2020 Mayoral Candidate Interview: Marc Whitfield

WMUB TV

Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism, along with 13WMAZ, The Telegraph and GPB all hosted each candidate running for Mayor of Macon Bibb County. Each were asked the same questions.

1:44
The first question was an issue that was number one for a lot of people. How would you address violent crime?

TRT 1:58-5:07
Well, it starts with addressing poverty and when Mayor Ellis was elected first in 1999, he had my father and I be on a committee and he said, ‘hey, let’s try to do something to address, you know, poverty and crime’. And I said, ‘well, let’s, let’s see what we can do’. And so my dad and I, we got together and we said, you know, it’s going to be jobs, and it’s going to be youth development. So I wrote the initial Workforce Development Program for Macon at that time, on that committee, and my dad wrote the initial police activity, the Pals Program. And what we did there is we had something for unskilled workers, we tried to get them skilled, and we had federal dollars for that. And we also had something new under the Workforce Investment Act 1998, that it had something for youth in there as well which it didn’t have before. So, I took advantage of that and I created the youth workforce council as well under that, and that provided dollars for training and youth with soft job skills, helping with mentoring and so forth. And from that, we say with providing something for the parents to try to get skilled and get decent paying jobs, and having something for the children to give them something structure and have mentoring as well. That seemed to work and unless you are addressing poverty, with that, you’re going to have children who are going hungry. I have no other way of trying to get money for food other than property damage claim. So you have all this property crime. When they get older, they begin to have children, so you have a lot of 16, 17, 18 year old males. And they have no other way to take care of the young or they have six parents or young siblings at home, and they feel like they have to provide. So they now join a gang because the gang is his family. So there’s safety in numbers, and now those individuals go out and try to get money any way they can. And until you address the poverty, the hopelessness and the despair of that group of people and bring in or create jobs, for them to have a decent wage, a living wage. We’re going to have a repetitive issue with crime, you know is not going to go away because people people have lack. As long as they have lack, you’re going to have crime.

5:08
Another issue that came up was blight. What would you do to tackle that problem?

TRT 5:15-9:09
That’s again, going back to the abandonment of a lot of the homes here. And either it’s won through investments and learning, you know, as a banker and also being in investment I had the opportunity to meet a lot of people who come through my doors, all walks of life, a couple millionaires, some people are working poor, some people public assistance, others are just your middle class, hard working family, and they all had their own, you know, issues that were very important to them. And one thing I’ve learned about taxpayers and the ones who are carrying the burden of the taxes is that they like to see a return on their investment. And if they don’t have return on investment, then the smart thing is to leave and go somewhere else where you would get a return on your investment. And that’s why we have so much flight with the taxpayers who carry the burden. So most of the time, they’re going to be your landowners, your landlords and if they are no longer interested in investing in the community, you’re going to have blight. Of course, homeownership is another thing. So if you have a lot of rental properties that are owned by individuals who are not living here, who are not invested in this community, they don’t care. It’s just a rental property to them. So it’s not a part of the community. And so, you know, it’s just a lack of incentive for them to do anything about it. So the answer to that, to me, is create jobs. And if you can’t convince companies to come in and bring jobs in, then it’s up to leadership to find that way to create jobs yourself. You know, and I think we have the resources here to be able to create jobs ourselves. And that’s one of the things I really want to do. I have some ideas to do that. And I will share them with you, with the right time. But I know that with the resources that we have here, and all of the surrounding resources we have, there’s no reason why we can’t create our own jobs and create revenue for ourselves in our community.

7:44
Did you? You were answering the question. I said, about blight, right. Okay, about housing.

7:54
Correct. So, let me expand all these things so I can answer your question more fully. In banking, one of the most difficult things, for most people coming out of poverty or trying to reach to the middle class is homeownership. So if we can get them a living wage, where they qualify to purchase a home, then we can find subsidies there to help them buy those homes that are considered blight, have them renovated to make them up to standard and those homeowners will go in and I think that will transform those neighborhoods. And it starts back to again, all the jobs there for these individuals to have that will qualify for a home mortgage, and for them to purchase these homes. Otherwise, you’re gonna have a lot of vacant homes, and that’s the blight and I don’t care what anyone says is not just going to go away. Either you’re going to tear them all down or you’re going to try to find a way to renovate them, put homeowners in there, people who are vested in that community, and then the blight will start to disappear.

9:11
Okay.

9:15
How would you prioritize spending to improve three issues: road conditions, safety, road safety and traffic concerns related to roads.

