MACON, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – Five candidates are qualified for the upcoming Macon-Bibb mayoral election.
Lester Miller, Larry Schlesinger, Blake Sullivan, Cliffard Whitby and Marc Whitfield are competing to fill the seat held by Robert Reichert since 2007.
Reichert, who was inaugurated in 2007 as the mayor of the City of Macon, won a runoff election against C. Jack Ellis in October 2013 to become the first mayor of what is now consolidated Macon-Bibb County. His term ends in December.
41NBC’s Tucker Sargent spoke with each candidate ahead of the June 9 election.
Candidate name: Marc Whitfield
Running for: Macon-Bibb mayor
Occupation: Retired banker
Campaign Website: whitfieldtorebuildmacon.com
Campaign Facebook: @whitfieldtorebuildmaconga2020
Campaign Twitter: @marcformayor
TUCKER: Marc Whitfield, candidate for Macon-Bibb mayor, joining us now. Marc, thank you for coming on.
MARC: Thank you for inviting me.
TUCKER: I want to start with your priorities for Macon-Bibb.
MARC: My priorities for Macon-Bibb is to get us economically stable—especially small businesses. Do something about this pandemic with respect to handling the unemployment. Generating revenue for the city. Of course addressing crime, blight. And bringing jobs and creating jobs for Macon-Bibb.
TUCKER: Crime is a big concern for many residents and candidates. How do you plan to support the sheriff’s office and make sure crime is fought the right way?
MARC: Well, first of all, they’re understaffed and overworked.. and underpaid, so a priority is to get them better pay. That’s number one. Two: to get them some help, so hiring another 100, 150 law enforcement is a priority. Second, to give them the programs to work with. I prefer the community policing philosophy. That gives you the PALs program (Police Athletic League)—bring that back in a very strong way. I know that now that it’s the sheriff’s department, it’s not exactly PALs, but it’s the same type of philosophy. We want to have a program for the youth where our law enforcement and youth are engaged together, there’s mentoring, there’s counseling for youth, and of course there are the activities for youth with respect to sports or arts, music—anything that they have an interest in. I want to give them the opportunity to participate that way. So I think once we get a handle on youth activities and youth productivity, it’ll certainly help crime.
TUCKER: You mentioned several proactive approaches there. You also mentioned hiring more officers. I know that costs money, and so do county pay raises. Several employees are asking for pay raises, so where does the money come from to be able to make those changes?
MARC: It only comes from generating revenue. Let’s just look at what we’re facing in this country. It’s a pandemic, so the federal government has printed money—trillions of dollars thus far. That won’t continue, so we’re going to have to find creative ways ourselves. It’s going to be left to municipalities to generate revenue for their cities. So you have to have strategies to create revenue. I think we do that through tourism. I have a sports model in mind for us to become a hosting hub for all sports activities. I think that will help generate revenue for the city and for the county, help stabilize small business and create business as well, and when you create business through vibrancy and activity, then you start to attract hotels and other possible employment opportunities by bringing employers here.
TUCKER: So we’ve covered several things that the county needs to work to improve on. What are some positive Macon-Bibb has going for it? Some selling points?
MARC: First of all, it’s a fantastic, fantastic city and county. Rich in culture. Rich in talent, whether it’s music, athletics, but the county itself has so many resources. We have the Ocmulgee River, which is, to me, is not being utilized. That’s a great asset that Macon has. Of course, we have the airport. We have the interstate: 75,16. We have highways. We have Norfolk Southern, so we have rail. We have a great workforce, I think. It may be unskilled at this point, as far as technology, but we have workforce development that’s going to enhance that. But the resources that we have here are tremendous. And now we have Amazon, which I think can be a great partner in bringing manufacturers here, because that’s a resource for potential employers. So we are in great position. We have water. We have a neighbor with natural gas. So we have a lot to offer. And of course, we have a great university in Mercer University. We have a great HBCU in Fort Valley State that’s just 30 miles down the road, and we have a great technical college. So we have a lot to offer. And the last—Amerson Park: fantastic park. So Macon is just so rich in what we have to offer and how we can market our city. And of course, again, going back to the talent. We have a lot of musical talent covering different genres, and we’re just—it’s just a gem. And now someone’s going to have to be in leadership to make that happen and to maximize the talents and the resources that we have.
