Dayton mayoral candidates A.J. Wagner and Nan Whaley answered questions Tuesday morning about jobs, schools, the health of downtown and more before a Dayton Chamber of Commerce audience.
How they began
Candidates got to make an opening statement of their choice. Whaley, a Dayton City Commissioner, focused on her “Roadmap for Growing the New Dayton,” a detailed plan for improving the city’s job market, neighborhoods and vibrancy.
Wagner said the city lost 9,000 jobs in the past five years according to state data, saying “We are dying. We are in trouble. We can’t continue this pace. … We must change leadership.”
Wagner said downtown has a glut of office space that is driving prices down and causing buildings to sell for a fraction of their value. He said the city has to do something about it, but didn’t offer specifics.
Whaley agreed the downtown office market has problems. She said the worst buildings should be demolished, some Class B and C office space should be turned into housing, and new Class A space should be built to compete with suburban suitors.
Wagner said he’s not sure if saving the Arcade is feasible, but thinks the city and county should try. Whaley said at least some parts of the Arcade need to be demolished because they are dangerous and not viable for redevelopment.
Whaley and Wagner both agreed that Dayton needs its income tax rate to stay at 2.25 percent. That will require a vote of residents next year to renew the last 0.5 percent of the tax.
Wagner suggested that city officials’ removal of a $50 senior citizen tax credit will make it hard to convince residents to vote for that renewal. But Whaley said Dayton has been fiscally conservative, keeping its income tax rate constant for the past 29 years while other cities have raised their rates.
The candidates disagreed on the River Run project planned for the Great Miami River immediately north of downtown. Whaley said getting people to use the river for recreation is a good idea, adding that Oklahoma City and other cities have done similar projects that drove economic development.
Wagner said he’s not convinced. He said the low dam was originally built to create a “pastoral, scenic pool of water” so that people could do boating activities on the river. He said he doesn’t see the kayaking feature being successful unless a major marketing effort occurs.
Whaley said after the debate that the city’s biggest issue is job creation. Her jobs plan focuses on growing employment around eight existing assets, including an abundance of water crucial to some industries, health and education campuses, manufacturing and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
“We have a lot of work to do and that’s why I created the roadmap to the new Dayton,” Whaley said. “I have confidence in our future, and if we come behind that plan and really work, I feel like we have great days ahead of us.”
Wagner said to get more people to live in Dayton, you have to improve the schools, in part by lifting children out of poverty.
“To do that, we have to work with their parents at a very, very early age when the kids are in the cradle and help them understand that they need to work with their kids, read to their kids … or they’ll never catch up,” Wagner said.