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Dayton’s “Rock and Roll” Mayor, Paul Leonard weighs in

I was curious. Since 3 out of 5 living Dayton mayors had backed A.J. Wagner [1], I wondered what Paul Leonard would say. So I wrote him an e-mail. He gave permission to publish- as long as I didn’t cut anything. It’s worth a read.

From: David Esrati <[email protected]> [2]
Sent: Tuesday, October 29, 2013 9:13 AM
To: Leonard, Paul R.
Subject: A question for a former Mayor of Dayton?

Hi Paul-
Just wondering since the four mayors who followed you have weighed in on the mayor’s race-
Whom would you back? A.J. or Nan?
And- would you be willing to state which publicly?
And- why one over the other?
I’m curious.Thanks
On 10/29/13 10:25 AM, Leonard, Paul R. wrote:


Interesting questions—these days I’m usually only asked that question in the locker room of my Kettering gym!!

I will try to answer you as best as I can.  I’ll begin by disclosing that Nan has talked to me; A.J. has not.  Her contact was nothing more than a courtesy call on a former Mayor—not a request for a formal endorsement.  Smart internal politics, but not much more than that.  As you know, I have not been involved in local Democratic politics for quite some time, so I have no inside knowledge about either candidate’s platform for Dayton’s future.  I know only what I read and see—like any other voter/area citizen.  Of course I am concerned about the city’s future.  This is my home—forever.

I’ve known A.J. for a long time.  I helped him get his first city job.  I don’t know Nan all that well although a couple of my students are working on her campaign and seem to be favorably impressed.

Here are a few of my thoughts:

1.  I don’t agree with A.J.’s claim that Dayton is a “dying” city.  I saw the city when it really was a dying city—in the 70’s when our industrial base began to crumble and the town went from a quarter of a million citizens to its current population. In my opinion, Dayton is a study in survival. Through generally good political, business, and citizen leadership, we are alive today and have begun to stabilize with a more diverse business/industrial base.  We will never be a quarter of a million people again.  But we can be a medium-sized city with a good quality of city life, gentle Midwestern schools and values, well-placed between two bustling metropolitan cities (Cincy and Columbus) for those who want and need more of those things that big city life has to offer.

What is “dying” is our neighborhood stock, safety, and cleanliness.  In the 1950’s, Dayton’s slogan on every trash can downtown was—“Dayton: America’s cleanest and safest city!” Not a bad goal for the 21st century Dayton.

In my opinion both candidates have failed to develop a vision and plan for drastic neighborhood revival and survival.  There have certainly been some isolated successes, but nothing substantial that could turn neighborhood deterioration around and once again make Dayton “America’s safest and cleanest city.” Nan seems to talk about a “roadmap for job creation.”  That’s important. But jobs is a word that comes too easy to politicians these days.  That’s everyone’s first answer.  In sum, I think A.J. has been a little too negative, and Nan has missed an opportunity to bring a new, young face to substantial neighborhood revitalization.

2.  The mayor’s job is the most important and significant “regional” elective office.  When people in Washington or Columbus look at a region like Montgomery County, the mayor of the central city IS THE MOST IMPORTANT elected leader.  He or she is the region’s soul and personality. The structure of the central city government is not the issue–leadership is the issue!  I have seen very little discussion from either candidate about leading the region into the future.  Both have pledged to be more out-front in terms of leading Dayton’s future.  But what does that mean?  Real change in how the greater Dayton community works together as ONE is needed.  The city can’t live without the suburbs and the suburbs need a viable central city  to be relevant.

My bottom line–if I were a Dayton voter I’m not sure who I would support.  Frankly, I think the city will be okay with either.  The question for Dayton voters is:  if okay is not the goal, who will be best?

I, as well as others, will always stand ready to provide advice, counsel, and historical perspective to whomever gets elected–no matter the politics of any elected official.  I want my hometown to get better and better with the election of each new mayor and each new commissioner. These would be my public comments.  More an endorsement of Dayton as opposed to an endorsement of any particular candidate.

