If you are going to take on an incumbent elected official, it helps to have a fire in your belly and a score to settle with your opponent.
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, who announced early Wednesday morning that she would not be running for a third term as mayor this year, has exactly that when it comes to the prospect of running for Ohio governor in 2022.
Whaley spoke with me shortly after putting out that video tweet announcing that she would be giving up the office she has held since 2013.
Today, I'm announcing that I will not be running for re-election. I believe we have turned a corner in Dayton. This is the best job I have ever had, but I believe our city can only continue to grow if we give space and opportunity to new leaders and new ideas. pic.twitter.com/WjilqA1wty
— Nan Whaley (@nanwhaley) January 6, 2021
And, while she said she isn't ready to announce a candidacy for governor, she made it clear that she is highly motivated to take on Republican incumbent Mike DeWine, who, at one time, was 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 District.
"It's way too early for that,'' Whaley said of the speculation that she will be a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor. "I know there are a lot of people who want me to do that."
It was a tragedy that nearly ripped the heart out of her city. And, Whaley was widely praised for being there on the ground with a city in mourning and fear. She helped calm the waters.
Her problem with DeWine had its roots in a vigil held on the night after the shootings in a park nearby the Oregon District.
She was there; DeWine was there.
DeWine appeared to be visibly affected by the chant that came up from the crowd – Do something! Do something!
As Gov. DeWine spoke alongside Mayor Whaley, right, during a vigil at the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, the crowd began chanting at DeWine to "do something!"
The next day, DeWine and his wife Fran walked with Whaley down E. Fifth Street in the Oregon District, where the shootings occurred. Before long, the mayor and the governor were announcing a "Strong Ohio" bill for the Ohio General Assembly to consider – actually, a package of reforms they believed would make it harder for people like the Dayton mass murderer to get his hands on weapons and to generally reduce gun violence in Ohio.
But the Republican-dominated Ohio legislature, which has long danced to the tune of the National Rifle Association and the Buckeye Firearms Association, did nothing with the Strong Ohio package.
In fact, last month, the legislature passed a "Stand Your Ground" bill that was anathema to Whaley and her fellow big city mayors in Ohio because it eliminated the duty to retreat in the face of possible gunfire.
Whaley said she and the other six big city mayors have twice weekly conference calls with the governor.
"All of us urged him to veto the legislation,'' Whaley said.
But, on Monday, DeWine signed Stand Your Ground into law, which Whaley calls a "betrayal" of the promises he made in the wake of the Dayton mass murder.
"I know people in Dayton feel betrayed,'' Whaley said. "And I feel incredibly disappointed. He caved into the pro-gun lobby and the legislators of his own party who passed this bill. You can not sign that bill and then say you will work to enact real gun reforms."
"I am a progressive Democrat and I work with Republicans all the time and I know it can be done,'' Whaley said. "But I honestly think (DeWine) is trapped by the extremist elements of his party,'' Whaley said.
In our talk, Whaley raised another issue where she has a bone to pick with the incumbent governor – the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines throughout the state.
"We are very concerned that that the infrastructure is not there to deal with getting vaccines to millions of people in Ohio,'' Whaley said. "The governor and the state are still in a scarcity mind set. And it's appropriate that we be careful about allocating scarce resources. But, by March or April, there will be plenty coming in. What happens when we have a ton of vaccines coming in?"
Whaley, who turns 45 years old later this month, said the timing of her announcement this week had nothing to do with the 2022 governor's race.
"There is a filing deadline for mayor coming up in March and I felt I needed to say I'm not running for re-election,'' Whaley said.
"I've been in City Hall for 16 years, counting all the years I was on the city commission,'' Whaley said. "I feel good about what I've been able to do for this city. It's been a real roller coaster of highs and lows, but I'm proud of what we've done."
There is no question that Whaley, an Indiana native who came to Dayton to study chemistry at the University of Dayton, has been enormously popular in her adopted hometown.
In 2017, she was re-elected without opposition – the only time that has happened in Dayton since the city began direct election of the mayor.
Daytonians seem to appreciate her style; they see her as one of them – living in the middle class neighborhood of Five Oaks with her husband, Sam Braun.
If she decides to run, you can expect an announcement in the spring.
As things stand now, she is likely to have a Democratic gubernatorial primary to deal with.
Her good friend and political ally, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, has been actively laying the groundwork for a possible campaign for governor. Tim Ryan, a Democrat from Niles in Northeast Ohio, is also said to be seriously considering running for governor. Ryan's congressional district could be obliterated when the new Ohio congressional district map is drawn later this year.
DeWine, who has angered a lot of conservatives in his party with his mandates and executive orders in the war against COVID-19, will still be formidable as a candidate for re-election.
But, even though Democrats have been wiped out in statewide elections for the past 15 years, don't underestimate Whaley.
She is tough, resilient and smart as a whip.
And, yes, she has an axe to grind with Mike DeWine.