T he Dayton City Paper Mayoral Candidate Debate
Introduction by Alex Culpepper
Photo: [l to r] Dayton Mayoral Candidates: Dayton Mayor Gary Leitzell, A.J. Wagner and Nan Whaley; photo credit: Andrew Thompson
In November, Daytonians will have the opportunity to decide who will take the helm as mayor of Dayton. Before that can happen, though, Dayton voters must decide who will be running in November, and that decision will be made May 7 in the primary election. In the upcoming primary, Dayton Mayor Gary Leitzell is seeking reelection and will be met by two challengers: A.J. Wagner, former judge for the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court; and Nan Whaley, a Dayton City Commissioner. The two top vote-getters will face each other in the election in November. In order to provide information about the candidates and their positions on some issues, the Dayton City Paper represents the following question-and-answer forum for the mayoral candidates.
1. What is your plan toward stimulating employment in the city of Dayton? What is Dayton doing right to further economic development? What can Dayton do better to further economic development?
My plan began three years ago when there were no jobs and businesses were leaving. Little was in place to address these issues and the results were negative at that time. Since then, Dayton has many open job positions – hundreds of them. Unfortunately, they are very highly skilled positions and we lack the people to fill them. Marketing Dayton to a national audience would help attract people if they knew about the jobs, the housing opportunities and about the fact that our cost of living is 27 percent below the national average. The fact that we are on the world’s radar screen is attracting employers. GE Aviation, PeCo and MidMark are but a few as well as the countless small business startups. Many regional businesses are moving downtown to be part of the Dayton Renaissance. Economic development will increase as businesses learn that Dayton is open for business and our staff is friendly and professional to work with. Word of mouth seems to be the best advertising. Dayton is working on an intern program to retain young, educated professionals in the area. We also need to promote and educate people about entrepreneurship and how to be self-employed, then facilitate their success with access to supporting services. We are already working on that so that it will be reality in the very near future. The “Welcome Dayton” plan has a role to play in attracting foreign talent and investment. Today, we have positive results. More are coming. – Gary Leitzell
I owned my first business at the age of 10 when I became a paperboy. Along with two of my sisters, we took a small delivery route and turned it into the largest newspaper-selling machine in Beaver Falls, Penn. We accomplished this through hard work, creativity and accountability to one another. In 1979, I became the first attorney in Dayton to advertise on television, applying those same entrepreneurial skills to a new concept I called it the A.J. Wagner Legal Clinic. My point is that I own a business and I understand many business problems as an owner and as a counselor to many small enterprises over the years. Businesses are looking not so much for a handout as they’re looking for a place that welcomes what they have to offer. Dayton must be business-friendly if we want to attract quality employers. We must stop saying “No” to business proposals, building needs and zoning issues and ask how we can work together to get to “Yes” without jeopardizing safety, financial and community concerns. I have talked to too many owners who have tried to bring jobs to Dayton and ran into barrier after barrier. Many of them have given up and have told other business owners, “Don’t even try. Dayton isn’t worth it.” First and foremost, it is this reputation that we must overcome and reverse. – A.J. Wagner
I have released a comprehensive jobs plan that may be read at nanwhaley.com. My plan is to leverage the city’s assets to attract jobs and investment. For example, we have an abundant supply of water that can bring in businesses such as microchip producers. I want to form a Council of Entrepreneurs to improve the business climate in Dayton and help our small businesses grow. I helped start a Manufacturing Task Force, bringing business and labor together to attract more manufacturing jobs to the region. Manufacturing has changed and the jobs of tomorrow will require more skill and fewer people than in Dayton’s past, but we must continue to make things here in Dayton. – Nan Whaley
2. Do you think Dayton should hire a company to provide surveillance aircraft equipped with cameras for the purpose of continuously monitoring the city below?
