Something happened yesterday that many did not think was possible. Despite being heavily outspent and going up against the Montgomery County Democratic Party that has dominated politics in this city for a long time, political newcomer and independent Gary Leitzell beat the incumbent Rhine McLin. The city is suffering from what might be the worst economy to ever hit this place (which is saying a lot), and just like how the majority of the country felt last November – there are many people in this city that simply wanted a change. Gary Leitzell represents that change.
Rhine McLin’s leadership capabilities have been hotly debated by many throughout the region. Her supporters saw her compassion and grassroots-level commitment to neighborhoods. Key supporters understand that she is politically astute behind the scenes and value her strong political connections. Many apathetic Dayton residents weren’t crazy about her but didn’t believe she could be beat, and thus simply went along for the ride. However, McLin’s detractors blamed her for not being in touch with the citizens OR businesses, and were turned off by her lack of presence and less-than-inspiring speaking abilities. Added to the city’s economic woes, the anti-McLin sentiments proved to be too much for her to overcome in the end.
While Gary Leitzell had some strong support among those that he has worked with as Chair of the Southeast Priority Board and President of the Walnut Hills Neighborhood Association, he just barely beat McLin (14,923 to 14,045) and faces his share of challenges. There are many who are unhappy with some things he has said on this very website, and others that voted for change versus a candidate. Leitzell most definitely has his work cut out for him.
And the Democratic Party still has a stronghold on the commission as a whole. Incumbents Nan Whaley and Joey Williams won re-election over challenger David Esrati, and the other two seats are held by the party that Leitzell went up against. Gary Leitzell will now have to demonstrate leadership within the team in order to fulfill his promise of change as he needs at least two of their votes to pass anything over the next four years – including the most important decision right out of the gate: recruiting a new city manager. With limited power to push major changes through and a city budget in shambles, Leitzell may soon be on the receiving end of the same criticism that McLin has faced over the years. However, Leitzell’s outsider perspective may prove to be an asset and allow him to push for bold new ideas that this city needs.
The City of Dayton has turned the page on a long chapter, one filled with many ups and downs. And as the new chapter begins with a new mayor and soon new city manager, we have important opportunities ahead of us. We have an opportunity to improve how City Hall responds to the needs of the citizens and businesses in this community. We have the opportunity to try brand new approaches in an effort to make our city more attractive to citizens and businesses alike. We also have the opportunity to strengthen our relationships with the rest of the region so that we can move the regionalism conversation forward. A stronger core city is important to the region now more than ever, and only as a strong unified region can we thrive in a global economy.
I congratulate Gary Leitzell, Nan Whaley and Joey Williams on their wins as I admire all of the candidates including Rhine McLin and David Esrati for their commitment, passion and courage. As for advice to our new mayor, I’ll leave that up to all of you – what advice would you give Gary Leitzell as he embarks on this difficult mission? What kinds of things do you think he and his fellow commissioners should focus on moving forward?