By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor
Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the ever-evolving landscape of Lucas County politics, where the winds of change are known to blow unexpectedly, a controlled tempest has just swept through the local Democratic Party with the fresh announcement of Anita Lopez’s candidacy for Lucas County Commissioner.
The dynamics have vaulted Lopez over Paula Hicks-Hudson, Nick Komives and Mike Hart to become the favored replacement for the retiring Tina Skeldon-Wozniak, who will leave on office on December 31.
Lopez is no stranger to taking a stand and speaking her mind; her reputation for courage precedes her. During her long career, Lopez has embodied the essence of controlled disruption in the political sphere – fearless outspokenness as a powerful force for change, guided by a steady hand and relentless spirit, promising to reshape our community’s future while ensuring that the winds of transformation are channeled constructively for the betterment of all.
In my exclusive interview with Anita Lopez, we engage in a candid conversation to provide insights into her motivations, her vision for Lucas County’s future, and how she intends to use her wealth of experience to address the pressing issues facing our community with her fearless perspective.
Perryman: Why are you announcing your candidacy for the appointment to be Lucas County Commissioner?
Lopez: First, this is an opportunity to use my 16 years in county government to bring greater opportunities. As a county commissioner working with businesses and economic development, I aim to assist businesses and create jobs. The more higher-paying jobs we have, the more opportunity for everyone to have a seat at the table, and that’s really my focus – jobs, jobs, jobs.
And second, making sure we’re prioritizing and equally funding all areas of Lucas County in all populations of Lucas County, and then third, I’m going to bring a balance, equally sharing that authority to help individuals, between hopefully Lisa [Sobecki], Pete [Gerken] and myself. Striking an opportunity for balance and being someone who’s consistently been an advocate for all citizens will provide quality and empowerment to everyone.
Perryman: Do you see a void or need to shake things up?
Lopez: Yes. Since 2005, it has been Tina and Pete. Yet, I’ve worked so close to the ground and one-on-one with taxpayers as county auditor and genuinely heard their concerns. When citizens are struggling to pay property taxes, individuals are on strike right now, mortgages are not getting paid, foreclosures are increasing, we’ve got to shake things up, and we have to bring businesses here; we have to keep growing. Development projects are great; the hotel was great, but that’s a limited number of jobs. That’s not bringing in a company that can hire 300 individuals or 400 or 1,000. Those are the significant movements I want to make as county commissioner. My relationship with the real estate and business communities gives me that unique relationship that’s nonexistent at the county level.
Perryman: Let’s talk about family or neighborhood influences. Tell us a little bit about your growing up.
Lopez: I grew up in South Toledo off of Broadway and South Streets and am the 7th child of migrant workers. I became passionate about helping others early when I was employed at the Boys and Girls Club. I started there at 14 years old and have worked ever since, so I’ve been working for 40 years. My father lost his union-paying job when I was a freshman at Central Catholic, and it really changed my entire life, from having a father fully employed to suddenly having to go on public assistance. Welfare is what they referred to it at the time.
Throughout high school, I was always that sort of interpreter for my parents, not necessarily Spanish, but just trying to make my way through the government to get assistance to make ends meet.
Perryman: Can you elaborate on your struggle to make ends meet?
Lopez: We’d get the milk, and we’d get the government cheese. There used to be these big blocks of cheese; it made the best-grilled cheese sandwich you could ever eat, and they’d get eggs delivered to you through WIC because we had custody of my niece and my nephew, so my mom and dad would get WIC cause they were also helping my two sisters who had children at a very young age and the fathers were not involved.
I started seeing a lot of socioeconomic issues early on in life. It really molded me into who I am. As an elected official, knowing when somebody comes to government, they shouldn’t be given the runaround. When somebody basically has no money, they can’t pay their rent, they can’t pay their mortgage, that’s not the time to give them a stack of paperwork and say here, this is what you need to do, but take them to your office and help them complete it and open the door to them and let them know that we’re here to help, not to make it harder for you and your life. I witnessed that, my mom and dad had to go through that, and that’s why I wanted to be a lawyer because if you knew the law, it could open your door to help others.
Perryman: How did you transition your early experiences into your career and advocacy?
