Nan Whaley, the mayor of the city of Dayton talks about her time in office, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The results of the 2020 election meant a lot of things to different people. For Mayor of Dayton Nan Whaley, it meant relief.
Relief to see President Donald Trump lose, and relief to see the first Black, Asian-American female win.
“Anytime we see women break these barriers, it gives us hope that that matters less and less.”
Whaley has experienced breaking barriers herself during her career in politics. In 2005, she ran for Dayton City Commission and won as the youngest woman ever to serve at 29 years old. Later, in 2017 during her re-election campaign for mayor, Whaley ran unopposed, making her the first candidate to ever run unopposed in the history of Dayton.
While Whaley continues to be a tremendous leader today, politics weren’t always on her mind. She originally chose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the University of Dayton with hopes of becoming a pharmacist. Whaley was attracted to UD for the opportunity to pursue diverse interests outside of her academic track. One of those interests quickly became campaigning after her and a group of friends decided to revamp the College Democrats chapter at UD.
While working with College Democrats, Whaley was introduced to Ohio politics, and found a way to pursue her passion for people in a new way.
“I’m still surprised with what I’m doing,” Whaley said. “But I didn’t really like chemistry. I really like people and working with people and building relationships. I’m a pretty big extrovert.”
Working with the College Democrats led Whaley to work at the Deomcratic Party Headquarters in downtown Dayton after college graduation. There, she fell in love with both the energy for campaigns and the city of Dayton.
“The people of Dayton were so inclusive and open and welcoming, I really took to it,” Whaley said.
After her work on the campaign trail, Whaley moved into the public office in 2005 and was elected on the Dayton City Commission. After serving two terms as a commissioner, Whaley decided to continue to break leadership barriers and run for Dayton mayor.
In 2013, Whaley was up against two other candidates for mayor, both who happened to be male. During the early polling, Whaley was trailing behind the other two, and it looked as if she would not move past the primaries.
“People tell me now that they would get together and be like ‘oh poor Nan, she’s the third,’” Whaley said.
By the time the primary vote came in, Whaley was in first place, with over 50 percent of the vote.
Whaley credited a major part of her 2013 win to her campaign team of volunteers, who she said knocked on over 50,0000 doors before the primary race to gain the lead.
“I think the best part of the mayor’s race in 2013 was creating a vision for the city, sharing that vision, and then people saying yes to it,” Whaley said. “That was a special race.”
Now in her second term, Whaley said that one of her favorite things about being mayor has been empowering other women to step into leadership roles themselves, such as the group of women she works with at Dayton City Hall. In anticipation of the inauguration of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the first woman vice president, Whaley said she is excited to see more and more women change the face of leadership.
“There are not a lot of women mayors, or women in politics in general,” Whaley said. “But if there is only one woman, then you only have one view of how a woman leader is. The more women leaders you have, then the more diverse ideas that give us for what leadership is.”
Support for female leaders cannot only come from females in politics, Whaley said, but also from male counterparts. She herself has felt support from her male peers, such as the four men serving on the Dayton City Commission, who have supported the mayor throughout her time in office.
“You’re not going to break through without allyship from the majority,” Whaley said.
Whaley’s current term in office will end in 2022, and she has already announced she will not be running for another reelection. While she is proud to call Dayton her home, Whaley is excited for what else is out there for her.
“I have been at city hall for over 15 years and it’s time for me to try something new,” Whaley said. “As for what’s next, I have not fully decided.”
While she finishes her time in office, Whaley will continue to run with the same vision that she campaigned with: a vision for Dayton’s future. The mayor said much of her favorite work in office has been building the city now to reap benefits in the future. One of these projects has been partnering with UD to create entrepreneurship opportunities at the Arcade in downtown Dayton.
“The stuff I’m most excited about for Dayton isn’t the stuff that will happen next year but the stuff that will happen in 10 years,” Whaley said.
Whaley mentioned that as a Dayton alum, she has remained Flyer Faithful, and has even developed a personal friendship with President Eric Spina today. Her and her younger brother, who married his college sweetheart from UD, continue to meet up with college friends every year over Martin Luther King weekend for a taco party, a tradition they started on campus. Whaley said that something special about being a Flyer alum is the relationships that last even after graduation.
“I think that’s what’s so great about Dayton,” Whaley said. “You don’t really realize it in your 20’s I think, but there is something about Dayton that keeps the ties for a really long time to your close-knit friends.”