Whaley, Cranley take different roads to governor’s race

Credit: Meg Vogel/Ohio Debate Commission

Credit: Meg Vogel/Ohio Debate Commission

Former mayors bidding for chance to take on Republican nominee in November.

Both Democratic candidates seeking to be their party’s nominee for the governor’s race have been mayors of major Ohio cities and overseen what they described as transformations in those places.

Coverage of the four Republican candidates — incumbent Gov. Mike DeWine, former U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, Joe Blystone and Ron Hood — will follow April 17.s Nan Whaley and eJohn Cranley.

Whaley, the former mayor of Dayton, is running against former Cincinnati mayor Cranley in the primary. In November, the winner faces the winner of the Republican primary.

Whaley’s running mate is Cheryl Stephens, vice president of Cuyahoga County Council. Cranley’s running mate is state Sen. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo.

Coverage of the four Republican candidates — incumbent Gov. Mike DeWine, former U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, Joe Blystone and Ron Hood — will follow April 17.

We will examine where the candidates of both parties stand on five key issues in stories Monday through Friday.

John Cranley

Cincinnati has begun to reverse a decades-long population decline. Cranley, the city’s immediate past mayor, believes he also can kickstart growth statewide.

Ohio has not shrunk, but the 2020 census showed slower growth than the rest of the country.

Ohio has six cities with more than 100,000 people, including Dayton. Most declined for decades; only Columbus has grown steadily.

“But only Cincinnati has made the comeback,” growing twice as fast as the state as a whole, Cranley said. In the same time the city’s poverty rate also fell faster than the state’s, he said.

Cincinnati went from 500,000 residents in 1950 to under 300,000 in 2010, but in the past decade has added about 13,000.

“Things are going well, and I think the key to that is getting things done,” Cranley said. “So much of Ohio is in economic decline, outside of Cincinnati and Columbus, that there are very few people who can claim what I can claim.”

Credit: Meg Vogel/Ohio Debate Commission

Credit: Meg Vogel/Ohio Debate Commission

Key to that turnaround has been work on racial justice and police reform, he said. Cranley said his faith finds meaning in helping to reduce poverty and expand opportunity. That involves, in part, pushing for a $15 minimum wage and investing in clean energy development, he said.

Cranley, 48, grew up in the Cincinnati area, son of a U.S. Army veteran of Vietnam and a schoolteacher. He attended Catholic schools.

“I was taught that trying to make the world a better place was the key to a meaningful life,” Cranley said.

He’s a graduate of John Carroll University, Harvard Law School and Harvard Divinity School. Cranley worked for several years as a lawyer, and in 2002 co-founded the Ohio Innocence Project at the University of Cincinnati College of Law with Mark Godsey, which has exonerated and freed 34 wrongfully convicted prisoners.

He was elected to Cincinnati City Council and served from 2000 to 2009. Cranley lost two congressional runs, but won the Cincinnati mayor’s office in 2013 and was reelected in 2017.

Former Cincinnati mayor Charlie Luken’s second term overlapped for several years with Cranley’s arrival on city council.

“I’ve kept up my relationship with him from that time, and we are friends and have worked on a number of projects,” Luken said.

Following Cranley’s elevation to the mayor’s chair, Luken watched Cranley deal with race relations, job creation and a population turnaround, bringing together the “broadest spectrum” of residents to deal with problems.

“He is one of, if not the most, effective public office holders I’ve ever met,” Luken said. “He is dogged in his determination to make improvements where he sees problems. That’s the characteristic I would note the most.”

Cranley said he worked well with Republicans in Cincinnati city government, and believes he can work with the Republican majority in the General Assembly.

If elected, Cranley has three priorities for his first year:

  • Immediately replacing the state’s utility commissioners, in line with Democratic reaction to the House Bill 6 utility corruption scandal.
  • Legalizing recreational marijuana to pay for building roads, bridges, water lines and rural broadband. He predicts that infrastructure program will create 30,000 jobs that pay at least $60,000 a year.
  • Giving Ohio families that make less than $75,000 a year an annual $500 “energy dividend” payment. Cranley plans to increase the severance tax on energy companies to pay for it, according to his campaign website.

He said those positions are “extremely popular” statewide.

