Whaley said Dayton and its people have taught her how to be a tough and gritty leader who gets results.
She says these traits were vital when she had to lead the city through crises and traumatic events of recent years like a hate group rally, the Memorial Day tornadoes, the mass shooting in the Oregon District and the pandemic.
“We could use a little more tough in Columbus,” she said.
Whaley has a good chance of winning because people are fed up with years of political corruption, including last year’s arrest of the former speaker of the Ohio House on bribery allegations, said Mark Owens, chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Party.
Next year’s governor’s race could be a referendum on that scandal and others, as well as on Ohio’s continued and painfully weak job and economic growth, Owens said.
“She brings a lot to the table,” he said. “She can build a good coalition.”
Ohio GOP Chairman Bob Paduchik said under Whaley’s “failed leadership” Dayton’s violent crime spiked and poverty rose to one of the highest levels in the nation.
He said the city’s “incompetent” infrastructure management left hundreds of thousands of Daytonians without water for days.
“Now, Nan Whaley wants a promotion,” he said. “Ohioans deserve leaders who serve to better our communities, not build their own political resumes.”
Whaley, who was the youngest woman ever elected to the Dayton City Commission, announced in January she would not seek re-election to mayor this fall after serving for two terms. Whaley did not publicly share her political plans until now.
On Monday, Whaley said Ohioans deserve better than what the current political leadership in Columbus offers.
She said state lawmakers and elected leaders care more about extreme interests and lining their pockets than they do about serving the communities they represent.
Whaley, 45, pointed out that she was born in 1976, which is the same year that Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine was first elected to public office.
Ohio’s gubernatorial race will take place on Nov. 8, 2022, and a spokesperson for Gov. DeWine said he is running for reelection.
Whaley sharply criticized DeWine in January for signing a “Stand Your Ground” law for Ohio, 17 months after he and Whaley announced plans to work together on gun reforms following the Dayton shooting that claimed nine lives and injured two dozen more people.
But the gun-control measures, including requiring background checks for most gun sales, stalled in the GOP-controlled Legislature, and Whaley said DeWine then gave in to pro-gun extremists.
“Our state needs principled leaders who will stand up for what is right — not what is politically easy,” Whaley tweeted after DeWine signed legislation to eliminate an individual’s duty to retreat before using force.
Whaley says Ohio’s GOP-dominated, scandal-marred state Legislature isn’t working and that the state needs to do more to recover from the pandemic while developing programs to make the state more just and equitable.
Ohioans are working longer hours but are getting paid less, she said, and they deserve raises and a higher minimum wage.
She said the state also needs to invest in its kids.
Whaley told this newspaper she wants to expand high-quality, universal pre-kindergarten access to Ohio children, like the city of Dayton helped fund for 4-year-old kids citywide.
As governor, Whaley said she would make some of the same kinds of investments that supported high-quality and good-paying jobs that Dayton did under her leadership.
“We need to change the leadership,” she said. “Doing the same thing over and over again and getting the same result isn’t what the future of Ohio should have.”
Whaley said the state also needs ethics reforms because Ohio politicians have enriched themselves and traded political favors instead of doing the work they were elected to do, like finding ways to improve quality-of-life in their communities.
Whaley said she looks forward to telling her own story and Dayton’s as well on the campaign trail.
Whaley must first win a primary battle with Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, who has already reported raising $500,000 for a potential governor race.
Cranley and Whaley consider each other friends, but Cranley has claimed that his eight-year record as mayor of a growing city that is more than double the size of Whaley’s shows his capability to be governor.
Whaley, meanwhile, has said it’s “long overdue” for Democrats in Ohio to run someone rather than a white man for governor.
Whaley first announced she would run for governor in 2017.
But in early 2018, she decided to drop out of the race and throw her support behind Democrat Richard Cordray, who later that year lost to DeWine.
Whaley has a good shot at winning the Democratic nomination and the general election because she is well-known in the party, including outside of the Dayton region, and she knows how to build coalitions, said Owens, with the county democratic party.
During her campaign announcement, Whaley said “its time for a little Dayton toughness in Columbus.”
Whaley is relatable, comes from a working-class background and she knows how to work with labor, the business community and minority communities, he said.
Ohio is not an easy state for Democrats to win, but they can prevail with the right candidates, and Republicans have been in charge for a long time and need to answer for all the problems with corruption and an economy that has fallen behind the rest of the country, Owens said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.