Lopez: I think it’s because we were all stuck with each other at home. My mother was a stay-at-home mother until I was 14 when my dad lost his job, and then my mother, my sister Matilda, and I had to start working to make up his income. The roles became reversed. Here I’m giving you my check every two weeks, every week. I’m like part of the decision-making because I’m bringing in money.
I only got my checks for the four years I worked at the Boys and Girls Club until after I graduated and went to college. I gave them all to the family pool, so I wonder if that gives you any context of my background. I’ve always been cutting and pasting with my family to ensure we had everything we needed. I started at an early age.
So most folks’ teenage years were about “Okay, we’re going to the mall, we’re doing sleepovers, we’re going to football games,” and mine was making sure I went to school. I came back and worked, and then my dad wanted me to play tennis because he said, “If you’re going to go into business, you need to learn golf, or you need to learn tennis.” He knew tennis would expose me to a different income level of families, so he was like “golf or tennis?” and I was like “tennis.”
Perryman: How did your upbringing shape your fearless outspokenness?
Lopez: Honestly, my dad was very tough on the women in our home, including my mother. When he was away at work, it was peaceful during the summertime, and then when he was home, and he was miserable. He started taking out his frustration of being unemployed and not being able to provide for his family and I think the shame and anger with all that and finally, I just had enough and I was basically like “Leave mom alone.” He never physically hit my mom, but he was extremely hard on her. I became my mother and father’s buffer, saying, “Enough, back off! It’s your fault, not our fault, that this has happened. It’s not our fault that we’re about to lose our home. It’s not our fault that we have no gas during the summertime.”
It is because I think I took after him. He was always outspoken and opinionated, saying how it was somebody’s fault or this is what they did wrong in their lives. Then I finally was like, “What about you?”
Perryman: Who were your mentors?
Lopez: Lisa Rice from the Fair Housing Center, Jack Ford, my father, and the Boys and Girls Club staff. I also have to tell you, Chris Valle was at the Boys and Girls Club. He was from a Hispanic family, and he realized some of the dynamics I was going through. So, the Boys and Girls Club staff recognized we needed help and by hiring me at an early age and keeping me off the streets.
Perryman: How did Jack Ford mentor you?
Lopez: Jack was my professor at the University of Toledo. Jack hired me from campus to work at Adelante, and then from Adelante he hired me to work at Substance Abuse Services, Inc. (SASI). He allowed me to volunteer on his campaign to learn how campaigns operated. Jack also introduced me to the Democratic Party and all the decision-makers like Paula Ross, telling me to get more involved, to volunteer, and to help me understand the Lucas County Democratic Party machine on how to get somebody elected. He exposed that and opened up all those doors for me.
Perryman: Both Paula Hicks-Hudson and Nick Komives have expressed an interest in the appointment or running in 2024. Why should the executive committee choose you over the other demonstrated candidates?
Lopez: My candidacy and work ethic will help everyone get elected this year. I am a very hard campaigner. I am welcomed in all parts of Lucas County and the only candidate with that relationship countywide. No other elected official, Nick Komives nor Paula Hicks-Hudson, have been elected countywide, and you must work and have a relationship countywide;
You have to be willing to go everywhere and anywhere and not be afraid, and that helped me get elected in 2006 because I already had been on the ballot countywide as a recorder, so I was not a stranger countywide when I became auditor. My name had already been on the ballot.
And, it is not solely because my name is on the ballot. Actually, in my relationship with townships, farmers, the business community and realtors who work all over northwest Ohio, I have that foundation, and no other candidate does. If you’ve never been on the ballot in Oregon, or in Jerusalem Township. Or, if you’ve never been on the ballot in Berkey and East Toledo all at the same time. Lucas County Commissioner is not just a City of Toledo race; it’s a countywide race. That’s where my expertise and my relationships will make the difference to win this.
Finally, one of the things we learned from Paula Ross and Jack Ford was a diverse slate helps the party. So, in 2024, if I am able to get the appointment, it would be myself, Pete Gerken, Michael Ashford, and whoever is going to be the next county auditor, That’s a nice slate right there. You will at least have a Hispanic, African American, and a white male, bringing out all of our bases.
We intend to always make sure that the Democratic Party’s slate is diverse. That is the key to our success.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at email@example.com