“High speed broadband is the No. 1 issue in rural Ohio,” Cranley said.

If legislators don’t support those initiatives, he would try to get them passed as statewide referendums.

Cranley and Fedor are also committed to “fully funding public education within the first 100 days,” Cranley said. According to Cranley, it would be the first time since the 1997 DeRolph decision found Ohio’s school funding system inadequate and unconstitutional.

Asked how such initiatives would be funded, Cranley noted that the governor gets to write the state budget.

“Ninety percent of the power of a budget is the first draft,” he said.

Nan Whaley

The same promoters of special interests have ruled the Ohio Statehouse for 30 years as conditions for families declined, said Nan Whaley, Democratic candidate for governor and immediate past mayor of Dayton.

“I got in this race for governor because I believe Ohio deserves better,” she said.

Tackling corruption would be Whaley’s first task as governor, she said, noting that her first campaign plank was an anticorruption plan.

That would include creating a public accountability commission so politicians can’t “police themselves;” ending the “revolving door” between state regulators and big business; increasing the transparency of money in politics; and having every member of her administration sign an ethics pledge, she said.

Originally from Mooresville, Indiana, Whaley graduated from the University of Dayton and Wright State University, finishing her master’s degree in public administration from the latter in 2009.

She served in several public capacities before and during her terms in Dayton city government, such as being executive director of the Montgomery County Democratic Party and a four-time delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

Whaley, 46, served two four-year terms as a Dayton city commissioner before being elected mayor in 2013 and reelected in 2017. She was president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors during her last year as Dayton’s mayor. She planned to run for governor in 2018 but dropped out and endorsed Richard Cordray, the eventual Democratic nominee.

Whaley was brought up in a working family to be civic-minded, said U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, whom Whaley describes as a mentor.

“She’ll view every decision through the eyes of workers when she’s governor,” he said.

Brown said he has known Whaley for at least 15 years.

“I saw the kind of committed activist she was,” Brown said. He watched her work under pressure and liked how she ran the city.

“She’s good day-to-day, and she’s good under fire. That tells me she’ll be a good governor,” Brown said.

The city underwent a federal corruption probe during Whaley’s administration, resulting in several convictions. The FBI investigated bribery claims against Whaley, but the case was closed with no charges filed. She has denied any allegations involving her as “baseless and categorically untrue.”

She endured an especially hard 2019, including a May rally by a racist group, heavy damage from tornadoes on Memorial Day, and a mass shooting in the Oregon District in August.

Under Whaley, Dayton joined hundreds of local governments nationwide in a suit against makers and distributors of opioids. A settlement proposed late last year would send $2.7 million directly to the city and far more to a regional authority, with much of that to be used for addiction treatment.

Dayton continued to lose population, as it has since 1970; but that loss slowed to less than 3% during her term, according to census results.

If elected governor, Whaley would push for a $15 minimum wage, she said, and seek to boost small businesses. Previously the state has celebrated big economic development projects that only help one metro area, but improving the field for small businesses would help communities statewide, she said.

She would back renewable energy development and seek to “fully repeal House Bill 6,” the scandal-ridden utility bailout.

A November 2021 study said more than 1.7 million women left the labor force during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whaley blames that largely on lack of access to affordable child care, so addressing that would be among her top priorities.

Whaley believes Ohio is “not as radical as it’s being governed,” but a preponderance of polarized legislative districts encourages extremism in primaries.

A more competitive district map would cut down on radicalism and create “real opportunities” for compromise, she said. But if that doesn’t happen, “we’ll use the bully pulpit (of the governor’s office) to really rally people” and pressure legislators, Whaley said.

Brown said he used Whaley as a sounding board on what communities needed from several federal relief packages, and that helped shape how the money could be spent.

Brown said Whaley is “very well situated” to take on Republican incumbent DeWine, but after the recent Democratic gubernatorial debate he texted both candidates to thank them for focusing their criticism on DeWine instead of each other.

“I’m for Nan, I’m not against Cranley,” Brown said.

Complete coverage

Today’s stories focus on the Democratic nominees for U.S. Senate and Ohio governor in the May 3 primary. Next Sunday, April 17, we’ll profile the Republican candidates in those races. We will also examine where all of the candidates in the gubernatorial race stand on five key issues in stories Monday through Friday.

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