West Dayton voters were the key to the city’s mayoral runoff Tuesday, as Nan Whaley won 47 of 48 precincts there, and incumbent Mayor Gary Leitzell was nearly shut out in some of those neighborhoods.
Using the Great Miami and Stillwater rivers as a dividing line between east and west Dayton, Leitzell won the East Dayton vote, garnering 42 percent, to 31 percent for Whaley and 26 percent for A.J. Wagner, according to an examination of election totals by the Dayton Daily News.
But Leitzell lost West Dayton, where turnout was slightly heavier, and this time the margin was extreme, with Whaley getting 66 percent of the vote, to 26 percent for Wagner and 8 percent for Leitzell.
Wagner got less than 10 percent of the vote in only one of the city’s 95 precincts. Leitzell got single-digits in 34 different precincts — all of them west of the river.
“I think it was the Democratic party more than anything,” Leitzell said, referring to the party’s endorsement of Whaley. “They got their base out (in West Dayton) to do their thing.”
Whaley said she doesn’t think Leitzell’s anti-party politics message plays well in West Dayton, and she believes the fact that she lives in West Dayton helps her as well.
Leitzell made a point of running a low-cost campaign, but some wondered whether spending a little bit more might have gotten him the extra 229 votes he needed to beat Wagner. Leitzell said Tuesday night that he disagreed, pointing out that Whaley spent more than $100,000 and still got fewer than 5,000 votes.
David Matthews, who voted at North Riverdale Lutheran Church, said he backed Whaley in part because of her support for a particular after-school program. But with no black candidate in the race (for just the second time in 25 years), he was worried that black voters would split between her and Wagner.
“Nan has no problem coming into the neighborhood and knocking on your door,” he said. “And the Democratic party endorsement was a big factor. But a lot of people know Wagner.”
City Commissioner Dean Lovelace, a strong voice in West Dayton for the past two decades, said Leitzell didn’t work hard enough to steal away Democratic votes.
“I don’t think he put forth much effort, and I told him that. … You’ve got to promote yourself. I don’t think you can just leave it to the voters,” Lovelace said. “I think Nan reached out to all the key stakeholders and got the buy-in from all those folks, and she got a great result.”
Wagner won only four precincts, way behind Leitzell’s 32 and Whaley’s 59. But he beat Leitzell because of remarkable consistency across all areas of the city. Wagner got between 25 and 27 percent of the vote in all four quadrants of the city. He got much more support that Leitzell (but less than Whaley) in black-majority precincts.
“I did not work hard enough on the east side, and I have more work to do over there,” Wagner said. “There’s no question in my mind, because of the low turnout and because of the kind of support that I had, that we can build on this momentum and keep it going.”
But Whaley is confident heading into her November showdown with Wagner, when turnout should be higher. She pointed out that even if Wagner had picked up every single Leitzell voter Tuesday, she still would have won.
“We did a lot of work trying to get the vote out from our base,” Whaley said. “Paying attention to the east will be key in the future.”
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