TRT 9:36-11:24
I’ve been so focused on the issues of poverty and lack, that infrastructure, I would have to examine the budget and take a closer look at, you know, seeing how the allocation expenses work with those things that just with the road construction is going on now. To answer that question intelligently, I would really have to have more information and review the budget more closely. So just, you know, on the surface, the road conditions, the interstates and the exchanges, those will be number one for me. Because the public safety with the…it hurts me to hear about the pedestrians are getting hit over and over again on grey highway. And something has to be done about that. Yeah, we have some potholes. We have some other infrastructure issues, but I’ll put life ahead of that, the budget will take care of those things, the county commissioners or they will, you know, assist the mayor in addressing those issues I’m more focused on the life of the residents. And what I can do to protect your lives and make the lives better. So that’s why I’ve had less of a focus on the budget issue of what are you gonna do about, you know, rows, allocation of funds and so forth. That has been something that has been secondary for me.

11:26
Understanding that local government does not have control over education. The school board does that. What can the county government to assist with improvements in the Bibb County school system?

TRT 11:45-15:59
Well, I do recognize that the mayor doesn’t have authority over the Board of Education. But I think is the mayor’s responsibility to look after each and every citizen and resident. To see to it that they have a better chance better opportunity at life and being successful. And education is one. So I would form a task force, that for every adverse action that’s taken against a teacher or student, that that task force will be reviewed. I mean, that task force will review that action and report back to me based on you know, their observation or their view of that action whether it was warranted or not. Sure, I’ll give an example. Let’s say that a young male is accused of making a terroristic threat to a teacher and that student is now expelled. Okay. Now that student is charged with a serious crime at an early age. And instead of it being handled as a counseling issue is handled as a criminal issue. I think that has to be addressed. When a teacher is chastised, admonished for veering away from the curriculum that she may or he may feel that is deficient in some ways, and their trying to add, you know, to the learning process, and they’re chastised for that or terminated actually, it is probably the most adverse action that’s going to be taken, then I think we should step in and say, ‘Okay, why did this happen? You know, what was being taught that was so out of out of line out of order that warranted a termination of a teacher.’ And I think we need to get answers to that because what I don’t understand is we have a superintendent that has given us this award of superintendent the year but I don’t see the progress or or the changes in the grades and the scores, that will say, wow, I can see why he got superintendent the year. I’m not saying anything against the superintendent, but I’m looking at the results, right now. I’m looking at the outcome of the scores, the literacy rate, the dropout rate, and I don’t see much of an improvement. So, as mayor, I know that education is one of the benchmarks of whether or not you’re going to have a successful workforce. And if we don’t have a hold on the education, we don’t have a working agreement with the Board of Education, expectations, that they are meeting just not with the public but from the mayor’s office, then, you know, it’s going to continue, and that’s why I think it has continued because I don’t think any previous administrations that really tried to hold the Board of Education responsible and accountable for the results. And we’re looking at 20-30 years of substandard academic performance. And now we’re looking at a workforce just unskilled who is going to work for us. That, you know, it is, no one wants to come here, because we don’t have skilled labor, because we have the high crime, we have the illiteracy rate, we have the violence. And what is the start? I think it starts with, you don’t have an opportunity fund the very beginning and a foundation to the very beginning of success that starts in the school system. And the mayor needs to take a part in that process.

16:00
Besides the sheriff’s department, is there a county department you think is understaffed or one you think is over staffed? And are there any changes that you would make?

TRT 16:19-17:50
No, not that I can see right now, is the sheriff’s department is the one that draws my attention. I mean, the others, of course, when you get into a lot of it is, as the mayor on it, or how you want your administration to run and operate, how you see things to be efficient, you may add, subtract, you may consolidate some jobs, you may add some jobs. So I’m looking at public safety, number one, and that’s the sheriff’s office. And we have to do something about the efficiency of the hiring process and the pay we have to increase pay. And right now we are short, I think at least 100 deputies and that’s that’s unacceptable. And even though I don’t want to see us being over policed, but I think we have to be properly maned, properly staffed and 100 seems to be the number that we need. And I think we need to work to getting that right now, as soon as possible. These other you know, I’ll call them how you see the efficiency of the government and how you see it operating. That’s more of a you have to get in there. Because you have to talk to people you have to see how things work from the inside, not just looking at a budget.

17:52
What would you do to improve race relations in Macon?

