By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.
The Truth Contributor
The most effective [leadership]…is provided by people who work behind the scenes for quiet victories.
– Joseph L. Badaracco, Jr.
Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz finds himself in the biggest fight of his political life.
The brilliant but sometimes socially awkward incumbent prefers effective, behind-the-scenes strategies over “public heroism” to resolve the City’s challenges.
However, in challenger former three-term Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, Kapszukiewicz is battling a charismatic and aggressive former football coach who is comfortable employing political and psychological pressure.
How will Kapszukiewicz respond to Carty’s pressuring political style, designed to wear down the incumbent, test his endurance, force him into an overly defensive campaign posture, and take away his composure or ability to think clearly and rationally.
I spoke with Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz about his unorthodox incremental, outside-the-limelight approach to leadership and how he plans to combat the tactics of his political opponent.
Here is our conversation:
Perryman: There’s talk that you initially thought that this reelection effort would be more effortless than it has become. Carty Finkbeiner is a pressure fighter at heart. Are you unnerved by his decision to enter the race?
Wade: I’m not unnerved at all. I’m looking forward to telling our story and just focused on the things we’re doing and need to do. I don’t focus much on the sideshow and all the silly drama. Certainly, Carty adds a level of drama that didn’t exist before. At the end of the day, I don’t expect it will change much about the results of the election. I still feel as confident as I ever have about my chance.
At some level, Carty probably would agree that this is an election that he might have a difficult time winning. I don’t know that his primary focus, frankly, is even on winning this race. I think he wants to raise issues, and that’s great.
Perryman: You talked about an emphasis on telling your story. What is your story?
Wade: The story is that Toledo, in general, is better off today than we were four years ago; there’s no question about it.
Earlier this year, we won the Site Selection Magazine Governor’s Cup Award as number one nationally for economic development. That is significant.
Also, we finally developed a plan to fix our roads once and for all. We created a new revenue stream that never existed before, and as a result, we’re fixing 15 times the number of roads this year than we did last year. Last year, we fixed seven residential roads; this year we’re fixing 109.
Additionally, our budget is in a much better position. Our budget wasn’t balanced when I became mayor. Today, we have the largest rainy-day fund in the City’s history, literally 10 times larger than it was five years ago.
The promises I made four years ago, I’ve kept them. I said we’re going to grow the size of the police force, get the regional water deal done, and get the budget in order. We did all of these. So, looking at the big picture, there’s no question we’re better off than we were four years ago.
Perryman: What is the story concerning the African-American community?
Wade: I assumed that everyone knew this, but I’ll say it plainly. There are about 120 kids right now and their parents going to college for free from Scott High School because of a program I put together. I’m proud of that. No one’s ever done anything like that before. Two straight graduating classes
of kids from Scott High School and one of their parents are in college right now and paying not a penny because of my leadership as mayor.
Perryman: The name of the program?
Wade: The program is Hope Toledo, which has a pre-k component, which I think everyone knows how far I stuck my neck out promoting pre-kindergarten,
which disproportionately benefits children of color. Hope Toledo is also the vessel that is sending these kids from Scott High School to college for free.
Beyond that, I have the eight safety classes that I have brought on. The four fire classes and the four police classes that have come aboard during my time as mayor have been the most diverse in the history of the city outside of a federal courtroom; the most diverse since the early 80’s and that is in terms of both percentages
of African Americans and also in raw numbers. And, every year we break the record of the year before.
Now, I am never going to have the personality of someone more charismatic and maybe a little more of an extrovert. I can’t help that, and so while it’s hard for me to talk about myself, what I would encourage folks to do, speak to Tony Hague. I would love for someone to ask him what kind of mayor I’ve been for African Americans and what kind of mayor I’ve been for diversity in our safety forces. I will rest comfortably when people understand how Tony Hague, a black career firefighter, thinks I’ve done.
Additionally, we have invested this year more money in youth programming and summer job programs than at any time in the history of the City. I hope someone calls Dennis Hopson and asks him what he thinks of my service as mayor and my commitment to young people of color and youth opportunities. Anyone who wants a summer job this year had a chance to get one because of the investments we made. I’m proud of that.
Also, I inherited a lead law that was well-intentioned, but didn’t work, got thrown out in court. I came in, rebuilt the legislation, and passed a lead-safe program that now actually is preventing kids from being poisoned. Maybe I should talk about that more, but that’s a heck of an accomplishment, I believe, for some of our most disadvantaged neighborhoods.
And then, the City of Toledo was, embarrassingly, the only big city in Ohio that hadn’t already done a disparity study. Well, because of my leadership, we’re determining whether or not the City has been even a passive participant in discriminating against certain protective groups. We are also identifying race-conscious remedies to ensure we have a fair procurement process.
I also created the TREIC, the Toledo Racial Equity and Inclusion Council. That is helping us push our equity agenda; the black agenda is part of that. And, we’ve revamped the Diversity and Inclusion Department. Just the folks I’ve recruited, folks like Rosalyn Clemmons and everything she’s done, building programs that work for our neighborhoods.
