By: Reginald Henderson, Dayton Weekly News
The petitions are in! Your candidates for Dayton City Mayor and Commission have been announced! For mayor, there are three contenders: Gary Leitzell, Jeffrey Mims, and Rennes Bowers. The commission race holds two seats open with seven nominees including: Darryl Fairchild, Jared Grandy, Jordan Wortham, Scott Sliver, Shenise Turner-Sloss, Stacey Benson-Taylor, and Valerie Duncan. With so many names, how is one supposed to know whom to vote for?
Most of us want improved conditions and opportunities within our city limits. However, we end up supporting candidates that talk of good game. They throw out buzzwords to gain attention like economic empowerment, equitable development, and sustainable neighborhoods. Sometimes, candidates are active on their words, networking around the city, supporting community initiatives, etc., which looks especially appealing, but I argue that it is not enough.
To earn a vote from me, a candidate must not only serve as a well-intentioned public servant, but also as an effective politician.
For too long, I was sold on the half-truth that Dayton needed elected officials who are committed to the community… dedicated to putting the people first… optimistic for the future. Today, I realize that what is at stake requires much more than good intentions and solid values to obtain. If we want streets as smooth as the suburbs, an abundance of healthy food options, more places for entertainment, we need politicians!
A politician will manipulate the distribution of power within the city to push an agenda. A politician will create and lobby for legislation that makes positive, long-term change. A politician will use cunning and charm to gain access to resources that have been behind doors that have been historically closed to African Americans. As I see it, the largest difference between a well-intentioned public servant and a politician is their willingness to get their hands dirty. We all know that politics can get ugly, which is why most stay out, but if someone wants in, they must be ready to fight!
Before I vote to give someone access to government power we must agree on some values and ideals. However, if they do not have the political skill to navigate through appointees, use the media to apply some pressure, and flex the arm of a department how will they make a significant impact?
Let’s consider the governing structure of the City of Dayton. There are four commissioners and a mayor who, together, create one, majority-rules vote. With some political savvy, any official could take control of that vote by exploiting the low individual power of other commissioners. As the ceremonial leader, the Mayor has the upper hand, but well-organized commissioners have the advantage of numbers. Whoever controls the vote, controls government because the power to appoint the City Manager provides great strength.
According to the Dayton City Charter, the City Manager is “responsible for the efficient administration of all departments.” In other words, they are the boss of the folks who implement the priorities, budget, and legislation of the commission. Since consistency between the commission and administration is essential to implement any significant agenda, I’m looking for someone promoting their ambition to grip the internal government.
Another function of the commission is to approve the budget and contracts. The rule is, you put your money where your priorities are. While a well-intentioned public servant may push for community development, a politician will know how to leverage funds to keep clean water an asset, demolish abandoned properties, and distribute contracts to Daytonians. My vote stands for someone who can read between the line items and percentages to see the larger picture of Dayton’s future.
Improving the material conditions of our communities is an admirable cause but one needs to attain funds and influence to make that vision a reality. To earn my vote, a candidate must prove they understand how money flows in and out of City Hall. They must be sufficiently aware of the financial resources we already consume and have access to garnering more investments. A politician, who has studied these money movements, will provide policy ideas to stabilize and grow our economy. They will know who to build relationships with in the state government, the business community, and cultural ecosystem to gather financial support for Dayton’s development.
A politician will work diligently to establish coalitions with external institutions such as the Downtown Dayton Partnership, Citywide Development, Dayton Public Schools, developers, utility companies and others to comprehensively move the city forward. Any candidate looking to maneuver through the political expertise of the current power players will need strategy, finesse, and knowledge of the system to exploit the game. No longer will we play the game as servant leaders; we shall strip it of its resources as politicians.
The candidates of the upcoming primary election may have some of this political might, but it’s up to the citizens to weed out the weak, challenge the strong, and investigate those in between.
My vote stands for the well-intentioned, practical politicians who can help galvanize the community to bring power to the people and put Dayton back on the map! My vote holds the price of new suspension when I hit too many potholes. It has the weight of wholesome groceries in my fridge, and the time spent kicking it with loved ones around the city. This year, I’m letting them know that MY VOTE AIN’T CHEAP!