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Mayoral candidates spar on city issues

By Jeremy P. Kelley - Staff Writer

Nan Whaley and A.J. Wagner sparred on budget issues, police hiring and their own experience Thursday night at the first major fall debate in the race for Dayton mayor, hosted by the Greater Dayton Association of Black Journalists.

Wagner, a former county auditor and judge, continued to criticize city officials for their 2011 decision to end an annual $50 property tax credit for senior citizens and the disabled that had been tied to a previous income tax campaign. Wagner told the crowd of about 80 people the city broke a promise and suggested the decision will threaten Dayton’s ability to pass a crucial renewal of the city income tax next year.

“They took away any incentive anyone would have to vote for that tax renewal,” Wagner said. “We face a $20 million to $25 million deficit as a result (if the levy would fail). I’m not sure what we can cut by $20 to 25 million. … That would be tragic, because I think we’re going to look like Detroit if that happens.”

Whaley argued the only people to complain about the tax credit move were Wagner and his campaign, two years after the fact. She said City Commission made the decision to end the credit after the state government cut $9 million in annual aid to the city. It was one of nearly 40 budget-cutting or revenue-raising ideas considered, with close to a dozen implemented.

“We brought the tax credit out just like the other 39 issues, and this was the one that most people said, save our services, save our ambulances, save our police and fire, save our public works, and we’ll do this,” Whaley said. “We kept our promise to the citizens of Dayton by making sure their services remained strong.”

Asked about race relations, Wagner said Dayton should do away with its civil service test for police and firefighters, arguing such a move would allow the city to more easily hire a staff that matched the racial mix of the city itself.

Whaley disagreed, saying the city is finally out from under the Department of Justice’s consent decree that stemmed from a racial discrimination case. She said the DOJ has approved the city’s new civil service test, referring to the civil service board’s report that the most recent group of test-takers was more racially diverse than in previous years.

Whaley repeatedly referenced her “Roadmap for Growing the New Dayton,” saying she would have a “singular focus” on creating jobs, because “when people have jobs, everything else takes care of itself.”

Asked her impressions of the debate seconds after it ended, Whaley said, “I really tried to make sure we were talking about the future of Dayton, because that’s what this mayor’s race is about to me.”

Wagner said the city needs to focus on education for very young children and job-growth efforts, saying 45 percent of Dayton children live in poverty. Wagner said the biggest difference between him and Whaley is his experience, ranging from teacher, to county auditor, businessman, lawyer and judge.

Whaley won the May primary by a wide margin, receiving 50 percent of the vote to Wagner’s 26 percent and current Mayor Gary Leitzell’s 24 percent, although only 10,000 Daytonians voted. That vote eliminated Leitzell from the race, leaving Whaley and Wagner to battle on Nov. 5.

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