Political newcomer Tims seeks to topple longtime incumbent

Democrat Desiree Tims lives in a West Dayton house that her grandfather bought after he left the cotton fields of Alabama for the steel mills of Ohio.

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Democrat Desiree Tims lives in a West Dayton house that her grandfather bought after he left the cotton fields of Alabama for the steel mills of Ohio.

Democrat Desiree Tims' first exposure to the political world came when her grandmother dragged her to a house party in support of an up-and-comer named Barack Obama.

“They were just so fired up. And it was another one of those things my grandmother made me do and when I got in the car (to leave), I thought, ‘I’m glad she made me attend that,’” Tims said. She volunteered for the Obama campaign and got fired up about federal policies.

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When Tims graduated Xavier University and found herself laid off from her first job, grandma — Faith Kindred — pushed Tims to apply for a job in the Obama White House.

“I said ‘There is no way in hell that we’re going to get a job at the White House. You know why? Because we don’t know anybody. It’s never gonna happen,’” Tims recalled. “She kept bugging me and nagging me about it.”

To appease her, Tims applied. Much to her surprise, Tims landed the unpaid internship.

Now, nine years later, Tims, 32, is running for the 10th District Congressional seat currently held by longtime incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Turner. The district, which tilts Republican, includes all of Montgomery, Greene and Fayette counties, as well as part of northern Warren County.

“What we’re seeing is so much change going in the wrong direction. What we need is change that is going to lead to opportunity. I think I bring fresh eyes, fresh vision and a fresh voice, and it’s time for change. People are ready for it,” Tims said.

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She grew up in a small, tidy brick ranch in West Dayton — the house her grandfather bought after he left the cotton fields of Alabama to become a steel worker in Ohio. Tims, born to teenage parents, was raised by her grandparents.

“I didn’t feel working class growing up. I felt I had all my needs met,” Tims said.

She pulled mostly A’s at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, but as a freshman at Xavier University she felt unprepared compared with her peers.

Tims became the first in her family to graduate from a four-year college. After the White House internship, she worked as an aide to U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and then to U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. Tims then worked as a lobbyist for an environmental nonprofit and as an advocate for affordable child care.

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At the same time, she went to law school, taking night classes and earning her law degree from Georgetown University.

Former Dayton Mayor Rhine McLin backs Tims for the seat. “She understands that the (Air Force) base is extremely important but there are other issues just as important to people in the 10th district,” McLin said.

McLin criticized Turner for failing to speak out on racial justice issues, saying “He can’t even say Black Lives Matter out of his mouth. And I have a problem with that.”

Tims understands working class struggles. She reported on her financial disclosure statement that she is carrying between $250,000 and $500,000 in student loan debt and her only income over the past 12 months has been $17,000 in stipends from her campaign fund.

The Turner campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission over those stipends, alleging that they are illegal salary payments to Tims because they were routed through the Ohio Democratic Party instead of coming directly from her campaign. The complaint also says Tims missed filing deadlines and took salary payments before she would have been eligible.

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The Tims campaign chalked up the late filings as paperwork errors made by a first-time candidate and said it’s common practice for the state party to handle payrolls.

She was slated to take the Ohio Bar Exam in July 2019 but her employment verification paperwork took longer than expected, she said. Tims delayed the bar exam and prepared to run for Congress.

On Aug. 3, 2019, Tims was set to celebrate her decision to run with a night out in the Oregon District with high school friends but they changed plans, she said. Late that night, their phones buzzed with the news of a mass shooting on Fifth Street.

“It could have been us,” Tims said.

Tims announced her bid for the Democratic party nomination later that month.

“I’m sure Mike Turner is a nice guy. But he has bad ideas, bad policies and has taken bad votes,” Tims said. She criticized him for voting for border wall funding in June 2018 and against the Affordable Care Act in March 2010, the George Floyd Policing Act in June 2020 and disaster relief funding in May 2019, just weeks before Dayton was hit with the Memorial Day 2019 tornadoes.

She noted that Turner earned an F rating on the NAACP Civil Rights report card.

Tims supports boosting the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and adopting an infrastructure funding package to invest money in roads and bridges and the jobs those projects create.

When it comes to gun policies, Tims supports bans on high-capacity magazines, assault weapons and bump stocks and adoption of universal background checks on all firearms sales, as well as red flag laws to allow court-ordered weapon seizures when owners are deemed dangerous to themselves or others.

On police reforms, Tims supports officers wearing body cameras, departments adopting more diverse hiring and promotion practices, a ban on choke holds, mandatory ongoing training and a national database for officer disciplinary records and officer-involved shootings.

Tims is quick to talk about food deserts — neighborhoods without easy access to full grocery stores — and Dayton’s young adults who leave the region after graduating college because of a lack of opportunity.

“They should be able to stay here ... You can get a nice home for a great dollar — you can stretch it really far here,” she said. “But we do need entrepreneurial opportunities here.”

Tims would like to see the region better leverage its universities and proximity to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Although Wright-Patt is Ohio’s largest single-site employer with more than 30,000 workers, Tims has yet to tour it with Air Force brass. Instead, her experience is limited to time spent on the base as a child with her aunt who work worked there.

If Tims manages to beat Turner, she’ll be the first African-American and the first woman to represent the Miami Valley in Congress.

“For the Miami Valley, that would be a very progressive step,” said McLin.

Desiree Tims

Party: Democrat

Age: 32

Family: Single, no children.

Education: Dunbar High School; bachelor’s degree, Xavier University; law degree, Georgetown University.

Political Experience: White House intern for the Obama administration; aide to U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and Kirsten Gillibrand; lobbyist at nonpartisan environmental nonprofit; advocate for affordable child care for Child Care Aware of America.

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