TRT 17:56-29:17
The first thing I did was enter this race, because what I saw was the city that I love, that I grew up in and go on to. I was blessed to have parents who believe strongly in education and provided that education for me those opportunities for me, and during that time growing up Catholic, you know, interacting St. Cleveland, St. Joseph and Mount de Sales. I got to see a different side of what many of African Americans see as far as youth growing up. So, I know that most people are not racist. You know, I noticed, they may be uncomfortable with with, you know, or may have some fears because they don’t know. But I think as long as you have divisiveness and you have is is on the right or the left and It’s only based on race. It’s not based on who’s the better candidate. That’s not going to promote harmony. And I saw, in my opinion, that it was this race for shaping that way. So I say, Well, listen, I’ve been in banking all these years. I know Macon, I know Macon probably a better than most people because I’ve been in politics before with respect to working on different campaigns in Warner Robins and Macon and I know doing the process of knocking on thousands of doors talking to thousands of people over the years, door to door and in my office, that people are people, I see the humanity of it. So I know that you have someone who doesn’t want to be on public assistance. So they’re working two jobs, high school diploma, maybe maybe GED but they they’re working McDonald’s one one job and Burger King the other job eight hours a day. And they come in and they say, ‘Okay, I don’t have enough for my family. And I have these, you know, NSF fees, what can you do for me?’ And I do what I can, you know, to relieve them of that little, you know, $40-$50, whatever it may be, that’s very important to that person. Over here on the other side, I may have somebody who works on the base and then making $70,000 a year, but their concern is, I want to send my child to college, to a good college, you know, and she, you know, got into Vanderbilt, but I don’t know how I’m going to afford it. So I see that concern. And then, I see the working poor and that person and and sometimes just the middle class, and they’re being taxed, you know, to the nth degree. And there’s like, I’m just working to pay bills, you know, and yes, I can send my daughter to private school, but I had to send the private school because I don’t have any faith in the public school to educate my child. So now I’d spend $1,000 per month per child to send them to a private school, when if the public school system was up to par, if I had faith in it, I could see my child there. So they faced with these additional costs, but they also their concerns, the stress. So we see that over here, the people that are public assistance, or just in ultimate poverty and despair. They look over this side and say, well, they don’t have any issues. You know, and they don’t care about us either. You know, they just look over your nose down at us. And I know that’s not true. Because I know most of them said if I had the money, I would love to donate to help, you know, especially when Christmas and Thanksgiving and those types of times of the year. Their hearts are, you know, they’re bleeding for these people. I mean they are. And they’re like, I wish I could do more. But I have all this responsibility myself this financial responsibility. And I think if everyone could understand and my grandfather told me something when I was young, he said, Every man is responsible, his own household.So don’t be upset when someone else won’t give you something from their household. You know, so just be prepared for that in life, that your household you’re responsible for. So when I see these families that have single mothers as head of the household, there’s not dual income. And I see that they’re raising children alone. And they’re in this utter despair, surrounded by crime and predators and they can do nothing about it. And they just come in and they just be in tears, at times hopeless. But I see you on other hand, a man comes in, he has a decent wage but again, going back to the example of sending one to college, he can’t afford it. So he’s in tears, because now he has to tell his daughter, oh, you can’t go to Duke or Vanderbilt or Harvard or whatever, because I just don’t have the money. So two people are hurting. But they’re both human beings. And I see these things every day for years. And I say, you know, we’re all the same. Some may have this despair over here, and some may be okay but still they have despair as well but we all have, you know, desires that we want for our children and for our future and for our posterity. Some have really no hope or thought to but they can see. And I think that’s the difference. And in order to have I think better race relations in Macon to get get a long way to the answer. There has to be communication. And the communication has to come from sincere people who will not…I’ve tried to be a part of these things in the past. And some of the problems you have is that someone is going to expect someone to say something negative. And if you don’t have proper moderation it’s going to get out of control real fast. So it’s going to take the clergy it’s going to take leaders, it’s going to take leadership to bring us together at the table. And more importantly, we’re gonna have to find a way to create jobs in this city. so that everyone can feel that they have dignity and they have something to bring to the table. Until that happens, it’s going to be difficult to have someone who’s down here in this despair, to even think that they can be at the table and look someone in the eye. You know, and I think that’s part of what I’ve seen is that getting this this other party who’s been downtrodden so much to to get them up here and say, okay, you are somebody you really are.

25:55
as opposed to race?

Unknown Speaker 25:57
No, well, actually, I’m talking about about Race, because these are mostly African Americans that we’re talking about that are in this despair I’m talking about. Now we do have poor whites…this doesn’t mean…I understand that too. But we’re talking about the despair. The ones who are suffering from the residuals of slavery and the curse of power. They just never recover. And that’s a part of Macon that many adults see, unless you’ve been there, you know, and I’ve had the opportunity to, you know, ride around with some individuals through nonprofits. And they say ‘Marc, let me show you the poverty of Macon’ and they will take me to the different you know, projects in the city. And I will see that you know, someone didn’t go to school that day because it was 20 degrees didn’t have a coat. One child didn’t have shoes, they’re waiting on someone to bring them some shoes so the child missed three days because no, no shoes. They hadn’t eaten in two days. They waiting for the check that come in, and I’m saying this is Macon, Georgia, you know that this kind of poverty exists. And we wonder why children come to school and act out. They don’t have proper nutrition. Some of them suffer from neglect, some are suffering from abuse, and they get to school and they act out. And again, that’s why I think the mayor has to be involved with the Board of Education, to make sure that the citizens, the parents, and the children that he’s supposed to serve and protect, are actually protected and represented as best as possible. So I, I just seen so much throughout the city of Macon, and that’s why I want to run because I know there’s a good part, you know, that is viewed long term is that they don’t care. And that’s not true. And then as a part over here, that’s viewed as they don’t care, they won’t put forth the effort, they really don’t care. And that’s not true. So it takes a leader to get both of those individuals to look at something in the middle and say, let’s let’s at least give each other an opportunity to say something to each other without cutting each other off and have a conversation that is fruitful, you know, and non accusatory. But the other part is, again, this economic disparity, we have to do something about that, you know, otherwise, we can do all the race relations talking and all would come to the table and hugging each other and doing Thanksgiving and Christmas and it won’t matter. Because the next day, these people still going back to the despair, you know, to that poverty. So, yes, a socio economic, absolutely. But most of it impacts African Americans at a m much higher rate. So I’m going to be Mayor for everyone. And that’s the reason I’m running as well, because I want to meet the needs of all of Macon. Because if you focus on one side or the other, it’s just not going to work.

