Challenge 2015: Zena McClain, District 6 

SAVANNAH voters might recognize Zena McClain’s name from her runs for Chatham County District Attorney. Her local law practice concentrates on criminal law, employment law and civil litigation. The Washington, D.C., native is a graduate of Howard University.

She is running for Alderman in the Southside’s 6th District, against longtime incumbent Tony Thomas.

You ran for DA a few years back and have obviously an extensive legal background. Does that background prompt you to see the crime issue a bit differently?

A lot of candidates, including the incumbents are taking a piece from the platform I was trying to advance eight years ago, which is to be smart about the crime issue.

It’s interesting that the current administration is taking up a lot of proposals of mine and now suggesting them. Things like Project Ceasefire which they have since renamed.

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What does it really mean to be smart about crime?

Being smart about crime is twofold: First we must focus on the most serious violent offenders. Then we have to deal with the root causes of the problem.

Now, those are two things lacking with the current administration. It’s nice to know they’re saying they will focus in on that now since they have challenges in this race. And that’s good, but it’s a little too late.

The citizens are ready for a change. I don’t believe the Council has been focused. They’ve not operated with a strategic plan or clear vision for city. And they have waited too long. It has had serious affects on safety and security.

One fairly new development this election season is the enormous discontent across socioeconomic and racial lines.

I’ve been talking about that issue for years. You see it nationwide. Things have not gotten better for a lot of individuals in this city. There’s still a great divide. For the last eight years our city has been greatly divided.

The citizens have watched our current administration, their behavior while conducting the business of the city. That is not a good reflection on savannah.

Citizens are ready for a change and they deserve that. They deserve a council that will be proactive and effective.

Where do you stand on the living wage issue? It’s complicated because state law prohibits a city from setting its own living wage higher than state minimum wage.

We need another approach. It’s easy for the current administration to claim those are jobs we are providing. But they failed to take on tough issues that are going to require more work.

We’ve got to be consistent. Bringing better jobs to the city—industries, corporations— is going to take some serious planning and aggressive lobbying. Both those things have been lacking.

Companies do study local issues and the types of leaders that represent a city.

Wasteful spending seems to be a big issue this election. The fairgrounds purchase, for example, really seemed to be the last straw for many.

People are looking at a number of things the City spent taxpayer funds on. I don’t believe the current administration has operated with strategic focus.

There’s no vision. We’ve spent millions of dollars on projects in my opinion makes no sense.

Yes they’re talking about developing mixed use neighborhood, and generally I think that’s a good idea for a distressed community, to provide decent living facilities where people can afford to live, and put different people with varying incomes.

At the same time that can result in an expensive venture for the citizens. You have to really sit down and plan and consider how this spending will affect our budget and what value it brings and whether or not citizens want it. The citizens who live in that district should have had more input as to the purchase itself.

I think it’s a good thing that the current admin is focusing more closely on issues they could have addressed within the last four years. The City has plenty of money. The issue is how they prioritize spending.

When Council wanted a raise, it didn’t take them any time at all to vote themselves a raise.

The 6th District is rapidly changing, demographically and economically. Why do you think you’re better equipped to deal with those changes?

Crime in the 6th District has exploded. The citizens do not feel safe. When Tony Thomas was first elected in 1999 the major issue he ran on was flooding. He beat out a longtime incumbent. He’s fairly entrenched. However there are a lot of new people in the district, and this is the first time he’s had a considerable amount of opposition. That is a reflection of displeasure in citizenry in the district.

We’ve watched course of his behavior during his term. We’ve not been pleased. The citizens are educated and the decision is ultimately theirs.

What would you focus on in the district?

Crime is very important, and education. The public education system here is less than desirable. Specifically with reference to my district, my vision for my district is for us to have the safest neighborhoods and the best public schools. I think with that you will see a drastic reduction in the crime rate and the area will attract people like-minded people who want to live in a safe environment.

What you have now in the Sixth District are people leaving. Putting up for sale signs and leaving. That has increased over last four years. They can’t move those homes. Especially in the Coffee Bluff area, you have many homes in the$300-400K range that aren’t selling, and people are concerned. Personally I’m not going to invest in a property where I don’t feel safe.

It wasn’t a wise expenditure of taxpayer funds. The amount of money we’ve spent and wasted with the Coffee Bluff fiasco, as I call it, is money the City will also continually have to pay for upkeep. It’s another reflection of the City’s prioritization of projects and how they spend taxpayer money.

Cost overruns have been a continuous problem with the City. Those are the things which actually bleed. And consultants! All this money on consultants. That contributed to almost $6 million. EMC engineering former city council member was voting on it and he worked for them.

I want to strengthen the City’s code of ethics policy, and make sure that policy is strong enough to cover the behavior of council members as well as individuals doing business with the City.


About The Author

Jim Morekis

Jim Morekis

A native Savannahian, Jim has been editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah for ten years. The University of Georgia graduate is also a travel writer, authoring regional guides in the Moon handbook series... more

More by Jim Morekis


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