Q&A: Dayton mayoral candidates share their ideas, plans

The candidates running in the May 4 election to replace Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley are (from left) Rennes Bowers, Gary Leitzell and Jeff Mims Jr. The top two vote getters will face off in November to succeed Whaley, who isn’t seeking re-election.
The candidates running in the May 4 election to replace Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley are (from left) Rennes Bowers, Gary Leitzell and Jeff Mims Jr. The top two vote getters will face off in November to succeed Whaley, who isn’t seeking re-election.

Voters this year will elect Dayton’s 55th mayor, and three men are vying for the seat: Jeffrey Mims Jr., Gary Leitzell and Rennes Bowers.

Mims is a current city commissioner, Leitzell is a former Dayton mayor and Bowers is a retired firefighter and chaplain.

Explore3 running to replace Whaley as Dayton mayor

A run-off election next month will mean the end of the road for one of the candidates, because only the top two vote-getters head to the November ballot.

The Dayton Daily News asked the mayoral candidates a variety of questions about their priorities, plans and experience and qualifications. Below are excerpts of what they said.

ExploreDayton will have special runoff election: Here are mayor, commission candidates

What makes you qualified to be Dayton mayor? What experience do you have that makes you the right person for this job?

Gary Leitzell: Having been the former mayor I am going in this time with wide open eyes. I am the only truly independent candidate with no ties to a political party and no favors to pay back. I stated back in 2014, “I made a significant difference between 2010 and 2014 and created enough activity to carry the current administration for another 6 years. After that people will see the well of ideas dry up.”

Rennes Bowers: I’ve been in more homes over a 30-year career in times of crisis than all the other candidates combined. I know this city and its residents in every neighborhood. I know the problems we face, and I bring problem solvers to the table no matter what the issue. In a crisis, when you pull up to a neighborhood on fire, there is no one to pass the problem off to. It’s yours and you have to solve the crisis. For too long, politicians have talked but not acted. I’m the must do, can do, will do candidate.

Jeff Mims: First and foremost, my love and passion for the people of Dayton in appreciation for the multiple opportunities in the world of work, education, health care, recreation and housing that the Dayton universe has afforded to me and my family, coupled with my collaborative and leadership skills qualifies me to be Dayton’s next mayor. My leadership as the president of both the Dayton Board of Education (2009-11), and the Dayton Education Association (1983-88) positioned me to help lead Ohio’s and Dayton’s economic windfall to build all new schools. This massive project infused $528 million into the Dayton economy. This large effort is a result of working across party lines, a lot of patience and creative problem solving, and collaboration with diverse people throughout Ohio. This kind of skillset is what is needed to be the mayor of Dayton.

What are the biggest problems facing the city? And why do you think these are the biggest problems? What are your specific plans to address these issues?

Jeff Mims: There are many problems facing Daytonians, and are unfortunately not unique to our city. Poverty, especially, is often caused and perpetuated by a lack of stable housing, food insecurity and access, education resources and quality and well-paying jobs. Poverty and the many causes and consequences affect not just the quality of life for individuals and families, but have lasting consequences especially for our children. The answer to these problems are not overnight, but long standing problem-solving and solutions. We worked with community partners to ensure Universal Pre-K for all 4-year-olds in Dayton, paving the way to get students on the right path in their educational career to give them the best shot in getting out of generational poverty cycles. We’ve decriminalized marijuana, to help stop the painful consequences for black and brown citizens from the war on drugs. And over the last nine months, over 100 community members have come together to give over 140 recommendations and work to implement ways to ensure police reform that will have lasting consequences for our community for the better. My goal is to build on this work if I am elected Mayor, by continuing to listen to our community and use innovative programs and methods to help alleviate those who are suffering.

Gary Leitzell: COVID-19 has caused a planned budget deficit of $7.4 million in the general fund for 2021. In 2020 the budget was $203.5 million. In 2021 it is projected to be $196.1 million. To put things in perspective, in 2013, my last year in office, the budget was $163.1 million. The biggest thing that could upset funding is the increase in at home workers since income tax is based on where you work, not where you live. We need to work with the state and federal legislatures to determine how to resolve this since many major cities will be affected. Not just Dayton.

