COLUMBUS, Ohio – Three candidates are running to become the next Mayor of Dayton after incumbent Nan Whaley announced she would not seek reelection in 2021 – former Dayton firefighter and chief Rennes Bowers, former Dayton Mayor Gary Leitzell and current Dayton city commissioner Jeffrey Mims.
The top two vote getters next Tuesday, May 4, will square off in the November general election and the winner will become the Mayor of Ohio’s sixth-largest city.
The Ohio Star conducted an exclusive one-on-one interview with Bowers to ask him what drove his decision to run, how he plans to improve Dayton and what he believes distinguishes him from his competitors.
The Ohio Star (TOS): When did you decide to run?
Rennes Bowers (RB): February 10 we threw our hat in the ring – very, very late in the process. We needed 500 signatures to start and were told we’d need to get 1,000 for 500 of them to be legitimate. We ended up getting approximately 1400 signatures – 1200 of them were good.
TOS: What got you interested – what drove you to run?
RB: I retired on St. Patrick’s Day in 2019. During those two years of retirement, I was approached to run for office five times. I was never interested.
Then the 2020 election took place and I was so disgusted with the division and hatred, especially in the media. Hatred, division, racism – this is not the country I grew up in. That brought me to my knees.
From 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. six days a week – because we have church on Sunday – I prayed. The hours flew by like minutes. Just like the seasons that make up a year, we have seasons in life and spiritually. I knew I was to be an instrument for good in this season of my life and I just needed to seek earnestly and find out how.
I’ve been serving through my faith for 47 years. I served the Dayton Fire Department for 30 years, was chaplain of the Dayton Dragons, our minor league baseball team, for 19 seasons. We’ve planted churches. I was honored to serve the City Mission for one year and we’ve been doing missionary work in India since 2006. But I felt that it was time to do more – to light a light rather than merely curse the darkness.
Then, my wife said ‘you ought to run for office.’ Four other sources said the same thing – confirming what I sensed in my prayer time, what had led me to consider civic service through government leadership. So we decided on February 10 and had a March 5 deadline to get our signature petitions submitted – we submitted those on March 2 and had more than all the candidates.
God worked through us in the fire department. I actually believe that God works through people and I certainly expect him to use me in a mighty way here in Dayton.
TOS: Describe your five-point plan to reach the vision you have for Dayton – “I see a Dayton so safe you can keep your car unlocked; I see alleys so clean your kids will run through them barefoot; I see a city hall so forward-thinking that businesses will fight to relocate here; I see a Dayton where every block gets better through determination, smarter thinking and working like a team.”
RB: Our plan is to:
1) focus attention on police and fire;
2) clean up yards, streets and alleys;
3) aggressively target abandoned homes;
4) stimulate small business growth;
5) extreme transparency in city hall.
The most important goal though is to bring the city together – black and white; all people. All the problems can be solved when we unite. As long as there’s division, there’s suspicion – enmity between neighborhoods, the east side and the west side.
I’m a unifier. I’m a problem solver.
When you go to a fire, you can’t kick the can down the road.
When we went to a fire that engulfed eight houses without enough people, equipment and water we still had to solve the problem and fight the fire. We did that by working together.
I want to lead by listening to people and serving them. That’s what it will take for the city – uniting people by bringing them to the table, listening and serving. When you’re fighting a fire, you don’t think about race. When you’re in battle and bullets are zipping over your head you don’t worry about the color of the person next to you. It’s about working together, being a unit.
I’m not interested in recognition. I’m not interested in managing the decline of Dayton. I’m interested in managing the rejuvenation.
We will get over the stereotypes. We’ll get to real problem solving.
We’ve knocked on over 3,500 doors and talked to people because we will represent them and all of Dayton.
What we heard is that so many of them are so disgusted with city hall neglecting neighborhoods and spending all the money without solving problems.
People are thankful for the downtown revitalization yet feel like other parts of the city and public safety are not being addressed – neighborhoods are being robbed of their pride.
There are homes that burnt 20 years ago that are still there – attracting drugs and more that kids in the neighborhoods are seeing and shouldn’t have to. Dayton is an incredible and diverse city but it’s hard to celebrate when abandoned homes and neglected neighborhoods are like a scar on who you are as a people – there are about 10,000 of these houses and we will find money to solve the problems arising from abandoned homes.
Public safety is so interwoven with the business piece – to attract business and enterprise.
And when it comes to economic development – we have Interstate 70, a crossroad of America – and Interstate 75.
