DAYTON — Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, pulled into the national spotlight by a 2019 mass shooting, said Monday she wants to unseat Ohio’s Republican governor in the 2022 election.
The 45-year-old Democrat, positioning herself as a “tough” progressive populist, will try for the second time to make Ohio history by becoming the first female major-party nominee for governor.
“I’m ready to do something,” she said in her announcement. “I’m ready to do something to take on gun violence. To fix a broken economy. To fight corruption and criminality in Columbus. “
Her decision had been expected after she announced in early January she wouldn’t seek a third term as mayor this year, but she also weighed a run for U.S. Senate after Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s surprise decision not to seek reelection. Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley is considered likely to challenge her for the Democratic nomination.
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.
A DeWine spokesperson referred a request for comment to the Ohio Republican Party, where Chair Bob Paduchik said via text that Whaley has presided in Dayton over increased violent crime, poverty and infrastructure problems.
“Now, Nan Whaley wants a promotion. Ohioans deserve leaders who serve to better our communities, not build their own political resumes,” Paduchik said.
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.
“We must build something better,” she said in her final State of the City address on Feb. 10. Among her initiatives as mayor have been expanding pre-K education, suing opioid-makers and imposing a mask mandate early in the pandemic.
Whaley must first win a primary battle with 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. She was among three Democratic women who ran for the 2018 nomination but then dropped out to back Richard Cordray, a former federal consumer protection chief who then lost to DeWine.
She has been a supporter of Ohio’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, urging him to run for president in 2020 before he decided against it. She then backed South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, now President Joe Biden’s transportation secretary.
Whaley has said her city is at the forefront of confronting national issues like white supremacy, climate change and gun violence after the Aug. 4, 2019, mass shooting in Dayton’s Oregon entertainment district, a Ku Klux Klan rally and devastating tornadoes.
Whaley, who came to Dayton to attend college and settled after growing up in small-town Indiana, was first elected to city commission in 2005, and as mayor in 2013. She said she thinks she can relate to Ohio’s rural and small-town voters and suburban women, besides the Democrats’ base in Ohio’s largest cities.
“I am not a fancy person,” Whaley told Democratic activists in a recent Zoom call. “Most Ohioans are pretty much like me.”
She and her husband, Sam, married in 2007.