Turner-Sloss, Fairchild pull off rare feat in Dayton commission race

Candidates endorsed by Democratic Party have usually won, but unendorsed pair got most votes

Democrats Darryl Fairchild and Shenise Turner-Sloss made some history this week by defeating two Dayton City Commission candidates who were endorsed by the Montgomery County Democratic Party.

One unendorsed Democrat winning in these contests is rare, but two in the same election is unheard of in the modern era.

Fairchild and Turner-Sloss, who campaigned together, said they outworked and out-fundraised their competition. They said they had messages that resonated with voters and track records that inspired confidence in their leadership.

Fairchild and Turner-Sloss beat Stacey Benson-Taylor and Scott Sliver, who also ran together as a ticket and who were part of the Democratic party’s endorsed slate.

“It’s unprecedented — no one else has done this, so that’s an indication of how difficult it is,” Fairchild said.

“Credit to the voters who saw through the shenanigans and who were willing to vote for substance over distraction,” Fairchild said, a reference to controversial mailers that were sent out by their opponents attacking him and Turner-Sloss. Those mailers angered many Democrats, with some people saying they were racist.

Turner-Sloss, the third Black woman to be elected a city commissioner, said she succeeded because residents yearn for change and trust her to be their voice.

“I think it’s simple: It was a people-power movement,” she said.

The duo had some big advantages, including that Fairchild was an incumbent, and that he and Turner-Sloss had considerable name recognition from multiple previous runs for office, said Mark Owens, chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Party.

Owens also said the pair ran a very well-organized campaign, and Turner-Sloss was extremely motivated.

“What I tell candidates who want to run is, ‘You have to have fire in the belly,’” he said. “And Shenise Turner-Sloss had fire in the belly.”

Owens noted that the two current commission members on the ballot won: Fairchild and Commissioner Jeffrey Mims Jr., who was elected mayor. He said that suggests residents are satisfied with the city’s current leadership, and endorsed Democrats in other races in Dayton came out on top.

Since the late 1960s, only a few Democratic city commission candidates have won without the endorsement of the county party.

Fairchild managed to pull it off in 2018, when he defeated the endorsed candidate and newcomer Daryl Ward in a special election to replace Commissioner Joey Williams, who stepped down.

Before that, Dean Lovelace won without the party’s endorsement in a 1993 special election race to fill the unexpired term of a commissioner who stepped down.

Six years earlier, Richard Zimmer prevailed without an endorsement — but he was the first Democrat to accomplish that feat in two decades. He had lost in a previous race after the party withdrew its support of him.

Zimmer and Lovelace later, after winning, received the party’s backing when they sought re-election.

Also, city of Dayton voters on rare occasions have elected Republican candidates.

Some political observers have pointed out that Fairchild’s 2018 victory and Lovelace’s 1993 win came in special elections, and in the past they questioned if the candidates would have triumphed in general election races.

Fairchild and Lovelace both lost two general election contests before finally breaking through in special elections.

But Fairchild on Tuesday showed 2018 was no fluke: He came in a close second in the four-way race for two seats.

Fairchild earned nearly 29% of the of the vote — well ahead of third-place finisher and endorsed candidate, Benson-Taylor, who received less than 24% of the vote, according to the unofficial final results of the Montgomery County Board of Elections. Sliver received about 19% of the vote.

Benson-Taylor never ran for office before; Sliver ran for the commission in 2015.

Fairchild said his 55 years of work in the community has earned the trust of voters, and that he and Turner-Sloss provided concrete ideas on the campaign trail about how to make the city a better place.

“The takeaway I have from this election is that the vision Shenise and I have is the vision that resonates with voters,” he said. “Shenise and I did a better job of raising money, we did a better job of organizing and of getting our message out and ... engaging voters.”

Fairchild said he and Turner-Sloss put in the work to build relationships with the community and talk with and listen to voters through knocking on doors, hosting house parties and taking part in many other events.

Turner-Sloss said “third time’s the charm” in her pursuit of office, much like it was for Fairchild and Lovelace.

After coming up short in 2017 and 2019, Turner-Sloss on Tuesday was was the top vote-getter in the commission race. She won about 29% of the vote

Turner-Sloss said her perseverance paid off and she ran a positive campaign focused on the people and improving neighborhoods.

Party endorsements are most effective when the opponents do not have much name recognition and are not widely known, said Dennis Lieberman, who served as the chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Party between 1994 and 2007.

The power of the party’s backing is much weaker when the competitors are well-known quantities, like Turner-Sloss and Fairchild seemed to be in this year’s commission race, he said.

There have been long-running debates about when endorsements are appropriate and if the party should do them at all, Lieberman said, and he’s had mixed feelings on the subject and thinks they aren’t always a good idea.

Lieberman said unendorsed commission candidates have won in the past and undoubtedly will win again in the future, but that doesn’t mean the party’s backing is losing importance.

“Here’s the problem, when you endorse in a race ... where the candidates against whom you are endorsing are well-known, you risk losing that election, and if you do, you create a perception that your endorsement is weakened,” he said. “I think it’s just a perception ... but sometimes you just need to be careful what races you endorse in.”

Benefits of being endorsed by the Montgomery County Democratic Party include organizing and fundraising support and access to voter files and information, said Owens, the current party chair.

Being part of slate cards handed out to voters is very helpful, he said, adding that most of the party-endorsed candidates in other Dayton contests won on Tuesday, including the school board candidates.

But Owens said Fairchild and Turner-Sloss raised more money than the endorsed candidates and were very well organized.

The county Democratic party has been mired in controversy recently over mailers that went out attacking Turner-Sloss and Fairchild, Including claims they opposed measures that keep the community safe.

Multiple people and groups said the mailers were misrepresentations and played on racist stereotypes, and Democratic Party Executive Director Kurt Hatcher resigned as backlash mounted.

In his resignation letter, Hatcher said Owens and an Ohio Democratic Party staffer approved the mailers over his objections.

The Ohio party and the Montgomery County party apologized for the mailers, and Benson-Taylor and Sliver took responsibility for them.

Benson-Taylor said they were a mistake, but she claimed the information in them was accurate. Sliver said he planned to personally apologize to Fairchild and Turner-Sloss.

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