Rennes Bowers: While a few neighborhoods are holding their own, many others are suffering under current leadership. They feel like they have been forgotten and not consulted with issues that directly affect them. Abandoned houses are a huge issue. They depress property values, attract drug users and traffickers into their neighborhood. They become eyesores with uncut grass and neglect of general maintenance. ... The solution is to bring public and private dollars together to renovate or demolish. This is not inexpensive. Vision must be cast which identifies this issue as a priority and brings all entities to the table to find the resources needed to accomplish the task, not just talk about it. Public safety is another issue that must be addressed. You won’t attract business and entrepreneurs to invest in the city without safety. So many of Dayton’s problems are interrelated. Therefore, spending priorities must change. The Commission just voted to spend $900,000 of the CARES dollars on the arts. I love the arts. But not at the expense of public safety which saves lives and property. Neighbors tell us they quit calling the police because of long response times. Unacceptable. Fund the public safety forces.

How would you describe your political views?

Rennes Bowers: I’m a biblical conservative. That means my worldview is structured by belief in the God of the Bible who loves all people and has instructed me to do likewise. I’m a registered independent. Conservative means that government is not the answer to all our problems. Government has a limited role of securing safety and providing an environment conducive to economic growth, not the over regulation small businesses suffer under in our current state. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is more than a historic phrase to me. It is a guiding conviction.

Jeff Mims: I am a proud Democrat. I strongly believe that government should play a critical role in ensuring equity in communities like Dayton, and that everyone should be able to put food on the table, make a comfortable living, keep a roof above their families’ heads, and feel safe and valued.

Gary Leitzell: I am very much a centralist. I fall right of center on financial and responsibility issues. I fall left of center on many social issues.

Why does this election matter? What’s at stake?

Gary Leitzell: This election matters because unless there are changes on the commission and non-party endorsed candidates are elected we are going to have a continuation of the last eight years. For me to do more than I was able to do between 2010 and 2014, I need two new faces on the commission who are not endorsed by a political party and who will speak to me about issues.

Rennes Bowers: All elections matter but this is our opportunity to elect a person who can bring our city together, across racial divides, utilizing the faith community leadership and neighborhood associations along with the business community and public safety forces to forge a new direction of cooperation and collaboration for results, not more empty talk. I’m a doer. I’m a result-oriented uniter. I’ve developed relationships with faith leaders for decades and served for 3 decades in public safety of our city. I’ve talked with business leaders who are ready for change and saddened by the wrong priorities of the current administration. If you are happy with the status quo, don’t vote for me. If you think we can restore Dayton to the city it once was, and beyond, I’m your change agent. I’m the only candidate who hasn’t held public office. In the fire service, it can’t be done, it isn’t an option.

Jeff Mims: Every election matters! Elections matter at every level! The process of electing your leaders and the policies that enable them is a reflection of the values and the opportunities that you want for yourself, family and the nation. High quality sets of equitable life experiences for each citizen is the combined responsibility of the citizens and the local, county, state and national elected officials. Ultimately, the quality of our life is at stake. Electing collaborative and visionary leaders who have a proven track record of providing long, dedicated and consistent leadership is vital to Dayton’s future.

The city expects to receive about $147 million in federal funds from the latest rescue package. How would you like to see that money spent? Do you have any proposed plans to use that money?

Jeff Mims: At the moment, there are certain uncertainties (guidelines from the federal government) that will affect the way we can spend this money. Recovery from job losses, businesses closing, and increased social services costs are just a few of the challenges we’ve had to endure during this process. This coupled with a set of existing conditions like blighted homes, cuts in services and recreation, and needed street repairs increase our responsibility to be good stewards for the future stability and vitality of Dayton.

Gary Leitzell: Federal money generally comes with strings attached that limits what it can and can not be used for. Since I am not privy to the information I can not really answer this question. Maybe some of it should be used to develop some of our neighborhood business corridors.

Rennes Bowers: The citizens have been telling us their priorities. Shouldn’t we be listening as we represent them? Safety, jobs and job training, neighborhood emphasis (abandoned houses and liter), streets, drugs with mental health component not just law enforcement, etc. All this adds up to healthy thriving businesses and neighborhoods.

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