Perryman: Toledo is a less safe place than it was approximately five years ago. Violent crime and gang-related violence are up. How will you rebuild the trust between the African American community and your administration, including the police department?
Wade: One of the ways you can rebuild trust is by enacting meaningful police reform. And again, I’ll tell you this, there has never been a mayor of the City of Toledo in its history who has passed more police reform than I have, and it’s just a fact.
Every single officer we have now wears a body camera; that was not case when I became mayor. Internal affairs, for 80 years, had been located in police headquarters. Faith leaders, active Black Lives Matter activists, and other activists felt like that could have a stifling effect on people who might want to report police misconduct. So, by the stroke of a pen, I moved internal affairs to a neutral site. That’s a big deal.
The training that we provide our officers – implicit bias, de-escalation techniques, use of force – the State of Ohio requires that those lessons are taught only in the academy. That’s not good enough here in Toledo. So, we require that every officer get those trainings every year. So, we pay for that, but we believe it’s important, and conforms with our values.
I also outlawed the use of camouflage. Now when a police officer pulls you over for any infraction, they have to provide a business card with his badge number and phone number and report. There’s more work to be done, but that is more reform than any mayor in our history has achieved, and I’m proud of it.
Perryman: However, the shootings continue to be a cause of concern for the community.
Wade: These things will take time, but a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and that’s actually what I’ll also say about the one type of crime that is going up in Toledo, which is shootings and gun violence.
About two weeks ago, the Governor of New York said, ‘you know what, we’ve gotta tackle gun violence as a public health crisis?’ Well, last September, we did the same thing. We had a news conference and created the mayor’s initiative to reduce gun violence. We hired staff, JoJuan Armour, and he is in the process of hiring violence interrupters. We’re replicating the safe city models that have worked across the country in places like Chicago. We’re trying new things and doing things that haven’t been done before.
Perryman: Would you consider changing the leadership of the police department.
Wade: The police chief of a major American city is probably the most challenging job in America. Chief Kral is a reformer who has helped bring reform to the police department on relations with the African American community.
Everyone is disappointed by the spike in violent crime, but I don’t place the blame at George Kral’s feet. It’s a complex problem, and there’s plenty of blame to go around.
Perryman: Let’s shift a little bit. There’s been a lot of skepticism in the African American community on how the American Rescue Plan dollars will be distributed. How will you ensure that there is equity in how those funds are distributed?
Wade: It’s too soon yet obviously to be able to identify what’s going to be funded with these dollars, but I can tell you based on the feedback we’re getting
folks in the African American community should feel confident that the overwhelming majority of these dollars are going to be spent in challenged neighborhoods, ones that have traditionally been disinvested in.
I can’t imagine the scenario whereby a majority of those dollars aren’t spent in our core communities. That’s a rock-solid guarantee.
Perryman: There are many unheralded groups who have historically been doing this work but may not have a lot of capacity. They’re wondering if the hoops they have to jump through will disqualify them from accessing these resources?
Wade: Those are fair concerns. This is a totally new opportunity that, if it has ever come around before, it was 100 years ago during the New Deal. All I can say is that I am proud of the team that I have brought in that know how to get dollars to people who need it. That’s why I know that these dollars will end up in the hands of people who need it.
Perryman: Finally, given your style of quiet leadership, I want to ask if you have heard the voices of the community to actually know what they want?
Wade: I think I have. Even Carty, who is running against me right now, last time I talked to him said that I was one of the best listeners he’s ever met. I do think I’m a good listener. I put in long hours, and I have put my whole heart and soul into this job. I attend meetings everywhere. I am not afraid to have tough conversations; there’s simply no one who could claim that I don’t work hard at this and that I don’t listen. I think even my detractors concede that point, so I have heard the community.
No mayor is perfect, and no city is perfect, but I do think we are making progress and moving in the right direction. I believe that. I know my heart is always in the right place. Unfortunately, I think sometimes the words that come out of my mouth don’t conform with what’s in my heart.
Perryman: My point is that as people listen, frequently something is lost in the translation, causing them to hear something different than what was intended.
So, when the African American community speaks, whether in actual words, deeds, attitudes or whatever, have you actually “heard” them?
Wade: The answer is yes, I have heard. I do.
Perryman: But do you “GET it?”
Wade: I get it, but I’ll end it this way. I hope that in my second term that the African American community can come to hear what I’m saying, and can look at my record of accomplishments for the African American community, sending kids to college for free, diversity and the safety forces, the disparity study, on and on. But, when it comes to listening, I have heard, acted and delivered in a way that is consistent with my heart and my values.
I’m always going to be a little awkward. Sometimes I’m not going to say the right things. I’m going to seem uncomfortable and out of place and tell jokes that aren’t funny. I can’t help it. Maybe that’s all people hear about me, and maybe that’s what they fear; and I get that.
I hope the community can appreciate the incredible record of accomplishments that I have achieved for the African American community. I hope people let my deeds speak for me and not my sometimes-awkward actions and mangled words. Let’s put it that way.
That’s my hope for this second term. I have no doubt I’m going to have a second term, and I have no doubt that I will have more success.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD at firstname.lastname@example.org