This proposal came from a desire to help a local business develop a municipal market for its services. The city was willing to test the services, but there was a cost involved. The cost would be paid out of the funds seized from drug dealers. This money is not allowed to be used for more police officers or wages. It has to be used for equipment or technology to assist law enforcement. Having been presented with the plan and the limitations, it seemed reasonable to consider supporting testing the effort. The surveillance element was nothing new. In fact, it is already legal to utilize aerial surveillance. The new part of this service was the ability to track the movements of people or vehicles on a computer screen. There were concerns about privacy issues and the future capability of this form of technology. As a result of these concerns, the city commission asked staff to do some public awareness presentations to solicit input from citizens. I would like to point out that as mayor, I was elected on a certain day in history by a majority of voters to represent the majority of citizens in Dayton. If the majority of the citizens appear to oppose this then I have to oppose it, regardless of my personal beliefs, and vice versa. I have to follow the will of the people. – GL
It is my belief that a plane flying at 10,000 feet while taking pictures of the land below using high-tech equipment not available to ordinary citizens is unconstitutional and in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. For this reason, I will oppose the current proposal for aerial surveillance. – AJW
3. The Special Improvement District (SID) is defined as an area of Dayton that represents the property owners within a specific geographic area of downtown Dayton, each of whom pays a special assessment (tax) to collectively fund the SID. Is the SID still a viable and relevant entity?
The downtown SID funds the Downtown Dayton Partnership (DDP), which is challenged to carry out the service plan for the special improvement district. The DDP has changed its primary focus in the last three years to marketing the downtown SID district. In prior years, there was a perception that the role of the DDP was to create economic development in Downtown Dayton. They had no money to apply towards economic development. In the last three years, the DDP has learned to communicate and link events with businesses. Restaurants are notified when events occur at the Schuster Center or Victoria Theater so that they can offer meal deals to audience members. Urban Nights has grown into a huge success. The SID funding involves a petition process whereby 60 percent of the property owners within the district must sign a petition supporting the tax. If this goal is reached or exceeded, then the “entity” is relevant and viable to the majority of property owners. I think that some of Dayton’s neighborhoods should initiate SIDs in order to raise capital to address improvements within the neighborhoods and proposed this to the city in 2007. It is simply a matter of finding the one neighborhood willing to initiate the process. I was willing to try this in Walnut Hills in 2009, but 60 percent of the property owners would have required 1,600 signatures and a small army of volunteers. – GL
A Special Improvement District (SID) currently funds the Downtown Dayton Partnership, and was approved by more than 60 percent of the property owners affected as required by Ohio law. Special Improvement Districts are a good way to fund neighborhood projects desired by citizens for which the city does not have available funding. The downtown SID helps with strategic planning, advocacy for downtown, marketing and communications, member services and public space management. – AJW
Downtown is the centerpiece of the Dayton region and a showcase for the arts, culture, entertainment and nightlife. Downtown is home to businesses, students and many young professionals. It is necessary to have an organization champion downtown and focus on its constituents’ needs. The SID provides valuable services like the downtown ambassadors who are on the streets year-round, making downtown cleaner and safer. The semi-annual Urban Nights brings thousands of people downtown to experience our thriving arts and entertainment districts and to explore what living downtown in one of our many residential developments would be like. We are seeing positive new developments downtown and have a 97 percent occupancy rate on downtown housing. More exciting developments are in the planning stages thanks to the work of the SID. – NW
4. Although the Dayton Public Schools have shown improvement in recent years, do you believe further improvements need to be made?
