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Analysis: With Whaley Running For Governor, Will Friendship Fly Out The Window?

Courtesy of Nan Whaley
John Cranley and Nan Whaley at a Pride event.

Well, this could be awkward.

Two long-time friends and political allies, two Democratic mayors of neighboring cities, running against each other for the 2022 nomination for Ohio governor.

Dayton's Nan Whaley versus Cincinnati's John Cranley.

Whaley announced Monday that she is in the race, while Cranley has yet to make a formal announcement.

But the Cincinnati mayor, who is term limited, has been raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent months and traveling around Ohio to parts of the state where he is not necessarily a household name. In other words, he is doing everything a candidate for governor should do.

Whaley, in an interview with WVXU Monday afternoon, made it clear she is aiming at the current Republican governor, Mike DeWIne, and had little to say about Cranley.

"John and I are friends,'' Whaley said. "We have different issues to talk about, different styles. It will be fine. I'm not worried about it."

But there is no question that Whaley is highly motivated to take on DeWine, who she thinks betrayed her, her city and the people of Ohio on the issue of gun reform and has chosen to ignore the "culture of corruption" in the Republican-controlled Ohio General Assembly.

"Mike DeWine talks a good game, but he follows the lead of the right-wing leadership of his party,'' said the 45-year-old two-term mayor of her adopted city. "He is afraid of them. And his fear of the political extremists in his party allows the corruption to go on and erodes his ability to lead."

DeWine was, at one time, her ally in trying to pass "common sense" gun legislation in the wake of a mass murder in August 2019 that left nine people dead and 17 wounded in Dayton's Oregon entertainment district.

That tragedy tore the city apart. And Whaley was praised for being there on the ground with a city in mourning and shaking with fear.

DeWine joined her at a vigil in a park near the site of the mass murder. When he got up to speak, he was visibly moved by the crowd chanting at him to "do something."

The result was the governor and the mayor announcing a "Strong Ohio" package of gun control measures for the Ohio General Assembly to consider.

But the legislature, which has long danced to the tune of the National Rifle Association and the Buckeye Firearms Association, did nothing with the package. In fact, they passed – and DeWine signed – a "Stand Your Ground" bill which eliminated the duty to retreat in the face of possible gunfire.

Whaley was furious. So, too, was Cranley and most other Ohio big city mayors.

"It was a betrayal,'' Whaley said.

But it is not just gun control that has Whaley motivated to take on DeWine.

She believes he has tolerated the kind of corruption in the statehouse that has led to the indictments of former House Speaker Larry Householder and several of his GOP cronies on bribery charges in a $60 million scheme to finance a $1.3 billion bailout to save foundering nuclear power plants.

"I am in this race because I am appalled at how we can have the biggest corruption scandal in the history of this state and the governor does absolutely nothing about it,'' Whaley said. "At the very least, he could have introduced an ethics reform package and shed some light on this corruption."

She rejected the idea that DeWine is so consumed with dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic that he hasn’t been able to focus on other issues.

"As a leader, you have to walk and chew gum at the same time,'' said Whaley. "We had a mass shooting in this city, but we still managed to pick up the garbage."

As much as she seems to be chafing at the bit to take on DeWine, she may have to deal with Cranley in a primary.

Cranley had little to say about the campaign to WVXU Monday – except to make the point that he already has $800,000 in the bank for any potential gubernatorial run. Whaley's not saying what she has in the bank (it will come out soon in campaign finance reports), but she has transferred money from her mayoral campaign fund after announcing in January that she wouldn't run for a third term as Dayton mayor.

The Cincinnati mayor said he's going to delay a formal announcement.

"I've got a full plate right now – dealing with the pandemic, reopening the city and the economic impact the pandemic has had on the city,'' Cranley said. "I've got a city to run."

DeWine will still be a formidable candidate for re-election, even if he faces opposition in the GOP primary. 

But never underestimate Whaley.

A good rule to follow in politics: Watch out for a candidate with an ax to grind.

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Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

Read more "Politically Speaking" here.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.