At a time when Toledo is experiencing a comeback downtown but faces huge systemic infrastructure, financial, and governance problems, the citizens of our city must, for the third time in four years, choose a mayor. The Blade urges voters to choose Wade Kapszukiewicz.
Mr. Kapszukiewicz, who has been the county treasurer since 2005, offers the city long experience in politics, but relative youth (he is 45) and energy. His experience, as well as his temperament and his interests, suggest a key quality that has been sorely lacking at Government Center: professionalism. His youth and exuberance suggest a second key quality: a willingness to innovate. Mr. Kapszukiewicz has repeatedly said in the campaign that he will dream big and reach high, knowing that some experiments may fail. But when that happens he will pick up the pieces and move on, not afraid to try something else that is new and bold.
That is a refreshing attitude. It certainly beats, “same old, same old.”
The combination of freshness and professionalism is rare and Toledo ought to jump at the chance to get both in one package — both competence and imagination.
Mr. Kapszukiewicz has one more advantage: Though he is a Democrat, a liberal Democrat and a pro-labor Democrat, he is the unendorsed Democrat in this race. That means that he is a relatively free man, for a politician. As he himself has said, he would come to office less encumbered by IOUs than if he were the party’s, and AFSCME’s, man. No doubt he still owes plenty of people, but he will not be so weighted down that he cannot act for the public good.
Indeed, the current mayor is sometimes unable to act at all.
Nice is not what we need
Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson, is, by all accounts, and from what most people have observed in her nearly three years in office, a likable and admirable person. But hers is a case in which the conventional wisdom is actually spot on. What is that conventional wisdom? Nice, but not a leader.
Nice just doesn’t work in the mayor’s office. Not every mayor need be a holy terror, like Carty Finkbeiner, but every good mayor needs to have some steel in his or her spine. Specifically, he or she needs a vision. He or she needs to be competent, and to value competence. And he or she needs political skills — the ability to build coalitions, to make deals, and to sometimes say “no.”
Ms. Hicks-Hudson inherited the office when Mike Collins died. She has done her best and has not embarrassed us. But she never thought of herself as a potential mayor, and neither did anyone else prior to her ascendancy. That’s because she is a good staff person and a good functionary. But she lacks all of the above qualities. She has never had a vision for the city. She has never been highly competent, and, far worse, has failed to surround herself with competent people. Indeed, after huge failures of competence, she still failed to see the value of administrative skill and professionalism. And she lacks the political skills a mayor needs.
It can be said that, as Jeep prospered, and the Mud Hens organization expanded, and Randy Oostra of ProMedica and others rebuilt and reimagined our downtown, Ms. Hicks-Hudson did not get in the way. And that is no small thing. But it is not leadership.
The mayor’s lost and found game with in excess of $8 million; her feud with the county over paying for prisoners and now the location of the jail; and, worst of all, her plea a year ago for more money lest the city go broke, all these are evidence of governmental and political ineptitude. And she has not learned; not grown.
All successful politicians share two qualities: They get better at their work the longer they do it and they do not take any battle personally or hold grudges. That’s not Ms. Hicks-Hudson. She is indeed a nice person. She is well-educated, intelligent, and deeply religious. But she is not cut out to be a mayor. This is not the job for her.
The case for Wade
The question is: Is Mr. Kapszukiewicz cut out to be a mayor?
Has he got a vision for the city? Is he competent and does he value competence? Does he have political skills?
And does he have some steel in his spine?
The honest truth is that, in executive offices, like president, governor, and mayor, we cannot really know a person’s character until the person assumes the office. But the nature of executive office is such that we soon find out what a governor or mayor is made of.
Based on the campaign, one would have to say that Mr. Kapszukiewicz is a bit short in the vision department. His idea of seeking universal preschool for every Toledo child is a big and bold one, but Ms. Hicks-Hudson is right that he should have some idea of how he would pay for it. His idea of turning Grassy Island into a park so that Toledoans have direct and easy access to Lake Erie is also a good one. And Mr. Kapszukiewicz has been stronger on the Lake Erie issue than the mayor and would likely be a more vocal advocate — lobbying the state and the feds — for cleaning up the lake. But one would have to say that Mr. Kapszukiewicz seems more of an earnest administrator than a natural leader one would follow into battle, like Mr. Finkbeiner, Jack Ford, Mike Bell, or Mr. Oostra.
But an earnest administrator would be a vast improvement. As the county treasurer, Mr. Kapszukiewicz has presumably learned how to count. He would bring financial expertise to the job and not misplace or misspend millions.
And if he did, he would fix it. Mayors can become arrogant very quickly, but Mr. Kapszukiewicz does not seem to have the imperial gene. He is down to earth and willing to admit he makes mistakes, which is the first step toward correcting them.
A touch of humility, even if faked, is a political skill, and Mr. Kapszukiewicz does seem to be good at politics — shaking hands, understanding data and demographics, raising money, sensing the right time to strike or lay back, and just plain showing up. And he has the key political gifts — ability to learn and take criticism without taking it personally.
Aside from his own competence, Mr. Kapszukiewicz has policy chops (he teaches urban affairs on the college level and devours scholarship on government reform and administration) and an eye for talent. His two top policy advisers, Mike Beazley and David Mann, would bring an instant core of excellence and experience to city government. Mr. Beazley, the current city administrator in Oregon, is the most experienced and politically savvy public administrator in northwest Ohio. He’s a pro, par excellence. Mr. Mann brings youth, but also brilliance. Mr. Kapszukiewicz put him in charge of the Land Bank when it was created and Mr. Mann made it the only successful innovation in government in our region in the last 25 years.
Mr. Kapszukiewicz promises to search tirelessly for more new and experienced talent for city government.
Mr. Kapszukiewicz is a cradle politician. He has never really done anything else or wanted to. He may have to be pushed to lead and do the right thing at times.
But the combination of relative outsider status, relative youth, and competence makes for huge potential. He could be not only an adequate but a very fine mayor.
Ms. Hicks-Hudson has failed to put in place a competent administration, and there is no reason to expect that she will change. She has not been an able mayor. She has been a lucky one.
We are at a critical juncture in Toledo:
● We need building and lead inspectors.
● We need blight removal.
● We need a real neighborhoods department and a real economic development program.
● We need competent people in accounting and grant writing in city government.
● We need more cops; decent sidewalks, and well-lit streets.
● We need a regional water authority.
● We need transparency.
We need the basics of city government.
And then we need some vision and imagination — a leader who will work with business people, leaders in the arts, and young people to fuel Toledo’s renaissance. Paula Hicks-Hudson is not that person. Wade Kapszukiewicz just might be.