As the fourth Democrat to enter the Ohio governor's race, Nan Whaley wants to take what she's learned as mayor of Dayton and bring it to the rest of the state.
Whaley, who served two terms on the Dayton city commission before becoming mayor in 2013, says she's helped revitalize Dayton by forming partnerships between the city, labor groups, businesses and the education sector. That's something she thinks Ohio's legislature can learn from.
"I think there's a real lack of understanding at the Statehouse about what it takes, the work that's done on the ground, to grow jobs and improve people's quality of life," Whaley says.
One successful program Whaley points to is Dayton's universal preschool education, which she says is one of the first such initiatives in the country.
"That's about investing in our future workforce," Whaley says.
While she tries to gain name recognition outside of Ohio's sixth-largest city, Whaley will also run unopposed for reelection as mayor next year.
"This is the opportunity for people of Dayton to be heard statewide," Whaley says. "They deserve to have that voice."
Whaley talked to WOSU's Debbie Holmes about the lessons she learned from leading Dayton, and how she plans to help bring more jobs to the state as a whole.
Debbie Holmes: So you will be vying for the Democratic nomination along with state Sen. Joe Shiavoni of Boardman, former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton of Copley and former state Rep. Connie Pillich of Montgomery. Why did you decide to run now?
Nan Whaley: Look, I think it's really key that Ohio needs a new direction. And as a mayor and an executive on the ground, seeing the challenges and frustration that people in Ohio have, failed policies by the state, ones that are that are not leading the nation in job numbers, you know, we really need somebody that gets these issues, gets what it takes to move the state forward and can get it done.
Debbie Holmes: What do you think it will take, then, to get more jobs to more Ohioans?
Nan Whaley: We need to really focus in on ways that we can invest in our workforce. We're not doing that in Ohio. We need to make sure that we're investing in our communities. We're clearly not doing that, as they've continued to just kill the partnerships with cities, towns and counties, and we need to make sure that we're working together as partners.
I think that will be a key way that we can move Ohio forward. I believe that Ohio's best days can be ahead can be head of us, but we need to have leadership that understands that really investing in people is the way forward for Ohio.
Debbie Holmes: Now you're also running for another term for mayor this year, unopposed. But then again, the governor's races is next year. So is it fair to voters to try to do both?
Nan Whaley: Yeah, I was very honest with the citizens of Dayton and told them I was looking at the governor's race and I think there's a real lack of understanding at the Statehouse about what it takes, the work that's done on the ground to grow jobs and improve people's quality of life.
You know, when you see that, especially in this pivotal time in Ohio, it's important for local leaders to step up, you know. I get it, and our problems can be solved by people that understand these issues, and local leaders are the folks that do that.
This is the opportunity for people of Dayton to be heard statewide. They deserve to have that voice. And so we're just really called to do more, and when you're called to do more, you have to do more.
Debbie Holmes: In Dayton, you've said that you revitalized that city. How have you done that?
Nan Whaley: Well I think it's really about the partnerships we've created with the business community, with labor, with our other local leaders, you know, really setting a vision forward, sharing that vision and the community investing in that vision.
And so we've seen, you know, for example, high quality pre-K, one of the first cities in the country to provide high quality pre-K to every single four-year-old. That's about investing in our future workforce. Then one nearly $1 billion in investment in our urban core, stabilization of the population in our city, and real interest in people wanting to invest in our community because they see the vision and the future bright in Dayton.
A quote in the paper today, before I came to Columbus, was a quote that said "all arrows pointing up to Dayton" from someone that had bought one of our buildings downtown. I know that kind of work has been work where we've all come together to grow our cities together.
Debbie Holmes: All right. And more Ohio voters gave their support to Donald Trump in the last presidential election. How will you appeal to those voters?
Nan Whaley: Those voters are frustrated and angry and I get it. You know, I understand that they are not better off than they were eight years ago, and, you know, this is going to be a choice between the same old tired policies and ideas that the state has been giving, that has not been working for Ohio, or a new path forward. And that's what we're going to offer to our voters.