A.J. Wagner dies; longtime public servant was judge, ran for Dayton mayor

A former Montgomery County judge, auditor, Dayton mayoral candidate and state school board member has died after a battle with cancer.

A.J. Wagner’s daughter posted on social media that her father died Thursday night, calling him “the best dad anyone could ask for.”

Wagner, 70, served Montgomery County in multiple roles, including as auditor in the 1990s and county judge between 2000 and 2010. He also ran for mayor against Nan Whaley in 2013.

“He was the most loving and caring person, he never met a stranger and he cared so much,” Montgomery County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman said. She said Wagner hired her for her first job in county government and taught her a lot about being a public servant.

“He was just a really good guy,” she said. “Very loyal to his friends.”

Retired Dayton Clerk of Court Mark Owens knew Wagner since the 1980s. He said Wagner’s death is a personal loss and noted Wagner’s public service.

“We appreciate everything he did for the community,” Owens said.

Wagner served on the Ohio State School Board between 2014 to 2016, and was known as a strong advocate for high-poverty schools, urging board members to consider the impact their decisions made on urban districts such as Dayton.

The State School Board President at the time, Tom Gunlock, said in 2016 that Wagner “consistently gave voice to the concerns of his constituents, particularly those he felt had little opportunity to be heard.”

Wagner moved from Ohio to Pennsylvania to be closer to family, Lieberman said, and she said it is comforting to know that he was around family for the final years of his life.

Wagner had shared social media posts about his recent battle with cancer. In July, he made a post titled “Ups and Downs” that talked about some treatment he needed, as well as about his time on the bench and receiving an unexpected gift.

“I had the honor of spending 10 years as a judge in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas where I presided over murder, rape, kidnapping, drug, and other felony cases,” the post says. “After I retired, I served six months as a Magistrate in the Dayton Municipal Court hearing cases for traffic tickets, evictions, jaywalking, open containers, bicycle offenses, dog bites and the like. I was there on a temporary basis until the court filled the position permanently. Of the two, I preferred the Municipal Court. I preferred not sending people to prison.”

“Anyway, when I left the Municipal Court in 2011, I left behind my judicial robe. I wouldn’t be needing it, and it was then available for the new magistrate or any other acting magistrate. Today, the Court, with a lovely card signed by the five Municipal Court Judges, the Magistrates, and the Court Administrator, I received my judges’ robe. A pleasant surprise.”

“I am truly blessed. Mostly, I have ups.”

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