Dayton has a huge aquifer – one of the largest in the country that can be used.
We have incredible universities – the University of Dayton, Wright State, Wilberforce, Central State. Sinclair Community College is one of the best in the nation. We have all this brainpower here locally.
On top of that, there’s Wright Patterson Air Force Base, a center for research and development and brainiacs – and a very rich history of innovation. Stealth technology was developed there.
We need to tap into this incredible talent and bring these people to the table. I’ve heard that we have one of the largest populations of retired CEOs in the nation – they know how to succeed and need to be invited to engage and assist.
Let’s get these people together. I’m filled with hope and not despair – I know we’ll get this turned around and be a model for the state. There are places in Ohio and states around us that have done it, so we don’t have to re-invent the wheel. We can learn from others, what worked in other places can be examined to see if it would work here.
TOS: What separates you from Mims and Leitzell?
RB: I’m not a politician. I’m a crisis manager. Neither of those guys have anything in their background that demonstrates they can handle crisis and actually solve problems. Long on talk, short on action.
I don’t have all the answers– in the fire service I didn’t either but was very successful. I brought people together who did have the answers and we worked together.
Before 911 I was asked to lead a project responsible for developing an eight-county terrorist preparedness plan. Frankly, I didn’t want to do it but I threw myself into it.
We had to prepare and plan for all kinds of attack situations – biological, chemical, radiological, explosive; basically, whatever a terrorist could come up with.
I reached out to leaders in law enforcement, hospitals, businesses, leaders at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, as well as inside the FBI, local universities, health departments and emergency management agencies.
I invited all entities in eight counties. I cast the vision – then arranged them in their areas of expertise. They caught the vision and ran with it.
After six months the plan was submitted to the federal government. The plan was distributed. We had a tabletop exercise. Then, we had a full-scale exercise – the largest ever in the area. The plan was recognized by a journal that named Dayton in the top 10 of U.S. cities for preparedness.
I am a uniter and have been successful assembling teams and turning them loose. I’ll bring that same skillset to the Mayor’s office. We will unite the City Commission. I don’t want to be at odds.
I hope to become friends and work together with both Leitzell and Mims.
But as far as track record, Leitzell was mayor for four years but did very little. He’s a nice guy, but the City Commission was not behind him – to his credit, he’s an independent and they are Democrats who pushed back on everything he wanted to do.
Mims is a Democrat and has the party behind him. He boasts that he was president of the teacher’s union but we have been rated as one of the worst school systems in Ohio and have been in crisis for years. That’s not a positive to me, it’s a negative. He’s been on City Commission for eight years and people are unhappy.
Democrats have been in power for so long – during that time NCR moved their Headquarters and so did Mead. Six GM plants were lost and two good hospitals; unemployment has risen on their watch.
This COVID thing is not their fault. However, the draconian measures were over the top and kept in place far too long, destroying small businesses.
We’ve got some CARES Act dollars to offset losses. They did allocate $15MM for police and fire to pay themselves back for increasing staff and adding a medic unit. But that money goes into the general fund and doesn’t go into police or fire.
Several million has been allocated for arts, contemporary dance, the Dayton Dragons. I’m in favor of all of that – they are all very good things. However, to me it’s about priorities: public safety first, police and fire. If you don’t have a safe community, you won’t attract businesses and entrepreneurs.
Mims is all about reviving downtown – it’s had somewhat of a renaissance. But it won’t sustain unless we attract businesses and entrepreneurs.
We received $147MM from the feds, a one-time stimulus. If you buy the flashy things, I look at that like driving a new car off the lot – it immediately depreciates in value by 22%. Bling can be expensive. The current Mayor and Commission went for the bling, and it looks good.
I want to take that money and not depreciate it but invest it and grow it – invest in infrastructure, redirecting funds from downtown and getting 60 neighborhoods back on track. Also, in training programs as employers can’t find skilled people to hire. That, in turn, will get businesses attracted.
TOS: How will you deal with cancel culture and political bullying?
RB: For the last two years, before the vision of running for office, I’ve been building relationships with black pastors. These men love the Lord. I love the Lord. We love and respect each other.
We’ve come to the conclusion the things that separate us are minute compared to what brings us together. Racism is in the heart of man, it’s sin. That’s why Jesus came – that’s what stops the manifestation of the sin of racism.
We cancel the cancel culture by loving our neighbor as ourselves. I’m not going to speak canceling over people, I’m going to speak life.
The Bowers campaign website can be found here.
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