Dem forum for Congress, statehouse, local races focuses on key issues

Abortion, foreign relations, poverty, among topics discussed by competing Democratic hopefuls

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Thirteen candidates in five local, state and federal Democratic primary races made their respective pitches Wednesday night at a Dayton forum where abortion rights, international relations and poverty were central concerns.

The forum, conducted at the Montgomery County Democratic Party Headquarters, drew a crowd of about 100 voters hoping to learn more about a broad slate of Democratic candidates for county commissioner, Ohio’s 10th Congressional District, the state’s 6th Senate District, and the 36th and 38th House Districts.

The Montgomery County Republican Party is not planning a local candidate forum for candidates in the March 19 primary, according to party officials.

The broad list of races at the Democrats’ forum was matched by an expanse of on-the-fly questions. While Congressional candidates were asked about their stances on immigration and the opioid crisis, commissioners promoted solutions to the growing number of homeless students in Dayton Public Schools, and statehouse candidates tackled education, tax reform, and many other topics.

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Credit: Avery Kreemer

Abortion key Statehouse issue

At the state level, abortion came up frequently.

The topic will likely play a big role in Senate District 6, which covers Dayton and most of its eastern and southern suburbs. It’s a district where Democrats hope to give Dayton its first Democratic senator in the Ohio Statehouse in over a decade.

Of the three Senate candidates, only two — Dayton state Rep. Willis Blackshear, Jr., and Dayton School Board member Jocelyn Rhynard — voiced staunch abortion-right stances and vowed to keep up the fight for abortion rights, which contrasted with Kettering City Councilwoman Jyl Hall, who has been applauded by anti-abortion Democratic groups in the past. Hall said she was happy to address the topic.

“My position on this has been mischaracterized, but it’s very simple: I’m going to uphold the constitution of Ohio,” said Hall, who noted that she wouldn’t support any efforts to rescind or water down abortion rights approved by Ohio voters. “Voters voted overwhelmingly twice last year to pass Issue 1, and, while I do have a faith that brings about convictions for me in choosing abortion, I am going to take a vow to support the Constitution.”

Rhynard, a member of the Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio board, and Blackshear, an outspoken critic of legislative attempts to limit abortions in Ohio, both played active roles in the effort to enshrine abortion access in Ohio.

The winner of the primary will go on to face Republican Charlotte McGuire. McGuire, who represents the area on the Ohio Board of Education, was hand-picked by the Montgomery County GOP to defend its grip on the Senate seat after incumbent Sen. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, opted to run for Congress.

Abortion was the biggest issue for many in the audience. This includes Yvonne Curington, a member of the South Dayton Democratic Club who called 2024 the “year of woman” — both in terms of who she wants representing the region and who she wants those representatives to go to bat for.

“This isn’t the year for men, they need to go sit down somewhere. This is the year of the woman,” she said. “We need to have strong, vocal women with backbones in the state legislature to make sure they don’t turn things on us.”

Candidates in the 38th and 36th House Districts also voiced their strong personal support for abortion rights. In the 38th District, covering much of the city of Dayton, this includes Derrick Foward and Desiree Tims. Democratic candidates for the 36th District, representing Dayton’s eastern and southern suburbs, are Chuck Horn and Rose Lounsbury.

Ukraine, Israel discussed on Congress race

Ohio’s 10th Congressional District race has four challengers hoping to unseat the incumbent Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, this November.

Those include Amy Cox, a businesswoman, scientist and former teacher; David Esrati, a veteran, the owner of an ad agency and activist; Joe Kuzniar, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel; and Tony Pombo, a computer engineer.

At the forum each was immediately faced with a question: What are your stances on military funding for Ukraine, Israel, and humanitarian aid for Gaza?

The question highlighted strong differences in the candidates’ views on foreign relations.

Cox said it was critical to support Ukraine’s defense against invading Russian forces, largely due to her belief that, Russia “won’t stop with Ukraine.” She also said it was important to continue aid to Israel, which she said could be done without condoning the staggering amount of civilian deaths in the Gaza Strip. Cox called for a ceasefire.

Esrati balanced his wish to see America’s military budget dwindle with his want to continue funding Israel and Ukraine. As far as stopping military aggression in Gaza, he said, “A ceasefire would be great once Hamas releases the hostages and Hamas stops shooting rockets.” Esrati also argued that people concerned about Gaza should be more concerned about Ukraine.

Kuzniar called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “out of control” and said too many Palestinian civilians have died in Israel’s campaign. He also expressed support for Ukraine. Pombo castigated Russia for “bullying” Ukraine and admonished Republican presidential candidates who have called for “nothing less than wiping out Palestine.”

Poverty discussed in county commission race

On the local level, incumbent Montgomery County Commissioner Judy Dodge, the only candidate at the forum running to defend their seat, faced off against Youssef Elzein, a civil engineer and an Arab-American community activist.

In their questions, poverty — particularly addressing affordable housing and their plans to spur economic activity to boost Dayton’s impoverished areas — was a central theme.

Dodge defended her record as a commissioner and promoted the work the commission did with millions of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds. Some of that work included windfalls to Homefull, a social services organization that provides housing, job services and food security help to those who need it.

Dodge said work of that kind needs to continue in Dayton to address food deserts as well as shoring up homeless shelters to address rising homelessness in the county.

In Elzein’s view, the county should focus its resources on more job training opportunities and alternative pathway educational opportunities to spur economic activity and provide an easy-to-access ladder to help people out of poverty.

He also promoted more youth activities and mentorship programs to get younger residents more engaged with communities and networked with those around them.

Note: This news organization is committed to covering these critical primary races. To check out our election coverage and stay up to date with our stories as they publish, visit

Follow DDN statehouse reporter Avery Kreemer on X or reach out to him at or at 614-981-1422.

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