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Differences between Savannah’s Mayoral Candidates Begin to Emerge at Jaycees Debate

Category: 2018 Local and State Elections

PHOTO:  (L to R) Louis Wilson, Sr, Murray Silver, Eddie DeLoach and Edna Jackson prepare to start debate. Moderator Charles Bowen (R) was the Moderator.)                                CEN Photo

By Lou Phelps, Savannah Business Journal

September 28, 2015 - The Savannah Jaycees held what was the first substantive debate between the four Mayoral candidates in the upcoming Savannah municipal elections in November, held Monday night at the Coastal Georgia Center.

With an almost full house, Mayor Edna Jackson - seeking a 2nd term - Eddie DeLoach, Murray Silver and Louis Wilson, Sr. squared off on more than 20 questions posed by local media and members of the Jaycees, along with a few questions from the audience which had been submitted in advance.   

Charles Bowen of The Bowen Law Group moderated the event.

Below is a running synopsis of questions and responses to 17 of the top questions, and some direct quotes from candidates, in some cases paraphrasing their responses.

In a number of instances, the candidates did not answer the questions asked, a frustration in the opinion of many in the audience who were interviewed after the event.   

The order of who answered each question first was rotated by the Moderator. Responses below are in the order they responded.  

Q:  “Like many older cities, Savannah has infrastructure problems. Would you support taking money from other departments to address this?”    

Jackson:   “We have been doing the infrastructure in our City since we began using SPLOST dollars in 1985, and we have almost completed the entire city; but because we are a low-lying city, we are going to have pockets of low-laying water.”

DeLoach:  “The city will be doing these projects until time ends.  But emergencies do come up;” but with the SPLOST dollars on the books we can address problems, but need to better oversight of spending.

Silver:  “We have plenty of money, but it’s been horribly misspent.  The way bidding is done, to the way contracts are handed out, to the way the work is done.”

Wilson:  Said he lives in Carver Heights. “We’re impacted,” by flooding.  He then began to talk about the 12 acres on the Westside he lives next to which he states the City owns. “This land does not percolate.  But I have not been able to get people to address this…This water that collects, needs to be caught in a basin.  It’s amazing that I’ve got to run for Mayor to get this simple thing fixed.”  And he said he had an email from CSX saying that they do not own it.

Jackson:  Responded, “The land that he’s talking about is a part of CSX, and any letter that he says he has, has not come to my office”  Regarding flooding, “Whenever we have a problem, we send a staff out to look at it 24/7.”

Q:   Savannah has had a homeless problem for many years.  What would you do to address it?

DeLoach:  Society is judged by how it treats its least fortunate.  There’s two types of homeless - chronic homeless, many with mental problems.  Regarding the former, “When they encounter the police, they go into the judge and then get lost into the system.  We need to have them evaluated to get them on a constant meds.  The second, the economic problem, make sure we have affordable housing.  It will do wonders for their esteem, as well as their children. 

Silver:   “Don’t bring up homeless when you’re running for Mayor; it’s a real buzzkill,” he said. But, then stated that there are 5,000 documented homeless living in 22 camps. “Cindy Kelly is doing a job that is underfunded and understaffed. She went to Savannah for property to build small houses and was told there was no land.”

Wilson:  The Smith School (on the Westside) would have been an ideal place to house some homeless, “but they tore it down and I don’t think they have any plans to do anything there.”   

Jackson:   Said there are Federal grants to help with homeless programs, and other agencies that come from local government. Said that through her work with the National League of Cities, she has learned about companies that are working on this, such as the Home Depot Foundation. “They build houses for veterans.  We’ve turned that program over to StepUp Savannah to see if they can pursue this.”

She then disagree with a statement made by Silver, saying that SCMPD HAS assigned an Officer that works with the homeless after the resignation of a prior Officer left, “and we assist them with cleaning out their living conditions.” 

Q:  Regarding crime, how did we get to this place?   What is your diagnosis as to why we have such a high crime rate today? 

Silver:  “We do have a gang problem, including the Chinese.  We do have gangs here.  The problem is more serious than we understand.  The media does a very poor job of investigating the news.”

Wilson – “The large part of the crime issue is socio-economic.  We pretty much grew up with, ‘Well, you’ll have a job if you do this…” he said.  But, then, there were not jobs… We don’t have banking in West Savannah; we don’t have a restaurant; we don’t have a grocery store,” as places for people to work.  He said he would focus on micro-economic development in areas such as the Westside.

Jackson:  Cited the lack of parental involvement; businesses not willing to hire people who have been incarcerated; and a lack of education.  “Our young people are disgruntled because they can’t find employment. We’re planning, along with Van Johnson, on holding a meeting with the young men, pulling in businesses, as well, and letting them tell their story,” she added.

