TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - In less than two weeks, Toledo will decide who they want to be their mayor. On Wednesday night, both candidates to the stage of Bowsher High School's auditorium to make their pitch to be mayor.
The election pits two democrats, incumbent Paula Hicks-Hudson and current Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz, vying for a four-year term as mayor.
Hicks-Hudson took on the role of mayor in 2015, following the death of D. Michael Collins.
Kapszukiewicz was elected as the Lucas County Treasurer in 2004. In 2010, he helped create the Lucas County Land Bank.
In their opening statements, both candidates presented the central themes of their campaigns.
For Wade Kapszukiewicz, he says Toledo's residents demand change and he is the candidate to bring on the change.
"That's what I believe the city of Toledo's government needs. It's needs to change. It's needs to adapt. It needs to be nimble if its going to compete in the new world we are trying to live in," Kapszukiewicz said. "Cities that are having a hard time fixing their roads, filling their potholes, keeping their neighborhoods safe, keeping their water from turning green, keeping their budget balanced, those cities are going to struggle no matter how much the private sector tries to do."
Mayor Hicks-Hudson says her administration is on the path to success and she has proven her ability to lead. She attacked her opponent saying he lacks the credibility and should not be trusted to pick up where she left off.
"Only one candidate has the credibility and character to be mayor. Only one candidate has the track record of leading a complicated organization like the city of Toledo and getting results," Mayor Hicks-Hudson said. "We still have work to do, but who does that work matters."
One of the most important issues to Toledo residents is water and the health of both Lake Erie and their drinking water. Mayor Hicks-Hudson says the city has been transparent in their efforts to keep the water clean. She also says her administration is continuing efforts to ensure another water crisis will never happen again. Part of those efforts is getting the federal government involved.
"Since I've been mayor, we have kept the water safe, at the tap, every day and we're going to continue to do that," Hicks-Hudson said. "I believe very strongly that having an executive order at the federal level will bring about the change we need."
Kapszukiewicz says Hicks-Hudson's administration was slow to admitting the problem and says the city should have reached out for an executive order during the Obama administration.
"I am sincerely glad that the mayor has come around to an agreement with impairment," Kapszukiewicz said. "The biggest chain is though had she adopted our view two years ago, under a friendlier administration, we would have certainly gotten more money."
Both candidates also talked about the need to focus on the city's neighborhoods with the recent resurgence of downtown Toledo.
Kapszukiewicz acknowledged the positives of downtown development, but also says the success of downtown has not translated to successfully developing Toledo's neighborhoods.
"That is why Toledo has lost four percent of all of its businesses in the last year. That's why our unemployment rate is growing at a faster rate than any other city in the state," Kapszukiewicz said. "City government has to adapt. The private sector is doing a great job. The private sector is leading. City government, unfortunately, is standing in the way."
Mayor Hicks-Hudson says the city, through the Department of Economics and the Department of Neighborhoods, does have a plan in place to develop the city's neighborhoods.
She says her administration has worked to put in sidewalks and fill potholes to help convince businesses to invest in the city's neighborhoods. She also wants to create a neighborhood program that will use more than just the city government to bring in business.
Violent crime is a recent issue that is pushing itself further to the top of Toledoans' minds, especially when a particularly bloody summer coming to an end.
Both candidates believe in getting more officers on the streets. However Kapszukiewicz says the city needs be more aggressive.
"Despite whatever efforts have been made to improve the size of our force, it has dipped to what the Department of Justice would classify as a dangerously low level," Kapszukiewicz said.
Kapszukiewicz says he wants 40 police recruits in each new class to balance out the number of those retiring.
Hicks-Hudson says the numbers of Kapszukiewicz's plan do not add up. Instead, she praised the city's police for the job they have done so far.
"I am committed to making sure they we work, as a holistic approach, to address this issue of crime and violence in our community. And the way we're doing it is under the leadership of [Chief] Kral," Hicks-Hudson said. "We have a 21st century policing force that is doing a number of things, not only working to interdict in terms of, or to stop crime, but also to have a partnership with the community."
Paula Hicks-Hudson says the heads of public safety, including police chief George Kral and fire chief Luis Santiago, are not in danger of losing their jobs. However, Kapszukiewicz says everyone is up for review.
In one of the more interesting moments of the debate, Kapszukiewicz denied a report by the Hicks-Hudson campaign that he promised the firefighter union he would fire Chief Santiago.
"Not only did we not promise, it was never discussed," Kapszukiewicz said.
When asked where the report came from, Hicks-Hudson denied having anything to do with it.
"My campaign said that I don't know whether or not that did or did not occur," Hicks-Hudson said.
Another contentious issue was on the three-quarters levy and its role for paying for schools while also asking more from those in Toledo with a fixed income.
"I especially lament the poor ways that public schools are funded in this state. Four times the Ohio Supreme Court has said the ways the public schools in this state are funded is unconstitutional because of its overly heavy reliance on the property tax," Kapszukiewicz said.
Hicks-Hudson says the three-quarters levy was an important tax to help the city to continue to operate.
"I cannot believe that you consider to sat these untruths. The three-quarter levy was a necessary levy for us to operate our city government," Hicks-Hudson said. "We are not talking about increasing our expenditures unnecessarily without a way to do it."
In June, the city of Toledo found $8.2 million that was unaccounted for in the budget. During an investigation, Ohio state auditor David Yoast found no wrong-doing by the city, but the city's image took a hit.
Kapszukiewicz did not focus on the city not finding the money initially, but accused city leaders of trying to cover it up. He says that affected people's trust in the government to operate with transparency.
Hicks-Hudson says the city tried to be as transparent as possible during this issue.
"It was not a problem that was made by this administration. In fact this was the administration that found it," Hicks-Hudson said. "It's this administration that asked the state treasure to have an open checkbook that you can look online and see our checkbook."
Hicks-Hudson says her priority is to find an experienced finance director for the city.
On potholes, both candidates firmly promised to fix the city's roads, but with different plans.
Kapszukiewicz says he wants consolidate redundant city and county services, which he believes with save the city money to put towards fixing potholes and repaving streets.
Hicks-Hudson says her administration is scaling back city government spending to have more money in the Capital Improvement Fund to be used for city streets.
Both candidates rarely agreed on issues. But one of the issues they did agree on was the right of municipal workers to kneel for the national anthem.
"I support anyone who has a right to express themselves because this country is based upon the first amendment," Hicks-Hudson said.
"I support freedom of speech," Kapszukiewicz said. "That is a legitimate form of protest and one that this country is founded on."
In her closing arguments, Mayor Hicks-Hudson denied accusations that the city is lightweight. Instead she said the city is going strong. She also referred to the 'four pillars' of her campaign: Job, clean water, better neighborhoods and a better city government.
"So far, we've created 9,500 new and retained jobs with a $3 billion investment," Hicks-Hudson said. "I've kept the water safe to drink each and every day."
She says the city is continuing to work on neighborhood improvement.
She also promised the government is functioning successfully with her administration freeing up unnecessary spending by the city.
Kapszukiewicz responded in his closing arguments saying he wants to see more for the city.
"We can do anything if we just have the guts and the courage to do things a little differently, to choose the future, not the past," Kapszukiewicz said. "I'm not going to be content to settle for mediocrity when we have a community that can be so much more."
The election will be November 7. Early voting is currently open.
Visit here for a list of all in-person early voting times.