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Political newcomer Rennes Bowers says he's ready to unite Dayton if elected mayor

Headshot of Rennes Bowers wearing a navy blue polo against a backdrop of green trees. Bowers is a 30-year Dayton Fire Department veteran, and is running to be the city's next mayor.
Rennes Bowers is a 30-year Dayton Fire Department veteran running to be the next mayor. Bowers received the second most votes in the May special elections, coming behind commissioner Jeffrey Mims Jr.

WYSO's Mawa Iqbal sits down with long-time Dayton public servant on why he's running to be Dayton's next leader.

Election day is Tuesday, and the city of Dayton has two mayoral candidates on the ballot. Rennes Bowers doesn’t have any political experience, but he has about 30 years of experience in Dayton public safety. WYSO’s Mawa Iqbal sat down with him recently to talk about his vision for the city.

*This interview has been edited for clarity.

Rennes Bowers: Honestly, I've never been involved. I've never been interested in running for anything, and my heart was broken over the last election and all the deep divisions in our country. And I just started praying, 'Lord, what can I do?' And I read the Bible every year. And as I was reading the Bible through, the Lord kept speaking to me about running. And during that time, five people approached me about running. And every time I said, 'there is no conceivable way I'm running for mayor.' And finally, my wife approached me, and she said, 'I think you ought to run for mayor.' And by that time, I had pretty much figured out that this was what the Lord wanted for me right now. So that's why I cast my hat in the ring.

Mawa Iqbal: And you also didn't really have much experience in politics before. So what's it been like to get thrown to like the political world?

RB: Well, it's been shocking. I mean, I really wanted to compete with Mr. Mims on the basis of vision and ideas, and that's how we approached the campaign. And the citizens have just given us our platform. We knocked on 8,000 doors. They've told us what they want and then we've incorporated that into our platform. But Mr. Mims is, I don't know. I guess it's politics, you know, just gone dirty. Lots of lies, lots of false accusations, which has shocked me. And I approached him. He just says he had nothing to do with it, so I ask him to repudiate it publicly, but he wouldn't do that. So, you know, it's shocking that politics has to be played that way. I'm not a politician. I won't play that way. I'm in this. I'm in this because the Lord told me to run. And we think God has great things in mind for the city of Dayton. And so we're going to play by His rule book.

MI: Yeah, definitely. And what do you think are some of those great things or at least some things that you want to accomplish if you do become mayor?

RB: Well, unity is the first thing. Our city is terribly divided, racially. I am so sick of this racial divide. As we've knocked on over 1,500 doors at least in West Dayton, people have been so kind to us and so, the race thing hasn't come up. I've said in the debates as a firefighter, you don't even see race. The guy going in next to you into that fire, you don't care what color he is. All you care about is he does his job so you get out alive. And he doesn't care about my color, all he cares about is that I do my job, so he gets out of their life. And so our platform is we want to — the neighbors are telling us, 'get rid of these abandoned homes.' There's 11,000 abandoned homes in Dayton. Some of them have been standing for 30 years. There's a terrible blight on the neighborhoods. They draw vermin, they draw prostitution, they draw drug addicts and eventually they draw the coroner who takes the dead bodies out of the building. If you live in one of these neighborhoods, your property value is terribly depressed and people come and they dump their trash on those properties, and then it blows all over the neighborhoods. So abandoned houses is number one. Litter is number two, we want to address the litter issue. Last thing, we really, well several things, police and fire. I'm the public safety candidate. The other candidates know more about budgets and things like that than I do. Nobody knows more about public safety than I do, and the citizens are crying out for public safety. This is an unsafe city and you never attract business into an unsafe city.

MI: This kind of goes along with what you just said: why do you feel like you would be a good fit for mayor?

RB: I think I'd be a good mayor. One reason is because I'm not a politician. I'm not beholden to any political party. We've had one party rule in Dayton since 1960, with the exception of 12 years. That's never good. That's never good. And Mr. Mims talks about what a great leader is. I have no idea what kind of leader he is, because he votes 100 percent with the other commissioners. It's like, it's just one mind. They all vote together. And I will be a vote — I'm going to be the voice for the people. People go to those city commission meetings, they leave, they are fit to be tied because they know the commissioners are leaving. And as soon as the meeting's over, they disappear. They do not interact with the citizens. They feel like it's a top down. They are the masters. We are the servants. We want to flip that. We're their servants. Government is their servants, the people's servants. This is government by the people, for the people, of the people.

Polls open at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday. For more information on where and how to vote, visit your county’s board of elections website.

Mawa Iqbal is a reporter for WYSO. Before coming to WYSO, she interned at Kansas City PBS's digital magazine, Flatland. There, her reporting focused on higher education and immigrant communities in the Kansas City area. She studied radio journalism at Mizzou, where she also worked for their local NPR-affiliate station as a reporter.