Whaley to Run for City Council

Category:  News & Politics
Friday, February 27th, 2015 at 5:10 PM
Whaley to Run for City Council by Jim Wertz

If one of the old-timey numbers guys still ran a gambling book, there’d be a pretty solid line going on the 2015 City Council race.

There are three open seats for Erie City Council in the May 19 primary and the Nov. 3 general election. One of those seats is being vacated by Jessica Horan Kunco, who can’t run because of term limits, and the other two are held by incumbent Councilmen Bob Merski, Jr. and Mel Witherspoon, both of whom have announced their re-election bids.

The easy money would be on Merski and Witherspoon to retain their seats, leaving the rest of the candidates to compete for the seat currently held by Kunco. But the hard line says that may be too easy. As newcomers continue to enter the field of candidates, the likelihood of both Merski and Witherspoon retaining their respective seats becomes less likely, thereby opening the door for some potentially interesting changes in Council chambers.

Three challengers – fmr. candidate for County Council Rebecca Styn, Mothers Against Teen Violence founder Sonya Arrington, and EMTA board member Gary Grack – have publicly announced their candidacies. Now there’s a fourth contender who has yet to publicly announce his candidacy, but who may have enough local social capital to siphon votes from the incumbents to open the door for two new members of Erie City Council.

Jon Whaley, a local entrepreneur and former top aide to Mayor Joe Sinnott, will run for Erie City Council in 2015. Whaley worked in the Sinnott administration from 2006 to 2007, but left City Hall over what he calls philosophical differences with the Mayor.

Whaley made public overtures months ago in the most 21st Century way possible: He changed his Twitter profile to read, “Erie resident, father, hot sauce guru, satirist, sesquipedalian, future city council member, then Erie Mayor.”  

He made an eleventh-hour run for mayor as a write-in candidate in 2013 when Sinnott ran, otherwise, uncontested for his third term as Erie mayor. Whaley says that pseudo-manic write-in campaign was “a shot across the bow” to signal his ongoing discontent with operations at City Hall. Now he’s regrouped and says he’ll take a more traditional approach to this municipal election.

“I’ve got until March to get 100 signatures. Then I’m going door to door, just like I did when I ran for mayor,” Whaley says.

Whaley and Styn are the resident Republicans turned Democrats.

Registered Democrats have a 2 to 1 advantage in City elections, which Whaley points to as a factor in changing his party affiliation.

Whaley was a registered Republican when he served in the Mayor’s office. And when you talk to him about his critique of city government, he sounds one part fiscal conservative, one part Clinton Democrat. But he insists he’s not going to be pigeonholed into some ideological category.

“I voted for the first Bush and I voted for Bill Clinton,” says Whaley. “But locally, none of that matters. What matters is that people are getting murdered in the street, potholes are eight inches deep, and taxes are going up. When is someone going to take a red pen to the budget, put money in the right places, and stop the bleeding.”

Whether or not Whaley’s rhetoric, which is intense, is enough to garner the support of local voters remains to be seen. But his voice is loud and his ideas are bold and that may resonate with people who question the management and leadership style in City Hall from the first floor to the fifth floor. If nothing else a Whaley candidacy – if given the proper attention by the candidate – will likely change the nature of debate in this year’s election.

You can bet on that.             

 Jim Wertz can be reached at jWertz@ErieReader.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @jim_wertz.

Updated March 9, 2015: The original post characterized Rebecca Styn's change in party affiliation as a correlation to her run for City Council. In fact, she switched parties in May 2013 to vote as a Democrat in that year's primary election after volunteering for Sean Wiley's State Senate campaign in 2012 and Kathy Dahlkemper's successful bid for Erie County Executive in 2013. 

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