Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a candidate in the Democratic Party primary for governor in 2018

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley is running for governor in Ohio in 2018 with a focus on bringing back partnerships between the state of Ohio and its cities and families.

Whaley, a Democrat, was elected mayor of Dayton in 2013 and before that served on the Dayton City Commission. She is one of five Democrats and four Republicans who have declared their candidacy for governor in 2018.

In an interview with Plunderbund on Friday, Whaley said she went on a bus tour of nearly two dozen Ohio communities with a bipartisan coalition of mayors. While on this tour, she decided that the state was no longer being the partner with its cities and families that it should be.

“This bus tour had a big impact on me,” she said. “I really just witnessed how the partnership between the state and local communities was really completely gone.”

When you’re in a bigger city like Dayton or Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati, according to Whaley, you can leverage public-private partnerships, foundations, large hospitals and other community assets to mask all the cuts from the state level.

“But when you go to smaller towns, you see just how tough it is. They’ve lost their partner,” Whaley said, citing former Gov. Richard Celeste’s line that Ohio is a state of cities. “We wanted to put together an alliance of mayors throughout the state because (cities) have just been slaughtered, quite frankly, by the (budget) cuts from the state through the Great Recession.”

This is a reference to major cuts to the state of Ohio’s local government fund in its last three budgets. Those cuts mostly have offset income-tax cuts. The next state budget is due by July 1, and it remains unclear how local government funds will be impacted this cycle, the fourth and final budget from the state Legislature under Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

The state of Ohio walking away from its small communities is akin to cutting off one’s nose to spite its face, Whaley argued.

“I think it’s wrong. I think there should be opportunities for young people in those communities. I think we need to have a dignity-of-work aspect in place in these communities. The state has not given any answer at all for these small communities,” she said.

Whaley said that the issue goes beyond just funding.

“In these small towns, they have these great main streets, where they have two or three blocks of older buildings,” Whaley said. “The buildings are old so they don’t hold up to state code, but it’s a great example of where the state could create a partnership with the communities to provide grants to work on Main Street initiatives.”

Leveraging those kinds of dollars to create a partnership with communities to rebuild downtown districts could provide a great benefit, Whaley said. Moreover, she emphasized that the communities themselves should drive these initiatives.

“We’re better if we build a relationship and listen on the ground to these local communities,” she said. “What works in the Cincinnati region doesn’t necessarily work on the Lake up in Sandusky. The communities know what they need.”

Another partnership from which the state has walked away is higher education, Whaley said. Multiple studies have shown that the major drivers of increased tuition costs are from big increases in administrative staffing at state universities and significantly less funding coming from the state level.

“I think the issue of higher education, where the cost is more on families instead of the state and the community is a big issue for us if we’re really going to be serious about having the kind of workforce and talent we need to move into this century,” Whaley said.

Again, the state of Ohio has moved away from investing in its people, she said.

“Now it’s on families, and families are at the breaking point,” she said. “I think that’s a lot of the frustration people have in Ohio. They have a state that’s not paying attention to them, that’s not investing in them. And they’re not feeling comfortable about their future because of the lack of the state investment in them.”

Whaley said she is committed to standing up for Ohio families, citing a lawsuit she filed on behalf of the city of Dayton last week against more than a dozen drug companies and distributors over the opioid crisis.

“We believe the drug companies made this mess, and it is time they stop passing the buck to Ohio’s taxpayers and started paying to clean it up,” Whaley said. “The drug companies are profiting, and we are paying for it.”

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages and relief for police, fire and EMS first-responders and others whose time and resources are being used to combat the epidemic on the ground.

Other declared Democratic candidates for governor include former state Rep. Connie Pillich, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton and Wayne County Commissioner Dave Kiefer. Declared Republican candidates for governor include Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.