Toledo Inaugural Democracy Day

March 30, 2017
Ignazio Messina

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It was open-mic night in Toledo City Council chambers Thursday.

Toledo's first “Democracy Day,” an annual event mandated by voter-approval last year of an ordinance making Toledo officially in favor of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that corporations do not have the same rights as individuals, was an opportunity for anyone to speak on anything. And they did.

Nearly three dozen people attended the no-holds-barred, anything goes public comment session. It was a mostly liberal-leaning assail of national issues like corporate greed, health care, and the United States military, but also included comments blasting Toledo government.

One by one, people took the microphone and spoke to Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson, Council President Steven Steel, and Councilmen Yvonne Harper, Tom Waniewski, and Theresa Gabriel.

“We are here today trying to lift up this issue and put pressure on Congress that money is not speech and corporations are not people,” said Greg Coleridge, coordinator of Move to Amend Ohio.

The Toledo chapter of the national group Move to Amend successfully circulated petitions to get a question on the March 15, 2016, ballot seeking passage of the ordinance. It stated that corporations are not people and cannot be protected from campaign-finance restrictions. Move to Amend, a progressive organization that claims about 380,000 members and successful initiatives in more than 600 municipalities, seeks to reverse the 2010 Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Toledo City Council and the mayor are mandated to hold a public hearing to be called “Democracy Day” each year in March to “examine the impact of political contributions of corporations, unions, PACs, and Super-PACs on the city, as well as other issues that arise from the Supreme Court's decisions to give corporations the rights of real persons.”

Constandena Mandros blasted council for approving a zoning change at Secor and Monroe, which overturned a Toledo Plan Commission recommendation to deny the change, that cleared the way for a new Kroger store to be built across Secor from an existing Kroger.

“You have all sold out the city of Toledo,” Ms. Mandros said to the attentively listening mayor and councilmen.

Maysoon Otaibi testified against U.S. military spending.

“Our tax dollars could be spent here at home to improve our lives and not create more enemies,” she said. “Our resources and money would be better used on education, universal health care, funding the transition to renewable energy, and repairing our failing infrastructure.”

Within two weeks after Democracy Day, the mayor then must send letters to Toledo’s representatives in Congress and the Ohio General Assembly. The mayor is to summarize the main issues raised at the hearing and state that the citizens of Toledo voted in support of a citizens' initiative calling for a constitutional amendment.

Some speakers used fiery language and riled up the crowd. One even used a vulgarity referring to President Trump. Others were calmer and less controversial, like John F. Stvartak of East Toledo.

“Something is missing from our society,” Mr. Stvartak said. “I ask for your help to get it back.”

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina [at] theblade.com or 419-724-6171 or on Twitter @IgnazioMessina.

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