DeLoach:   “It is socio-economic, and on that, all of us have a part of it.  40% of the kids fail out before they graduate…. That’s 800 children that do not graduate every year.   Once that person hits the ground,   what is that person supposed to do?  That is the issue we have, and we have to analyze how we take that person and move them forward.” He then talked about how some of the non-graduates end up in the service industry, and while they are earning a low wage, they get job experience.  He explained that companies like his hire these young people, and help them “establish and a build a record. They work in my industry (landscaping), and then they can do better – move into trucking or into the shipping industry.  They can actually move forward to truck driving to the ILA.  There’s an opportunity based on the economic growth here.”

Q:   There is an effort at the State Level to bring casino gambling to Georgia and to Savannah. Under what condition would you support gambling or para-mutual gambling on Hutchinson Island?

Wilson:  “I’m not opposed to gambling; I think that could be very well incorporated into Hutchinson Island.  Problem there is they (homeowners and businesses) can’t get insurance at a reasonable price because the Fire Dept. is on the other side of the bridge. The County has been asking the City to help them develop a Fire station,” but they haven’t gotten a response.  “They’re (the City) holding up a lot of jobs and a lot of people’s desires to live over there,” he said.

Jackson:   “I am against gambling on Hutchinson Island.  Developers are looking at it now, where people can bring their yachts and their boats; all of that is in the making.”   CSX and the Ports Authority has put up land for a fire station, she stated.  “We’re working with the people who are interested in developing the area.  The people who gamble are those that least can afford it.”  There will be some announcements coming re: Hutchinson development, she added.

DeLoach:   “There’s got to be some other way to build that area. It was impacted in 2008, but it is coming back.  Developers have contractors, and designs are in place.  I don’t think we need the gambling to make it happen.”

Silver:  “I am opposed to gambling in Savannah as long as we have a 30% poverty rate.” He then regaled the crowd with a colorful description of the gambling in Savannah that his grandfather ran. “He was a partner with the Sheriff, and they opened casinos at the front gate of Hunter and Stewart. He made a million dollars.”

Q:  What are two things you would do specifically to bring jobs to Savannah?

Jackson:  “By working with the World Trade Center, SEDA and all,  we are talking with international companies, and talking with them to hire at a living wage.  And, the City is asking developers in certain zones to hire people at a living wage.”  She then talked about using the City’s Entrepreneurial Center to train people. “So we’re already working on these things. The developers have made commitments to Savannah,” to hire at higher wages, she added.

DeLoach:   Said he felt that working with SEDA and the tourism groups, and to focus on bringing back manufacturing jobs, would be his focus. “There is also a large job segment that doesn’t get a lot of attention - the small businessman.  Not only is he carrying a lot of the tax burden in Savannah, but he is the guy that mentors that guy” that is hard to employ.  “Many of the people that work for us end up as competitors.  I love the flash of the large companies, but I don’t ever want to forget the small guy, working his butt off.  The backbone of Savannah is the small businessman of Savannah.”   (His comments drew one of the largest levels of applause of the evening.)

Silver:  “How do you drag an 18th century village into the 20th Century?” He then talked about efforts to bring high speed connectivity to the City,  “but It broke down once it got to the City. They don’t understand it.”   And, he would focus on getting the jobs already here to pay at a higher wage level.

Wilson:   “We can develop jobs here.  I’m more inclined to have more than one Entrepreneurial Center -  to have satellite entrepreneurial centers, and teach the young people software development, some of which can be done from home-based businesses…Do the same things that SCAD did.  Teach these kids to build websites. Have a school to teach software to some of the underemployed young people.”

Q:  I’d like to know what techniques would you employ to stifle the growth of gangs?  

DeLoach:   When I was on the Commission, there was an issue with gangs… We set up CNT.”  He said he would support Chief Lumpkin, fill the ranks and work with the FBI. The sole purpose of CNT “was to harass them until they moved.  It’s like roaches; you can’t get rid of them, but you can move them.”

Silver:  Silver recounted past success of the SCMPD with ‘Operation Ruffian’, working with ATF, “they wreaked havoc in this community.” But the Officer in charge was moved to homicide and nobody took his place, according to Silver.  “And as the department started to break down, they all started looking for the exits,” he said.  “We need cops on the force that were doing what Grogan did.  Pay talent to come – pay more than we are now – in the meantime, it’s broken down.  The really talented people are broken down, and are in the process of leaving.” 

Wilson:  Said that we need to “engage with more of these young people.” But, residents of the Westside are afraid of them, afraid to come to the Moses Jackson Center.  He told a story about a young man that he talked to about going to jail if he used a shotgun when he was threatening to shoot someone, and the implication of going to jail. “He took the gun back, and he still thanks me to this day.”  We have to engage.  We cannot incarcerate our way to no crime.”

Jackson:   “There are gangs in Savannah, and they are working on that… But the bigger problem is where are all these guns are coming from?  These young people cannot afford these guns.”  She then said,m “They go to jail one day.  We have to work with our court system, and our DA’s office.  We don’t want them going through a revolving door; they are right back out on the street.  But we have to look at those who committed crimes, but are out there now, doing good.  We have to get them jobs.  We can’t be afraid of our own people.”   She added that two years ago, the City Council, “announced two years ago that we need collaboration from the public,” to address crime.