Absolutely! However, the mayor has no jurisdiction over the school district. The mayor can influence or inspire the board members, but can not affect how they vote on issues that affect the school district. Representatives from the City and school district meet regularly every quarter to discuss common issues and collaborations and the relationship between the two has been better than in previous administrations. – GL
My daughter attended Lincoln Elementary and Stivers School for the Arts. She had excellent teachers and the schools were administered well. Many of the problems in Dayton’s schools come out of the City’s poverty. When an impoverished child is 3 years old, he or she will have a vocabulary of about 500 words. A 3-year-old who comes from a middle class family has, on average, a vocabulary of over 1,500 words. The disparity we find in Dayton City Schools is born out of that gap and will be exacerbated without appropriate intervention. We must therefore look for solutions that provide preschoolers with educational opportunities and chances to catch up with their peers. This will help Dayton City Schools immeasurably. I support Montgomery County’s effort to fund preschool for every child under 200 percent of the poverty level. I also support programs like Ready, Set, Soar and Learn to Earn as a roadmap for educating our youngest citizens. More effort is needed to get books into the hands of low-income parents so they can read to their children. If children are not ready for kindergarten they will not be ready for third grade. When children are not reading by third grade, their chances of graduating from high school decrease. I have published three books for young children that I continue to present in Dayton classrooms to encourage reading and writing. We can also help Dayton schools by making sure mentoring is widely available in the city. As a member of the executive committee of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Miami Valley, I have seen the research and the relationships that confirm mentoring’s lasting impact on children. We must ask business, church and community leaders to provide mentors from their organizations. A good education is Dayton’s best anti-poverty initiative, Dayton’s best stimulus for economic development and Dayton’s best crime reduction strategy. – AJW
Making Dayton students career-ready must be a community priority. That is why I support the initiatives of Learn to Earn and want to focus on Dayton children learning during the summer, attacking chronic absenteeism and partnering with Dayton Public Schools to encourage innovation in education. I believe Dayton can partner with the school district and use the new neighborhood school buildings as assets to anchor our neighborhoods. Creating relationships between neighborhood members and students can help bolster student performance at the grassroots level. Reading programs, mentoring and afterschool programs promoted and connected to neighborhoods will be a priority as mayor. – NW
5. Are you satisfied with the condition of the Dayton’s neighborhoods? If not, what is your plan to reinvigorate our neighborhoods?
There are 65 neighborhoods encompassing 55 square miles within the city limits. There are some 6,000 vacant structures in a city that sends out somewhere around 55,000 residential water bills. Most of these vacancies are concentrated in neighborhoods on Dayton’s west side. There is a large pocket in East Dayton in the neighborhoods around East Third Street. There are 12 neighborhood historic districts and some 51 active neighborhood associations or groups. In those neighborhoods with the most active neighborhood associations, there is the least blight. While the city is already involved in a mixture of demolition, deconstruction, renovation and promoting the REAP (Real Estate Acquisition Program), the real, long-term solution to reinvigorate Dayton’s neighborhoods is to facilitate and accommodate the development of solid and committed neighborhood associations. Strong neighborhood associations have a pool of responsible citizens who take responsibility for where they live and coordinate their improvement efforts with city departments so community and local government can work in unison towards a common goal. The refocusing of the citizen participation element of Dayton’s unique government structure on neighborhoods and not district level Priority Boards is to reinforce this in the handful of neighborhoods that lack obvious leadership. We the citizens are responsible for where we live. We the government have an obligation to educate our citizens about the tools already available to empower the citizens to take back what is and always has been theirs. – GL
I have lived with my family in four of Dayton’s city neighborhoods spanning nearly 40 years, longer than any other candidate for mayor. Our neighborhoods have been hit hard and need a new vision to take us to the next level. I am proposing a four-part plan to create vibrant, safe and walkable neighborhoods that safeguard and restore Dayton’s heritage. My neighborhood plan will stabilize and re-energize our neighborhoods, promote Dayton, invest in housing and create a community participation program that responds to the needs of our citizens. Every neighborhood will undertake a strategic planning process with short-term goals that will equal long-term achievements. It is important that we tear down obsolete homes, but we must save what can be saved. We need to utilize the many existing state and federal investment incentives and tax incentives for people to rehabilitate abandoned houses. These include state and federal historic tax credits, low to moderate income tax credits and new market tax credits – all existing investment incentives that have been sorely underutilized by our city. – AJW
I have developed a neighborhood plan that can be read in its entirety at nanwhaley.com. To strengthen our neighborhoods, I believe we should focus on several key points. Most importantly, we must maintain great city services to our neighborhoods. That will mean more police officers and firefighters on the street and more investment in infrastructure. We must remove or rehab the many abandoned properties that blight our community and drag down property values. I was proud to lead the effort to start a County Land Bank here. The land bank will help us control, demolish and return abandoned property to productive use. We are already seeing this happen with the Lot Links Program, where homeowners can acquire and control a vacant lot adjacent to their home. Community gardens are also filling spaces that used to be vacant. I also support giving neighborhoods a more direct line to City Hall. Neighborhoods should be able to control their own destiny and customize city services and infrastructure to their own preferences. Our neighborhoods also need to be connected to one another and have well-defined entryways and green spaces. Finally, I support comprehensive background checks on all gun purchases and will join Mayors Against Illegal Guns to reduce violence in Dayton. – NW