29:19
I just, you know, you were kind of like the 11th hour surprised in this mayor’s race. And I was just kind of curious, like what to do going in. I mean, did you see a lack of something in the candidates that had already qualified or had already announced? Just curious?

TRT 29:36-34:08
Yes. And I want to be very careful not to be disrespectful to any of the other candidates. What I saw some of the priorities, I read their their bios and read some of the statements that were made for what their priorities would be. And I just did not see the compassion that was back to seeing the words that were written with respect to poverty, and to have ideas, real plans of how to create jobs. So we can’t just expect employers to come in and bring jobs to us. And this particular situation that we’re in now, with the crime, the violence, the unskilled workforce, the literacy rate. Those are things that are not going to attract your best employers. So we may get a Kumho or Amazon, they may bring in 400-500,000 jobs. But that’s a lottery. Because you only have 10,000 people applying for 1000 jobs. And you’re 9000 people going back home and you have 1000 people with decent jobs. But how does that really impact the economics of Macon-Bibb, I didn’t see a plan to bring about the harmony that we need. And that was a very good question about the race relations because in this race, I start seeing nothing as far as real plans. So I mean, what what is the real platform of you bringing Macon forward bringing these people out of despair, bringing all the people, meeting their needs? Because I think I said, the taxpayers. I can see why they’re fleeing, because there’s no return on investment. I mean, this, the city has so much history, is so rich in history. And there’s so much dignity that these children will have they only knew and that’s black and white, you know, and native. So, I think we need to do more to motivate the youth, motivate people, educate people on the history of Macon. I just saw that okay, either you vote for this person because we don’t want this person, that’s what I saw. And I said, ‘Well do they really have a candidate that they want?’ that they can say, ‘you know that’s the man I voted for in 2020 you know that’s the man I put in office for you’ I know that you know there are some , ‘he came late’ there may have been some questions of ‘why he entered’ but I decided that I wanted to bank on that can candidate for your future because I knew that that was the right man for the job. Forget about the loyalties. And you know, all the maybe the the donations that you made. You have to look in here. And I’m asking the voters you look in here and you decide, you know who was the best candidate. Don’t look at the skin color. Don’t look at any of those things, listen to what I’m saying, Listen to what other candidates are saying. And who do you believe? Who do you trust to bring this city out of the despair and the darkness it’s is in right now? Who do you think, has the compassion and desire to create jobs, to use the imagination of not just himself, but we have one of the most premier universities in the world, as far as I’m concerned, Mercer University. It is a fantastic education is a very unique education. And they create the minds and, you know, to shape the minds of these young people and they come out they’re brilliant, but they leave. And one of the things I would do as mayor’s that I discovered that some of the students would get work study in their financial aid, but there’s nowhere for them to work. So they just couldn’t collect on the financial aid, they just went away. So if elected Mayor, I would certainly invite Mercer to say, hey, we’ll take all those interns, you have as many as you can have. I mean, as you can send us, we’ll take them all and we’ll put them work. And we will give them experience in government affairs or grant writing whatever they want. Wherever the city can use them. Accounting, it doesn’t matter. We’ll give them those internships. And we will use that energy and that that wisdom that Mercer’s and putting in parting in to these young minds and we’d be happy, happy to take them and use that as not only labor but an opportunity to find future prospects for Macon and it’s all about using your resources using the imagination of people who want to be, I would say creative. And those who have these ideas of nothing’s impossible. Let’s just take the challenge and let’s get there. I don’t want to hear about why we can’t do it. Let’s just figure out how we can. talk too much. No, not anyway. In fact, I just got in so no one’s affiliated with my campaign at this point. Oh, yeah, I’m a lone ranger, my daughter, Brianna, that that’s that that’s my mainstay right now.