A small group of Dayton voters may take a big step toward deciding the city's next mayor Tuesday, as the field will be winnowed from three big-name candidates to two for the November election.
The last time Dayton had a May runoff vote for mayor was 2005, when only 14,465 people voted — roughly one-tenth of the city's population.
The three candidates this year — current Mayor Gary Leitzell, City Commissioner Nan Whaley and former judge A.J. Wagner — agree that turnout is likely to be low, but they've been trying hard to get their message out.
"We put a lot of people and volunteers on the streets to knock on doors and remind people that Tuesday is Election Day," Whaley said. "It'll be a low turnout, I think, but we really don't have a bar to compare this one."
That's because runoff votes in Dayton with big-name candidates and high publicity are very rare. But this race features an incumbent mayor facing two well-known challengers who have raised a combined $250,000, and showered city residents with TV ads and repeated mailings.
Leitzell on the other hand, had spent just over $1,000 by late last month, primarily on a targeted mailing. Like the other candidates, he studied which Dayton residents consistently vote in primary elections. His mailing to those 10,000 "super-voters" thanked each of them for being "one of the few people that takes voting very seriously," and told them they hold the power to choose Dayton's future.
"It's up for grabs," said former Dayton mayor and current political science professor Paul Leonard, a Democrat. "In the old days, I would have said Nan Whaley because she's going to have all the money, and A.J. second and Leitzell third. But it's hard to get your arms around the political dissatisfaction these days."
Parties, race, experience
An Ohio Democratic Party mailer touts Whaley, along with City Commission candidates Joey Williams and Jeff Mims, as "your team of endorsed Democrats." In his TV ads, Wagner describes himself as "a lifelong Democrat" and gets testimonials from Democratic county commissioners Deborah Lieberman and Judy Dodge.
But while city of Dayton voters backed Barack Obama by a 74 to 23 percent ratio over Mitt Romney, mayor races don't follow the same party-line script. Only one mayor candidate in the past 20 years has gotten even 55 percent of the vote (Rhine McLin in 2005), and Dayton's last three mayors have been a Republican (Mike Turner), a Democrat (McLin), and an independent (Leitzell).
Leitzell is trying to capitalize on a perceived frustration with party politics, teaming up with City Commission candidates David Esrati and David K. Greer to form the independentdayton.com website. Esrati and Greer are actually longtime Democrats, but they say they are frustrated with party politics.
The trio says voting for them would create an independent majority on the five-member city commission, and they've each committed to tight spending limits on their campaigns.
This is also just the second mayoral race in 25 years with no black candidate (joining 1997's Mike Turner-Tony Capizzi race). Leonard said the black vote is hard to predict in this race, because there is no longer a single black political leader like C.J. McLin who can influence a large chunk of Dayton's black voters.
There's also the issue of long-term exposure. While Leitzell and Whaley get exposure from being in office today, neither of them was widely known before they were elected — in 2005 for Whaley and 2009 for Leitzell.
Wagner, on the other hand, has been working in Dayton and Montgomery County roles since 1975 — the year before Whaley was born, and a time when Leitzell was a teenager in England. If Tuesday's voters include thousands of longtime Dayton residents, that could benefit Wagner.
The race is for mayor of Dayton, but it is important to the entire Miami Valley. Centerville Mayor Mark Kingseed said suburban residents have a lot at stake today, because the city of Dayton creates the image by which the entire region is known nationally.
"The strength and the viability of the inner city has a big impact on the viability of the suburbs and the economic strength of the overall area," Kingseed said. "The mayor's main power is that he or she gets to set the agenda — by emphasizing certain issues, they can focus attention on things that need to be done."
Also on the ballot
• Beavercreek residents will vote on a 1.5 percent earned income tax. Proponents say the growing city needs the tax to repair its roads and bridges, offset cuts in state money and refurbish its parks and city buildings. Opponents say the 7-year tax is a less accountable system than property tax levies. Beavercreek is one of only a few Ohio cities that does not levy an income tax.
• Eleven local school districts have levies on the ballot, including two of the larger districts in the area — Centerville and Fairborn. Many of the schools are back on the ballot after November levy rejections. Several local cities and townships also are asking for property tax levies for police, fire and parks funding.
• In addition to the mayor's race, Dayton voters will narrow the City Commission field from five to four. The lowest vote-getter of Joey Williams, David Esrati, David K. Greer, Joseph Lutz and Jeff Mims will be eliminated, while the other four will advance to November.
• Some local residents get to take an election off. There's nothing on the ballot at all in Kettering, Huber Heights, Xenia and several other communities.
Online results: We will have live election results from around the Miami Valley starting around 7:30 p.m. today at DaytonDailynews.com.
TV: Watch WHIO-TV Channel 7 for results starting around 7:30 p.m. and election coverage on News Center 7 at 11 p.m.
Newspaper: Wednesday's Dayton Daily News will go inside the election results to inform you of the impact to your community. Also look for complete results.
Radio: Tune in to Newstalk Radio WHIO 95.7FM and AM1290 for election coverage and more news Wednesday morning starting at 6.
The Dayton Daily News will have 12 reporters working to bring you the results, analysis and impact of today's local election. Follow our political team on Twitter at @Ohio_Politics.