Dovere: You think you’re going to have to fire police officers and firefighters in Dayton if you don’t get more federal money?
Whaley: Absolutely. Sixty percent of the budget is police and fire. Ohio is a municipal-income state. Seventy percent of the budget of Dayton comes from earnings tax, so if people aren’t working, you don’t have a budget. It immediately falls out, I think in July or August, after the unemployment runs out.
And all the other cities in Ohio are in the same boat. Anywhere from 15 to 25 percent is where the Ohio mayors are thinking the trouble will be. And when 60 percent of the budget is police and fire, you just can’t get to an 18 percent cut without doing something about police and fire. And we’ve already cut enormously during the Great Recession and before.
Dovere: If you’re looking already at a spike in homicides and overdoses, and you’re going to look forward to likely cuts to police and fire, what does that mean for the way a city functions?
Whaley: Well, I just don’t think it will function well. And it’s egregious, frankly. You’ll bail out airlines. You’ll bail out every other thing known to man, but not police or fire? Are you serious?
Dovere: And it’s not like everything is, like, calm otherwise. We’re seeing what is happening in Minneapolis with George Floyd, who was killed, and the violence that has erupted after that. One of the things that I have been struck by over the course of the three months of this lockdown is that the social fabric has held as much as it has. Does that worry you?
Whaley: If any mayor tells you they don’t worry about what’s happening in Minneapolis happening in their city, they’re really naive or they’re not telling you the truth.
I remember when Freddie Gray happened in Baltimore, Mayor [Michael] Coleman was the mayor of Columbus and he was friends with Mayor [Stephanie] Rawlings-Blake. And so I called and said, “Have you checked in on her? How is she doing?” “Oh yeah, it’s very tough, Nan.” And he just said: “Because by the grace of God, we all go.”
I mean, the social fabric, you do a lot of work on it in your community. But there are things you just don’t control. And you have to recognize that too.
Dovere: It’s been one year since tornadoes hit Dayton. There was a mass shooting in August. You’ve spent so much of the last year in a consoler role, helping people get through these tragedies. We have seen a real lack of that on the national level. What do you think, given your experience, needs to be said and needs to be done as people continue to feel the hit of this, whether through a death or job loss.
Whaley: I don’t see a lot of empathy in the national dialogue at all right now. And I recognize there’s not a lot of women besides the speaker there. I have learned and appreciate the value of vulnerability and leading through being vulnerable. And that means to show that you’re human, to show that this is hard on you too, but to be resolved—and honestly resolved—that you’re going to get through it.
I long for leadership that shows some empathy. And I long for leadership that, even if I don’t agree with it, I can respect. And that’s why I do appreciate Governor [Mike] DeWine. We do not agree. Even through the pandemic, I have disagreed with him. But I respect him. And I learned from the shooting that he does have empathy. And I long for that kind of leadership in the federal government. That’s, I think, that’s what I miss the most.