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What would you do if you were mayor? 

click to enlarge (L to R): Neither Monifa Johnson, John McMasters, Kristen Russell, George Seaborough nor Dave Simons is running for mayor, which is a real bummer ‘cause each of them has some excellent solutions for what ails Savannah. - EMILY EARL
  • Emily Earl
  • (L to R): Neither Monifa Johnson, John McMasters, Kristen Russell, George Seaborough nor Dave Simons is running for mayor, which is a real bummer ‘cause each of them has some excellent solutions for what ails Savannah.

I’m JUST going to straight up admit it: I would make a terrible mayor.

First off, I would be so overwhelmed dealing with whatever apocalyptic event killed off the other candidates to get me elected that I’d probably spend most of my time under my desk whimpering.

Once the taste of power settled in, however, I’d be corrupted by my own interests, absolutely. I’d demand that quinoa be served at council meetings and make organic gardening mandatory for all citizens. I would levy a huge tax on tacky souvenirs and approve every public art project on principle, no matter how hideous.

Bullets, Styrofoam clamshell containers and denim short shorts would be banned.

If I were mayor, this city would be run like a cross between a benevolent dictatorship and a Montessori kindergarten, where all conflicts are settled by passing the Peace Rose, followed by cookies and a nap.

I understand that very few would abide this platform, so it’s probably a relief that unless there’s a resurgence in the bubonic plague or a mass alien abduction, I will never have the opportunity to make inappropriate gestures with the wooden gavel under the Gold Dome.

But I am an excellent voter, and I mean that in a totally braggadocious way. I’m very good at abdicating the logistics of making Savannah a better place to bigger brains, a few of whom dropped some knowledge last week at “If I Were Mayor: 5 Visions for the Future of Savannah.”

Part of Emergent Savannah’s populist and popular Monday Means Community series, the panel included Housing Authority of Savannah’s Monifa Johnson, former county commissioner John McMasters, Sentient Bean owner and Forsyth Farmers Market co-founder Kristen Russell, community activist George Seaborough and political consultant Dave Simons.

Not a one of them will appear on the ballot in November, which is a real shame, because these not-candidates yielded some truly excellent grist on fixing what ails Savannah. Not just suggestions, but actual solutions:

At-risk youth would immediately benefit from Johnson’s proposed mandatory intern program for all city contracts and free wi-fi for city-funded community centers (how is this not already a thing?)

McMasters tackled Savannah’s persistent 26 percent poverty rate, an inexcusable embarrassment for a city that’s gotten stinkin’ rich off an annual $2.2 billion tourist dollars (not to mention the fourth largest port in the country).

Many of our sacrosanct hospitality industry’s waitstaff, housekeepers and other service workers make un-livable minimum wages of less than $8/hr, a driving factor in our ugliest statistic.

Actual gasps could be heard when McMasters unleashed this gem: “If those 12,000 employees made just two more dollars an hour, the poverty rate would drop to 19 percent overnight.”

Our crime problem is rooted in those poverty numbers, and Seaborough called for an audit of city-funded advocacy organizations that haven’t made a dent in the data in 15 years. He also impressed with a plan to partner with local college criminal justice programs to develop future police officers. That pesky officer recruitment problem? There ya go—solved.

Though Russell defined herself as “not a visionary, but more of a workhorse,” her call to revive the Unified Zoning Ordinance, implement the Complete Streets policy for real and clean out City Hall of its obstructionist administrators smacks of brilliance. (Current city manager Stephanie Cutter might heed Russell’s assessment of the professional skills of much of the city staff, or as Johnson asked rhetorically in her opening statement, are we getting a return on our taxpayer investment?)

Even Simons, the panel’s lone conservative voice, proffered an interesting proposition for a stadium near I-95 that would garner regional dollars, though his advocacy for a new convention center and hotel on Hutchinson Island was mystifying because don’t we already have one?

Four out of five of these mythical mayors readily acknowledged the commandeering of local city government by corporate industry, which appears to bring prosperity but has consequences that reach beyond the political: McMasters called it a “slow spiritual death,” in which “selfishness and complacency” have eroded any kind of long term vision for Savannah, let alone one that puts the well-being of its citizens first.

McMasters questioned the job creation numbers projected by the Chamber of Commerce and SEDA, describing those entities as a “good old boys’ club [that exists] to circulate contracts in a very tight circle.”

A Chamber board member, Simons clearly felt picked on and defended Savannah’s big business community as “strongly committed to economic growth.”

I don’t doubt that’s true, and if you’re looking at it from the viewpoint of a CFO’s bottom line, Simons rally for more downtown hotels is perfectly valid.

But his rhetoric reflects the same confounding logic that continues to keep wages low and life insufferable for thousands of Savannahians. Economic growth that depends on underpaying its primary work force isn’t success; it’s exploitation.

That’s the way of the world. It sure is in Georgia, where legislating a municipal living wage isn’t an option. Johnson sagely indicated that when dealing with companies that want to do business in Savannah, the only recourse is for city leaders to negotiate contracts in the interest of its citizens.

“Don’t hate the player, hate the game,” she admonished.

Of course, the rotten irony of it all is that neither the real mayor nor the alderfolk have as much power as the city manager around here, a point in the charter that a truly strong leader will have the cojones to revisit next term.

Being mayor sure seems like a wicked hard job, but someone has to do it. A few actually want to. Three of the four actual candidates were in the room for this hypothetical mayoral debate, including Eddie DeLoach, Louis Wilson and current Madame Mayor Edna Jackson (Murray Silver Jr. rounds out the ballot.)

We’ll find out if they were listening at the various candidate forums happening around town in the next few weeks.

Who among them is promising not only to create jobs, but raise the wages on the ones we already have? Who is approaching crime as a symptom instead of a scourge? Whose strategy for economic growth extends beyond the cobblestones and embraces the streets that no one sees?

I don’t envy them a bit. Fortunately for those of us who value our afternoon naps, we don’t have to be mayor to affect Savannah. We don’t even have to think like one. We just have to vote for someone who does.

Which reminds me: The deadline to register to vote is October 5. Forms are available at Emergent Savannah events and chathamcounty.org. I also keep extras in my purse and will force you to fill one out if necessary, because I’m benevolently tyrannical like that.

I might even give you a ride on voting day, though you will be required to hold the Peace Rose in the backseat. cs

Mayoral Forum hosted by Savannah Jaycees When: 6pm, Monday, Sept. 28 Where: Coastal Georgia Center, 305 Fahm St.

Mayoral Debate @ Armstrong State University

When: 6pm, Thursday, Oct. 8

Where: Armstrong Center, 13040 Abercorn St.

Emergent Savannah Local Candidates' Forum

When: 5:30pm, Oct. 20

Where: Creative Coast, 415 W. Boundary

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About The Author

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Bio:
Community Editor Jessica Leigh Lebos has been writing about interesting people, vexing issues and anything involving free food for more than 20 years. She introduces herself at cocktail parties as southern by marriage.

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Connect Today 12.03.2016

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