One final note with respect to you:  I have watched you grow and mature politically over the years.  You got off to a “rocky start.”  I am pleased however, to see you remain involved.  Different voices are needed if we are going to re-invent our future as a thriving community in a very competitive new century.  I wish you all the best in whatever you choose to do.

Paul Leonard

From: David Esrati <[email protected]>
Date: Tue, 29 Oct 2013 11:05:10 -0400
To: Leonard, Paul R.
ReplyTo: <[email protected]>
Subject: Re: A question for a former Mayor of Dayton?

Hi Paul-
I really wasn’t expecting such a well thought out and lengthy response. Thank you.
Being 51 is a lot different than being 27 and the proud new owner of a $14,500 house in a neighborhood that appeared to be dying then.
It isn’t now. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made in South Park- and I think that a lot of the lessons learned here- would work elsewhere- cities are made up first of people- then of buildings. Take care of the people- and the buildings take care of themselves.
Unfortunately- I’ve had to listen to both candidates for mayor more than I’d like. I’m not in love with either- but, I’ve had to witness Nan’s parochial approach to leadership- I’ve nicknamed it the “Friends and Family Plan”- where if you’re her friend or a part of her family- you get favoritism. It’s still the modus operandi of the Montgomery County Democratic party. They are the only party that endorses in primaries- and the only one that asks “if we don’t endorse you, will you drop out”- not very “democratic” if you ask me.
I’ve told A.J. numerous times- to focus on the positive- and his vision. He’s as headstrong as Turner in that respect. It’s unfortunate that he doesn’t listen- but, who am I but the guy who has been losing elections for 20 years.
I too agree that politicians talking about influencing jobs is like politicians talking about the weather. That’s why I don’t do it.
The amount of money Nan has raised and spent makes me ill. To think what I could have done with the basketball courts with just a tenth of her money. As it stands- I’ve hung over 260 nets and put up three new rims. Not enough- but a good start.
I would love to publish your answer on www.esrati.com [3]
I think it’s insightful- but- I don’t think it was meant for publication. Let me know.
Ohio is long overdue for an overhaul of jurisdictions. The latest developments of income taxes being charged in Townships has me very concerned. I think we need to seriously look at consolidating jurisdictions by mandate- instead of waiting for all our chiefs to figure it out.

For the pride of “America’s cleanest and safest city” to return- we’re going to need some new voices with some new ideas- because frankly, we didn’t get to where we are because we were paying attention to what was happening around us.

I hope to be one of those new voices, but only time will tell.

Thanks again.

From Leonard, Paul. R. 11:59am

I agree with many of your sentiments.
Our political parties and money in politics have put a serious dent in our democracy as envisioned by forefathers like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
I no longer feel good about Washington—it’s broken and the likes of Truman, Kennedy, Eisenhower (statesmen and leaders) are gone. But there is hope—even if it’s one community at a time. That’s where America will be re-invented—even if the simple beginning is nothing more than replacing basketball nets on our public playgrounds! (Great idea, by the way!)
Don’t worry about losing elections–Lincoln lost a few before he got it right!
As a matter of fact, I learned more in my one loss than in all of my wins—about myself and what is important in life.
Anything I communicate via the social media is free to be published. One condition—i don’t wish to have parts published. It’s all or nothing.
Again, best wishes and always fight the good fight. Paul

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I see that Mr. Leonard still speaks/writes like a politician.

J Dziwulski

Why do they call Leonard the “rock and roll mayor”?
   He was mayor before my time here, so am not familiar with his rep.

Tonya Cross

Thank you for sharing Mr. Leonard’s answer to your question.  It was interesting & insightful.  I wish we had a little more of that in our city politics right now.
In my junior high years, in Huber Heights, our new principal had what he called “Career Day.”  It was more than a gym full of booths.  We could choose 2 or 3 professionals to visit with, learning about their jobs, and having the chance to ask questions.  Mayor Leonard came all three years that I was in the school.  I was always impressed with the fact that we were important enough to visit.  I have to admit that I still have a soft spot for him.
Thanks, again, for sharing!