001 and 2003.
Mr. Kapszukiewicz passed the Northwest Ohio Pharmacy Card Network to offer discounts on prescription drugs. He pushed unsuccessfully to recognize domestic partnerships and require bike helmets for children.
In 2004, he won his first race for county treasurer, defeating Republican Betty Shultz, and was re-elected in 2008, 2012, and 2016.
As treasurer, he sold bundles of tax-delinquent accounts to a New Jersey firm to speed up the collection of back taxes. His office invested $18 million in revenue bonds for Huntington Center arena.
His biggest claim to fame was the creation of the Lucas County Land Bank, which he has chaired since 2010, and which was empowered to take tax-delinquent abandoned houses and get them demolished or rehabilitated.
“I think we accomplished a lot of things as treasurer,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said early in the campaign. “We took a sleepy row office and turned it into a place where cutting-edge urban policy was made. I looked for ways to reform and innovate.”
He raised more than twice as much money as Ms. Hicks-Hudson – $475,000 by late October, compared with $204,000 for the incumbent.
The two met in more than two dozen live candidate forums, often smiling and speaking amicably to one another, while their campaigns fought an increasingly bitter race.
He called for the merger of city and county offices with similar functions, such as building inspection, promised to increase the size of the police department from 600 to 660 officers by the end of his term, called for the Metroparks Toledo to take over some of Toledo’s biggest parks, and announced an “aspirational goal” of guaranteeing universal pre-schoo in the cityl, while insisting no city money would be diverted to that purpose.
He appointed a county consolidation task force that included Oregon Administrator Michael Beazley, a former clerk of Toledo city council and county administrator, raising speculation that Mr. Beazley might become his chief of staff.
Two centerpieces of his campaign were the continuing threat of algae to the city’s drinking water supply and the mayor’s inability to explain the discovery of $8.2 million that had been sitting in the city’s accounts unused since 2011.
During debates, Ms. Hicks-Hudson murmured “untruth” as Mr. Kapszukiewicz said her administration had lost track of the money, while she insisted that it was her administration that found the money and fixed the bookkeeping.
Advocates of Ms. Hicks-Hudson said she took office with no transition and grew in the job, ending with an enviable record of city revenue growth, streets paved, economic development projects under way, and no recurring water safety advisories.
Though she could point to the city’s ability to ward off the toxic algae, she held out against seeking an “impaired” designation for Lake Erie until September, creating a flip-flop that didn’t help her.
Her record, she said, includes 9,500 jobs retained or created, and $3 billion of investment — along with 34 miles of residential lanes paved this year and three consecutive years of safe drinking water.
She cited the creation of Engage Toledo, the call-city hall program that enables callers to track the status of their complaint. She said the program received 50,000 calls and at least 35,000 complaints were resolved.
“It has not been an easy job. And it has not been one that I’ve always gotten right, but I think you can see there has been progress and the progress can continue as long as I am mayor,” she said early in the campaign.
Ms. Hicks-Hudson ran unsuccessfully for municipal judge in 2005, and was appointed to the District 4 council seat in 2011, winning election later that year.
In 2013, her council colleagues elected her council president.
In his ads, Mr. Kapszukiewicz boasted of daily signing a document that balanced half a billion dollars in county funds. In reality, though he documented the daily receipt and distribution of county funds, he managed an office costing a fraction of the office he now takes over.
In the Sept. 12 primary election, Ms. Hicks-Hudson was the top vote-getter out of four candidates, with 39 percent of the vote, while Mr. Kapszukiewicz got 33 percent. Republican Tom Waniewski received 26 percent.