The challengers in the race for two Dayton City Commission seats used a Tuesday candidate forum to take swings at the state of the city and city leaders, while the incumbents said the city is headed in the right direction.
Incumbent Commissioners Matt Joseph and Chris Shaw said the city’s generally in good shape and improving because of strategic investments and decisions by its elected leaders.
But challenger Shenise Turner-Sloss said Dayton has “pay to play” politics and the city needs new leadership to change that and do better.
VOTERS GUIDE: Learn more about candidates for Dayton City Commission
Candidate David Esrati said voters can get better outcomes if they elect him and Turner-Sloss, because that would tip the majority of the five-person commission away from the local powers that be.
Candidates swiped at each other a few times during the event, including during a discussion about details of development deals.
Turner-Sloss accused the incumbents of taking her ideas and asked why voters should elect people who do that, which led Commissioner Shaw to say that, “If there’s a good idea, you listen and you act on it.”
Turner-Sloss responded, “But you aren’t coming up with nothing, so what does that mean?”
Shaw went on to say that Turner-Sloss’ ideas are not new because the city already is doing them.
The four commission candidates were asked a variety of questions at a Tuesday forum hosted by the Dayton Daily News, WHIO-TV and Radio, the Greater Dayton Area League of Women Voters, UpDayton and DATV.
Moderators asked how well the city responded to a series of crises over the spring and summer, how candidates felt about the fact that much of downtown downtown is tax abated and how they would meet diversity inclusion goals.
Candidates were asked if they believe Dayton has a “culture of corruption,” which was how a federal agent described local politics after multiple indictments were unsealed against four individuals, including former Dayton City Commissioner Joey Williams and city employee RoShawn Winburn.
Joseph, who is seeking a fifth term in office, said he disagrees with that characterization and any organization the size of the city of Dayton’s government will have people who try to take advantage of the system.
Joseph said he was dismayed to learn about the charges and allegations against his former colleague Williams, but the city is reviewing its processes to prevent corruption from happening again and the city has started offering a whistleblower service for people to report potential abuses.
Shaw, who is seeking a second term, said he does not believe the city has a corruption problem, but it is taking careful steps to evaluate and improve its policies and build back the public’s confidence in city government.
Esrati said both Montgomery County political parties have done deals in the backroom for a long time, and city leaders have meetings in private where they make important decisions that should take place in public.
Shaw and Joseph very rarely vote “no” on city matters, said Esrati, who accused the incumbents of making decisions based on what their donors want, and not the voters.
Turner-Sloss said Dayton politics are “pay to play,” and she’s convinced other city commissioners knew about the corrupt activities that took place while they were in charge.
Turner-Sloss also criticized the city for selling properties and buildings for $10 to developers, while she says residents in local neighborhoods can’t get vacant residential lots and properties for the same low prices.
More than $1 billion has been invested downtown at a time when too many people in Dayton are suffering and live in other areas that need investment, she said.
“Dayton residents deserve a commissioner that is going to advocate for clear processes, accountability and transparency and accessibility,” she said.
But Shaw said the $1 billion is mostly private investment that was leveraged by strategic city funding assistance or deals.
He said downtown jobs and projects benefit all city neighborhoods because income taxes pay for services and other projects.
Shaw said he wants another term in office to continue focusing on economic development, workforce investment and developing the skills of the youth so they can take advantage of the available good-paying jobs.
The way out of most of the problems in the community is getting people work, and the city has been intentional to try to bring new high-paying, high-quality jobs to the community, he said.
“I am proud of the work I have done these last four years, linking children, linking others with good-paying apprenticeship opportunities, strengthening the pipeline from school to work,” he said.
Joseph said the city has done the best it can with the resources it has and the city has made sure every 4-year-old in the city has access to high-quality child care, it’s brought back curbside leaf pickup and put measures in place to ensure it has responsible contractors.
“I promise you I am going to keep focusing on getting jobs and better jobs for our citizens, I’m going to make sure our citizens get the services they need in our neighborhoods,” Joseph said.
Turner-Sloss said the city needs to be more proactive and less reactive, and her background, which includes experience working for the city, means she knows how to make its programs and policies better.
Esrati said the city needs new leaders who have creative ideas and who can make a change. Esrati says he would help homebuyers get loans for lower-price properties and wants to make Greater Dayton RTA buses free.
“It’s funny, the only free bus we have runs through the white part of town,” Esrati said, referencing the Flyer, a free shuttle bus between downtown and the University of Dayton campus area.
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