Nan Whaley reflects on her time as mayor and looks ahead to governor's race
After eight years as the Mayor of Dayton, Nan Whaley wants to be Ohio's next governor.
Whaley’s time in the mayor's office was marked by tragedy, but the city also saw its fair share of revitalization and the reopening of the Dayton Arcade. On her last day as mayor, Whaley spoke with WYSO’s Jason Reynolds...
REYNOLDS: You led the city through three enormous tragedies in the last three years. There were tornadoes, followed by a mass shooting, and then, of course, the pandemic. What did you learn about Dayton and yourself in the process?
WHALEY: Well, I really learned that the city of Dayton and the people of Dayton are gritty, resilient, and innovative. What I think is most amazing about those really tough issues that we faced is that they actually came out, I think, stronger because of the way that we leaned on each other and supported one another and figured a way through.
And I think that's why I love the city. It’s been the honor of my life to get to be the mayor of Dayton. It's bittersweet today. I'm excited for Mayor-elect Mims to take over and excited for the next steps. But you know, I'm really proud of my time as mayor these past eight years.
REYNOLDS: What would you consider the high point of your time in office or what accomplishment are you most proud of?
WHALEY: High quality preschool for every three and four year old. Any community that bets on its future in the way that Daytonians did in 2016 means it's on its way. It's on a trajectory up. That's the kind of place other people want to invest in. And you know, we've also seen a billion dollars of new investment in downtown Dayton during my time. The neighborhoods are really changing our position for new opportunities because of the removal of blight that we've done. So, I'm excited to see what's next in the neighborhoods as well.
REYNOLDS: One question I always ask in these outgoing interviews is what you would put on your “Resume of Failures.” What didn't work, but you're really glad you tried, or maybe what didn't work, and in retrospect, you're glad it didn't work out?
WHALEY: Well, look, I mean, when I ran for mayor in 2013, I was asked in a debate what we should do with The Arcade, and I said we should tear it down. So, I think one of the things that's really important in this work is to be willing to be wrong. We put together a task force to look at the economic impact The Arcade could have if we did decide not to demolish it, and that task force really made great points on how we could save the building and how it could have economic vibrancy for our community. And folks that we worked together with on The Arcade— I'm really proud to have been a big supporter of it once that task force came out— they always remind me that that was something I said in 2013.
REYNOLDS: I'd ask what comes next, but we know you're running for governor. Tell us a little bit about why and what it is you want to do on the state level.
WHALEY: I think across the state, cities are very similar to Dayton. They have great leaders, local leaders working hard trying to get their communities to get ahead, and we simply do not have a partner at the statehouse. As a matter of fact, the FBI has called the Ohio State House the most corrupt state house in the country, and I think Ohio deserves better. We could get so much more done in our cities and our local communities if we had a real partner at the State House. So, being Mayor of Dayton is really what drives me into the governor's race.
REYNOLDS: You know, there was a time when Ohio was a bellwether state. “As Ohio goes, so goes the country.” But it's really turned quite red in the last eight to ten years. How do you convince red voters to come over to your side?
WHALEY: I don't look at Ohio as a red state or a blue state, really. I think it's a state where most of the folks are forgotten and ignored and they feel it. For us, in Dayton, we have a chip on our shoulder about that, too. I mean, we have not had the attention of the State House, like most other communities, and I think they're right to be angry about being forgotten and ignored. I think there's a better way forward, and that's what we're putting forward in this governor's race, whether it's our anti-corruption plan to really clean up Columbus or our jobs plan, which talks about making sure that one good job is enough in the state. We see too many people working longer and longer hours and getting paid less. We have a simple idea that we want people's wages to go up and their bills to go down and have a government to actually work for them.
REYNOLDS: Here we are in the last hour of your mayorship. What do you want your legacy as the mayor of Dayton to be? What do you hope people will think about when they look back on your time in office here in the Gem City?
WHALEY: I believe that I left Dayton better than I found her. And that's really all you can hope for in your time as a leader. We've gone through a lot, but we've done a lot. And I really think the period that we've been in the mayor's office over the past eight years is a place where the city has turned a corner.