TUCKER: Last question for you. Downtown has seen incredible growth over the last decade or so. How important is that growth for the county and what about the people who may feel left out—like they’re being neglected—because they’re not getting the focus downtown has gotten? What do you say to those people?
MARC: It’s very difficult. Downtown is extremely important to marketing Macon-Bibb, so we have to put money into downtown and invest in downtown. However, east Macon has been neglected, grossly. South Bibb: grossly neglected. So, by generating revenue through the city, through the tourism, through the sports model I have—creating events, creating jobs ourselves through a municipality owning our own businesses, I think that’s something that’s unique. It’s not done often, but it’s something that—considering the pandemic—and considering that we have to come up with creative and imaginary ways to create jobs, that’s just something that we have to utilize to generate revenue. Once we generate the revenue, then we can invest in east Macon. We can invest in south Bibb. And when you start stabilizing your citizens, giving them good paying jobs, now they become homeowners, and this blight will begin to disappear. Now we have tax relief for those who are paying an exorbitant amount of taxes. We’re losing people because of the tax, and I can’t say that I blame them. When you pay taxes, that’s an investment, and you want to see return on your investment. And over the past 20 years, our taxpayers haven’t seen that. So what do you do when you have a poor investment return? You leave. You try another investment, and that’s what’s been happening. So by generating the revenue, stabilizing small business, making people a part of the process, part of the success by making them homeowners, they become taxpayers. And now you have that shared tax burden. And of course, generating the revenue through all these other sources would help the taxes as well. So it’s a layered approach. It’s a strategic approach. It’s not something that’s going to be done overnight, but I have the mission in mind, which is to generate revenue, to stabilize Macon-Bibb, to generate jobs whether we create them ourselves or–once we get the school system to perform better—and we need to assist Macon-Bibb Board of Education with that—we’ll begin to see the employment opportunities. Because, if you think about it, an employer doesn’t want to bring employees here where the employees have to $2,000 a child, per month to get a private education because the school system’s not performing. So that’s just something you have to do as a mayor is assist your school system, and whether it’s through youth activity, whether it’s through the mentoring for the youth, just have different approaches to help youth become more stable. Give them joy. Give them a sense of achievement, self-worth. That’s going to translate over into the school system. And of course we’re going to insist that our youth participate in our programs. We’re going to focus on having respect for your elders, respect for your teachers and respect for law enforcement. And once they begin to value something and think that, ‘Hey, I enjoy what I’m doing, I have a sense of achievement, I’m beginning to know who I am,’ that’s going to make them more productive and then you’re going to see youth crime decrease. You’re going to see gang activity decrease. And we’re going to see a happier city, a more vibrant city. And once the employers see that we have a good school system, we have a community that’s a unified community, and we have a workforce development that’s going to make sure there’s a trained workforce, we’ll begin to attract employers at that time. But right now, it’d be very difficult to bring employers here, and we’re going to have to fight for federal dollars as well. So that’s another issue with municipalities across the country: that we’re fighting for federal dollars, so as long as we have all the resources that we discussed a few moments ago, mark them appropriately and properly, we’re going to get federal dollars. But we have to have the leadership in place. The mayor has to have integrity and a proven track record of putting good federal dollars to work and getting results, and I have that.
TUCKER: Marc Whitfield, candidate for Macon-Bibb Mayor. Marc, thanks for joining us.
MARC: Thank you for having me, Tucker.
Snippets from all candidates’ interviews will air on 41NBC News at 5:30 p.m. and 41NBC News at 7 p.m. on Bounce TV Macon. All interviews will also be posted in full on 41NBC.com on the following days: