Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley Sets Herself Apart Early in Ohio Governor's Race

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The 2018 Ohio governor's race is in early-campaign mode, with eight candidates filling out the Republican and Democrat slates. While there's talk of some heavy hitters like Dennis Kucinich, Richard Cordray or Jerry Springer entering the race on the D side of the ballot, the political focus is right now placed on the current lineup of state and federal leaders vying for the governor's seat.

And then there's the local leader, setting herself apart from the pack early in this race: Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.

Her stance is unique and vital for Ohio voters, because she knows all too well the most common refrain in Buckeye State politics: The state turned away from municipalities and the Local Government Fund under Gov. John Kasich and began balancing its budget on the backs of city general funds and public services. The places where an Ohio voter is impacted most — fire department staffing, trash pick-up, outdoor recreation — are the places where Whaley has spent much of her political career as mayor and as Dayton city commissioner.

The structure of Whaley's campaign platform is based on job creation, but the foundation behind that vision is re-establishing the economic and political network between Columbus and local municipalities. "They've had no partner in the state," she tells Scene, citing cities and townships and villages across Ohio.

That drain of resources and support leads to a certain sense of political disillusionment — something that only a few political candidates seem willing to recognize in the wake of the 2016 presidential vote. "I understand the foundation of where that vote came from," she says.

And that's the crux of Whaley's campaign, it seems, born out of the re-emergence of industrial Dayton and intent on capturing workers' participation in the political process.

"There's been little recognition of these folks' contribution ... that really made those communities thrive," she says. "I'm very frustrated nationally with how there's not many good minds on this definition of 'work.' ... Nobody wants a handout; people want to provide value to the community. That's where the conversation needs to go." (Since Whaley took office in early 2014, Dayton's unemployment has been slashed nearly in half. Ohio's has remained more or less static in the same time frame.)

Whaley says, if anything, she's learned "lessons on what not to do" from observing Kasich's eight-year tenure in the governor's mansion, which began with a landmark fight and vote over right-to-work policies. Kasich kicked that can down the road, and instead focused on touting his balanced budgets — which returns the conversation to municipalities' and mayors' plights in figuring out their own economic struggle.

As mayor, Whaley says, "you don't have the luxury of not getting it done." It's a key distinction afforded her by her work in an executive capacity.

By forging partnerships between the state and those cities, Whaley argues that local workforces will reap benefits — and that entrepreneurship will become even more accessible. By supporting, for instance, a fire sprinkler grant program, prospective local business owners will be able to tackle building code enforcement with ease and liven up downtown commercial districts in small towns all over the state. And by taking the Dayton area's focus on apprenticeship training at places like Sinclair Community College statewide, Whaley says that Ohio workers will be better prepared to deal with the technological and economic trends toward automation.

"Progressive policies will lead to economic prosperity," Whaley says, pointing out also that tax policies that promote more equality across the board tend to produce better jobs numbers.


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