Saturday, May 11th, 2013

Politics in Dayton—lots of choices but little interest

Plus some comments about selected candidates

Earlier this week Dayton held its runoff elections for mayor and city commission. Lots of people were running (and even more wanted to run but failed to qualify), but hardly anyone cared enough to vote.

Mayor (pick 1)
Nan Whaley 4,965 50.3%
A.J. Wagner 2,566 26.0%
Gary Leitzell 2,338 23.7%
Commission (pick 2)
Joey Williams 6,384 36.1%
Jeff Mims 5,282 29.9%
David Greer 2,230 12.6%
David Esrati 2,087 11.8%
Joe Lutz 1,696 9.6%

Dayton’s population is about 142,000, and only 9,869 people voted in Dayton’s May 7th election. The adult population of Dayton is about 109,596 people, so only 9% of adult Daytonians cared enough to vote.

I wasn’t part of that 9%.

Shocking, I know, and this is the first time in quite a while that I haven’t voted. It’s very simple to vote. My polling place is directly across the street from where I live. But I found none of the candidates running to be compelling enough to vote for and didn’t think it really mattered who won.

However, I did vote in a way that’s almost as important as casting a ballot, by making a campaign contribution. I gave Nan Whaley $50, a drop in the big bucket of $106,502.06 Nan collected so far this year and $32,928.20 Nan collected in 2012.

Plenty of people think that the amount of money involved in politics is obscene, and I won’t argue with them. That people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in a runoff election where fewer than 10,000 people vote is insane.

Or is it?

The candidates who pledged to spend less than $10,000 this year (incumbent mayor Gary Leitzell, perennial candidate David Esrati and community volunteer David Greer) and the candidate who couldn’t even raise $1,000 (Joe Lutz) all lost.

Leitzell and Lutz lost absolutely—they will not be on the ballot this November. (Leitzell is the first sitting mayor of Dayton in 50 years to lose before the general election.)

Greer and Esrati technically won the right to be on the November ballot, but I’ll go out on a limb here and predict that neither will win in the fall. Williams and Mims each got more votes than Whaley; Greer and Esrati each got fewer votes than Leitzell. I see absolutely nothing to make me believe that Greer and Esrati are going to do significantly better in the general election.

So the winning candidates know something about elections that the losing candidates do not—given the status quo, money matters in winning elections. Wish that it didn’t at your peril. Even President Obama, given the choice between taking the high road by refusing SuperPAC money or winning re-election, was realistic about money.

 

So why’d I give money to Nan Whaley?

A small reason was that I wanted to see the inside of Michael Ervin’s $1.6 million Oregon District house (formerly the Southern Belle bar). Clever idea to hold a fundraiser there. Good relationship building to gain Dayton mover and shaker Michael Ervin’s endorsement.

A much bigger reason was that I very much appreciate Nan’s support for amending Dayton’s non-discrimination ordinances to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. Former Dayton mayor Rhine McLin lost her seat in part for her support of this change. I’ve said before that I’m a single issue voter, and I mean it: be supportive about gay rights and gain my loyalty—be stupid about gay rights and I won’t vote for you.

Certainly there are valid reasons for people not to vote for Nan. If the amount of money in politics offends your principles, I can’t fault you. Nan’s push polling was distasteful. And I can understand why some people say she’s been on the commission long enough and that it’s time for a change.

The other choices, however, weren’t ones I could make.

A.J. Wagner, although having expressed support privately to me on gay issues, has not taken a clear public stand on his website and has shown a less than clear understanding of things such as Dayton’s domestic partnership registry.

And Gary Leitzell is someone for whom I simply would not vote, for reasons about which I’ve already written. Add to those reasons one more—at a recent event Mayor Leitzell came up to me, our conversation turned (as it is wont to do when I’m involved) to gay issues, and the mayor told me that gay people could manage without marriage, by, for example, getting health insurance through their employers based on domestic partnership. That’s just not true. My employer, a small non-profit, would like very much to offer coverage to same sex partners of employees, but we’ve simply not been able to find an insurance company that will provide such coverage to us. When Mayor Leitzell did not believe me, I pulled over our company president and CEO to explain how he’s tried, to no avail, to find same sex partner coverage.

I do have plenty of friends, gay and gay supportive, who did support the mayor’s re-election, and I don’t blame them for that. I’m a single-issue voter, but many people are not. Reasonable people can disagree. Unfortunately for my friends who supported Leitzell, they were vastly outnumbered, unable to convince 91% of Dayton voters to vote at all and unable to convince 76.3% of those who did vote to vote for Leitzell.

About David Esrati

One friend who supported the mayor’s re-election, however, is not really of the mindset that reasonable people can disagree. That friend is David Esrati. What made me realize David’s mindset, and also made me decide I couldn’t vote for him this time, was a Facebook post in which he told his friends that if any of us had Nan Whaley signs in our yards, we should go ahead and defriend him.

I didn’t have a Whaley sign (I don’t have a yard), but I wondered what David would think if he knew I gave Nan money. Would he defriend me? Not that it would really matter—I’ve been defriended before.

Back in 2010 when David was running for Congress, I wrote “An endorsement, of sorts, of David Esrati for Congress,” in which I said, “David Esrati may be crazy, he may be annoying, [and] he may be unelectable.”

How Esrati conducted himself during this campaign confirms that all these things are still true. He’s still unelectable—his coming in fourth out of five in this week’s election shows that. He’s still annoying—for example, see his blog post “Disrespectful, stupid (and my mother dresses me funny).” And he’s still crazy—that old saying about doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results certainly applies here.

However, something else I said in that 2010 endorsement of sorts is also still true—“Esrati makes his opponents more accountable” and “he offers something” to Daytonians. The Dayton Daily News report on this week’s election says that “Leitzell claimed he’d be more powerful as a private citizen than as mayor.” I think something similar is true about Esrati as well.

To explain that, let me mention two emails David sent me last month.

One was to ask me if I was going to update my 2010 endorsement of him. I delayed answering that one because I didn’t want to write something negative before the election, although I was already starting to think about writing something (which has become this post you’re now reading).

The other email was to let me know that the DDN was compiling a list of the Top 50 Thinkers in the Miami Valley and asking if I would recommend him for that. I did not hesitate to write that recommendation. I pointed out that many Dayton Daily News articles originate from posts on Esrati.com—that’s so true that David’s April Fools post this year, “Esrati.com to shut down, Esrati to work for Dayton Daily News,” actually fooled some people.

In my email to Ron Rollins, I also wrote:

Whether or not people like David Esrati or his ideas, there’s no denying that David Esrati is worth paying attention to, that he puts out ideas for moving our community forward, that he encourages participation in thinking about those ideas, and that therefore he is a Top Thinker in the Miami Valley.

Although David Esrati’s not clever about getting elected, as election after election shows, he is rather clever about using running for office as a way to get people to hear and discuss what he says. If you, like so many people, decline to vote for Esrati, I understand—you might not want to throw away a vote. But if you’re one of Esrati’s few vocal supporters, I can respect that as well. Given the overall apathy in Dayton, a political blogger and community activist who cares about Dayton is someone to value (even if he is annoying, crazy and unelectable).

 
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