Dayton voters next month will elect a new mayor for the first time in eight years, and the person will lead the city commission as the city tries to recover from the pandemic and City Hall faces tough decisions about the budget and how to best spend a massive federal grant.
Voters will select between Jeffrey Mims Jr. or Rennes Bowers to replace departing Mayor Nan Whaley, who has served as the face of the city since 2014.
Mims, a two-term city commissioner, said in an interview that his leadership style is much different than Whaley’s, but he’s proud of the work they accomplished together and he has the best track record and qualifications to fill her shoes.
“Look at my body of work,” he said. “No one has my body of work.”
Bowers is a retired district chief with the Dayton Fire Department and said in an interview the city desperately needs new leadership because citizens are fed up with the status quo and elected officials who don’t deliver on their promises.
“We believe the city is ready for change,” he said. “That’s what we are hearing over and over again from citizens.”
The five-member city commission will get at least two new members, possibly three, next year. Dayton’s mayor position is a part-time role that serves as the head of the five-member commission and who represents the city in local, state and some national boards and organizations; the day-to-day city operations and budget are managed by the city manager and administration.
The city administration is facing significant uncertainty — because of the explosion of remote workers driven by the Covid pandemic the city could suffer major income tax revenue losses from workers who are no longer traveling into the city for their jobs. Dayton also will receive $138 million in one-time federal rescue funds, one of the largest grants the city has received in decades and one that many see as a rare opportunity to invest in the city.
Dayton has 137,645 residents and is the largest city in the region, and its city government employs more than 1,800 workers and has a general fund budget of $186 million.
Jeffrey Mims Jr.
Mims, a Democrat, joined the commission in 2014, the same year Whaley became mayor.
After serving two terms, Whaley decided not to seek reelection, choosing instead to run for governor in 2022.
Mims is 74 and lives in the Wright Dunbar neighborhood. He was an educator and administrator for 38 years and previously served as the president of the Dayton school board and the Dayton teachers union, as well as a member of the Ohio school board.
Mims says he taught thousands of kids and became friends with thousands of parents, and he also has mentored thousands of other young people.
Mims has been a leader in everything he’s done, said Mark Owens, chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Party.
“He has experience as a teacher, as a community leader, as a veteran and eight years on the commission,” he said. “He has the experience to move us forward.”
Mims said the commission has made smart and strategic investments in projects that create jobs and re-energize neighborhoods, like the Dayton Arcade, the Economy Linen project in West Dayton, the Gem City Market in northwest Dayton and the booming industrial and warehouse development around the Dayton International Airport.
“Even though we can’t fix everything we want to fix in the time frame we want it to be fixed, it’s all being done faster than it was before I was on the commission,” he said.
Mims said his accomplishments in office include launching the City of Learners initiative and helping get Issue 9 passed. Voters approved Issue 9 in 2016, increasing the earnings tax to help pay for universal pre-school for 4-year-olds, enhanced road paving, vacant lot maintenance, park improvements and police staffing.
Dayton is doing a much better job of preparing its kids for school and developing its future workforce, he said.
Whaley has endorsed Mims. She said Bowers is the wrong choice in this election while Mims has a long track record of service.
“He is the leader that has the vision to carry Dayton into this new decade and unlike his opponent he shares this community’s values of equity and inclusion,” she said.
Good things are happening in Dayton, Mims said, such as how in recent years the city has seen some of the fastest job growth in the region.
It’s understandable that some residents feel frustrated after living next to vacant homes for years and they don’t see the kinds of improvements they desire in their neighborhoods, Mims said, but new jobs lead to more revenue that the city can use to invest in every corner of the city.
Mims said he will focus on bringing new jobs to the city and he also will make sure the Dayton police reform recommendations are implemented and that citizens are informed about and help decide how the city spends its $138 million in federal rescue funds.
Bowers, 72, lives in the DeWeese Ridgecrest neighborhood and worked for the Dayton Fire Department for 30 years.
Bowers says he is a biblical conservative and a newcomer to politics. But he says he knows Dayton’s citizens well in part because his work with the fire department has taken him inside more Dayton homes than anyone else running for office.
Bowers also said he has knocked on about 9,000 doors while campaigning in Dayton. He said from the conversations he’s had it’s obvious people have had enough of the status quo. Residents feel like they’ve been abandoned by City Hall, he said, and they’ve lost confidence in the city’s commitment to improving their lives and neighborhoods.
“We are a much worse city than we were in 2000, so I think the health of the city is at stake” in this election, Bowers said. “We need a change.”
Bowers says the city has tremendous potential but many problems.
The biggest issue, he said, is that Dayton is unsafe, which means many people and businesses don’t want to move here.
Dayton recently had one of the highest homicide rates in the nation, Bowers said, and it also has one of the highest poverty rates.
As mayor, Bowers said he would push to hire more police officers and firefighters.
The police department needs adequate staffing for neighborhood policing so residents get to know and develop relationships with the officers who patrol their streets and vice versa, he said.
The police department regularly has too few officers on patrol, he said, adding that he’s also concerned that the city wants to reduce the fire department’s minimum staffing requirements.
Bowers said he developed his platform based on what citizens told him, and they care deeply about public safety, as well as deteriorating street conditions and blight.
“Let’s put the money where citizens say it should go,” he said.
Wes Farno, senior advisor for Bowers’ campaign, said it has saddened him to watch the city he loves decay. But Bowers is the first candidate in a long time to have a real vision for Dayton, he said, and his career was built on crisis management and he is a much-needed agent of change.
“Politicians are a dime a dozen, but seldom does someone come along that has no political ambition but rather a heart for people,” Farno said.
Bowers says he is a uniter who can bring the city’s sizable faith community together to study local problems and work toward solutions.
He said citizens are rightfully infuriated about vacant homes in their neighborhoods and the awful state of the city’s roadways; he wants City Hall to increase spending on street paving and upgrades and maintenance for the city’s parks and amenities.
Decades ago Dayton was declared the cleanest city in the nation, Bowers said, and the city should aspire to that level again with organized cleanups and investments that beautify neighborhoods.
Bowers said he doesn’t know how he’d pay for increased spending on his priorities, but city leaders always find money in the budget for what they care most about.
Bowers is a good person with true integrity who loves people and who is honest and lives by the bible, said Robin Brown, a 60-year-old Dayton resident who has known him since 1968.
“He really cares for people,” she said. “Once you meet Rennes, you’re already a friend.”
She said he knows how to operate in crisis, and his heart breaks to see the city’s neighborhoods in such bad shape.
Dayton has some incredible assets, like its underground aquifer that provides an abundant clean water source that many industries need, Bowers said, and the Interstate 70/75 interchange that carries a large share of the nation’s commerce, which is attractive to businesses.
But he said the city has not been sufficiently responsive to companies interested in moving to the area and has failed to provide adequate incentives and other kinds of support.
Democrats hold every seat on the city commission, Bowers said, and one-party rule hurts the city and means measures pass without meaningful debate, dialogue or scrutiny.
At a recent candidate forum, Bowers answered a question about his presence in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, the day of a rally in support of outgoing President Donald Trump as well as the attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob.
Bowers said he was in the city to pray for the country and pay respects to friends who died in Vietnam while visiting the Vietnam Memorial, and he said he didn’t witness or take part in the insurrection and never would. He said he was back at his hotel when the riots took place and he was heartbroken and appalled to learn about the violence.
Mims said Bowers showed poor judgment by being in D.C. the same day that protestors gathered for a rally to reject the results of a fair and valid presidential election.
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