3 running to replace Whaley as Dayton mayor

Former mayor, city commissioner and former fire official will run in May election. Top 2 face off in November.

The candidates running in the May 4 election to replace Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley are a political newcomer, a former mayor and a current city commissioner and long-time elected official.

Voters will narrow the three candidates — Rennes Bowers, Gary Leitzell and Jeff Mims Jr. — down to two in the May 4 election. The top two vote getters will face off in November to succeed Whaley, who isn’t seeking reelection.

This is the first mayoral election since a series of tornadoes hit the city in May 2019 and the deadliest mass shooting in modern Ohio history occurred in the Oregon District in August 2019. The mayor leads a city of 140,400 people that has a general fund budget of about $176.8 million and is one of the top 25 employers in the region. The mayor is paid about $56,500 annually, but that could increase if voters approve a proposed city charter amendment also on the May 4 ballot.

The candidates each have different ideas and proposals for making Dayton a better place to live. And Dayton’s next mayor almost certainly will have to lead the city through an uncertain financial environment due to work changes and other disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Rennes Bowers

At a recent candidate forum, Bowers said he decided to run for mayor because the 72-year-old resident was heartbroken by what he described as divisive and hateful rhetoric going on across the city and nation.

Bowers, who retired from the Dayton Fire Department after 30 years, said he is a uniter, a solution-oriented problem-solver and a “servant leader.”

Religion is a major part of Bowers’ life. He is a pastor and chaplain for the Dayton Dragons and the Dayton Fire Department. God and uniting the faith community are solutions to division and animosity, Bowers said. He believes faith groups ― not government ― can remedy some pressing issues, such as eradicating racism and a lack of medical services in areas like West Dayton.

Bowers said he is not a politician ― he describes himself as a crisis manager who knows how to remedy emergency situations.

Dayton is in crisis, he said, adding that he believes his leadership style, bold ideas and brave solutions are what the city needs right now.

Dayton’s mayor is the city’s spokesperson and must be honest, open and transparent, Bowers said.

“I’ll be a mayor who listens to what the people say,” he said. “I’ll have an open-door policy.”

Bowers said his expertise is in public safety, which would greatly help the city because he said it can’t attract significant investment and new businesses when it struggles with crime, drugs and overdoses.

People also can’t take pride in their neighborhoods when they are surrounded by decay and blight, Bowers said. He said the city needs to go after absentee landlords, demolish homes that cannot be rebuilt and expand access to low-interest loans and other incentives to repair houses that can be saved.

Gary Leitzell

Leitzell, 60, was elected mayor in 2009 and served one term before coming in third in his reelection bid in May 2013. Whaley went on to defeat A.J. Wagner in November 2013 to replace Leitzell.

Leitzell won office by defeating a two-term incumbent, Rhine McLin, even though he spent a small fraction of what she did on the race.

He is a landlord and entrepreneur, and said voters put their trust in him and that trust paid off with a list of accomplishments while he was in office. Leitzell pointed to saving money when the city become self-insured, increasing public art and establishing a tire-buyback program.

Leitzell said he also encouraged the city to put commission agendas online and take other steps to improve transparency. He also takes credit for the city’s recycling program and increasing the number of liquor licenses available in the Oregon District.

Dayton was labeled by Forbes as one of the fastest-dying cities in the nation in 2008. But Letizell said later under his leadership, Dayton was hailed as one of the nation’s most affordable cities, one of the best places for increased home prices and one of the best mid-sized cities for the arts.

“I did that in two years,” he said at a recent candidate forum. “But it wasn’t just me ― it was you, it was your ideas, your input, because I was the people’s mayor ― I was out in the community talking to you about your ideas.”

Leitzell also said he was responsible for establishing Dayton’s immigrant friendly Welcome Dayton initiative, and said he regularly met behind the scenes with the city manager, who helped make his ideas a reality.

The city cannot attract new investment in its neighborhoods until streets and alleys are safe, clean and attractive, Leitzell said. He supports creating a new program to transfer vacant properties into the hands of people who will fix them up.

Leitzell said the city would benefit from his ideas and neighbors would benefit from his accessibility.

Jeff Mims Jr.

Mims, 74, is finishing his second term on city commission. He previously worked as a teacher and served as president of the Dayton school board and the district’s teacher’s union.

Mims, a U.S. Air Force veteran, said he has spent his life serving his country and community, and he is deeply committed to improving the quality of life for Dayton residents.

Mims said he has vision and experience, and he’s proud of the work city commissioners have done to move the city forward, such as helping offer universal preschool for all of Dayton’s 4-year-old children.

The city’s elected leaders, he said, have made thoughtful, strategic and impactful investments in projects like the Dayton Arcade and the new Economy Linen facility in West Dayton that create jobs and revitalize neighborhoods.

Mims said his lifetime of service has honed some of the most important traits of good leaders, including strong people skills, empathy, insight and creative problem solving.

After taking part in the police reform process, Mims said he will build on that work and hopes to make Dayton a national model of best policing practices.

The city expects to receive $147 million in federal assistance from the latest coronavirus rescue bill. Mims said that money will have restrictions and city has to be careful how it spends this one-time funding because revenue shortfalls are possible if people continue to work from home and pay income taxes where they live.

Mims said he would like to increase funding for some of his priorities, including blight removal and bringing up staffing levels for critical services.

“We have to be very prudent with those dollars and make sure we are not finding ourselves in a situation a year or two from now in dire straits or a worse situation than we are in right now,” he said at a recent candidate forum.

Dayton Mayor candidates

Name: Jeffrey Mims Jr.

Age: 74

Occupation/experience: Retired educator, current city commissioner

Neighborhood of residence: Wright Dunbar

Name: Gary Leitzell

Age: 60

Occupation/experience: Entrepreneur, landlord, former Dayton mayor

Neighborhood of residence: Walnut Hills

Name: Rennes Bowers

Age: 72

Occupation/experience: Chaplain for Dayton Dragons, Dayton Fire Department; retired firefighter

Neighborhood of residence: DeWeese Ridgecrest

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