Q:  Tom Barton of the Savannah Morning News made a statement, charging that, “We have seen backsliding to the past, “ awarding a contract “to a political pal,” and another to a friend after the deadline had passed, and then asked:  If elected, what would you do to stop the backsliding to cronyism?”  

Silver:  “Follow the money and connect the dots.  “The same companies doing business in Savannah” are contributing to the campaigns of some of the mayoral candidates,” he alleged. “It’s institutionalized bribery.  But in Savannah, it’s called doing business.”  He added, “Nobody owns me; I have collected $8,000,” but his contributors are not the large contract bidders or corporations of the City. “I am somebody who is unbought and un-bossed.  And that’s the best I can do.”

Wilson:  Reacting to Barton’s allegations, Wilson said, “That’s akin to bribery and extortion, I think It’s a crime (he said sarcastically), and those types of people should go to jail; it’s white collar crime.  Now we want the fairgrounds - bought it from a councilman’s family member.  Bought that store on the Eastside, bought it from a councilman’s family…. You might want to ask the Mayor about those.”

Jackson:  “Tom made a statement;   Pat Shay’s wife was my campaign chairman.  I did not attend the meeting, and I did not vote because I knew this kind of stuff would come back.     The police precinct: I never set foot in the room,” when it was being discussed. “The public needs to know the truth.” 

She then added, “The $50,000 – we asked Risk Management to look at this house.   Council never made the recommendation on the money.  We have been open, transparent, and we have communicated.”

Regarding those contributing to her campaign, Jackson said, “I have a lot of people who have confidence in me, and they have contributed to me.  I do whatever I say I’m going to do.  We want to award contracts to local people, so that we are friends in this community.  It someone gets a contract, and they’re my friend, that is not cronyism,” Jackson emphasized. “My integrity and my name is all that I have.” 

DeLoach:   Regarding people alleging cronyism in contract awards, “A lot of times, you look around and hear someone complaining, saying, ‘Everybody is getting the money, and not me.”  He then talked about the parable of the fox and the grapes… the fox didn’t get the grapes, but he still wanted them. 

“As far as cronyism, if you want to change the results in City Hall, change the leadership in City Hall. I am the guy for change,” he concluded.   Regarding accepting campaign contributions, “We do end up needing money to run a campaign. You don’t run campaigns

Q:   What is your approach to property taxes and city fees, and are there any circumstances in which you would support raising property taxes?

Wilson:   Said that he would focus on developing Hutchinson, “a tremendous tax base over there, and when it’s fully built out, we might be able to reduce taxes.”

Jackson:  “I am not in favor of raising taxes at this time”, and she spoke about the steady level of the City’s millage rate for many years.

DeLoach:  “There’s no need to raise taxes. We’re buying property everywhere; they have spent millions on failed projects everywhere.  We’ve got t a sack of money somewhere. I argue about my taxes…. That’s just the American way.  Any way possible way to hold down taxes, that’s what I would do.”

Murray:  Absolutely no.

Q:  The City has been at a 30% poverty rate for 30 years, for my whole life.  What cause this, and what are you prepared to do?  

Jackson:   Create jobs and educate young people.  We have to work with our school system, our technical college. We have to become partners, and all work together. She added that the tourism industry works very hard to get people jobs. 

DeLoach:  “Go to the educational system, and develop an overall educational program.  Take 500 students in a pool between their Junior and Senior year, and encourage paid internships to develop skills, and then when they graduate they can go to college, or go into the workforce.”

Silver:  Said there are more than 22,000 people employed in the tourism industry; “many paid $8.00 an hour.  You could cut poverty, if all you did was give them a $2.00 an hour raise.”

Wilson:  We have to have a way to get dollars into the poor neighborhoods; “there is no disposal income.  Until we are putting dollars into these areas - grocery store, a bank. There is no means of exchange there,” he explained.

Q:   What are some specific things you would do to help fill those vacancies in the Police Dept?

DeLoach:  Committed to filling the force within one year of being elected by “giving them the pay and the technology they deserve. “I will make it an emphasis with the City Manager and say, ‘get it done.”`

Silver:  You’ve got to show them the money, That new pay raise was dead on arrival.  New hires get paid as much as Corporals.  Got to get the pay scale right; pay for time of service and quality of service.  MONEY.”

Wilson:  “I take a different approach.  I was a former Deputy Sheriff.  They’ll send me a guy that really doesn’t know his job.  Eliminate some of the people that are there; and improve what we’ve got.”

Jackson:  Explained that the City is ‘Partnering with Hunter Army Airfield to get their retirees to come, some of whom are already certified,” as police officers.  “And, asking retirees to come up and be into areas, to do the jobs of others are supposed do.”

Q:  Dave Kartunen asked a question after making a statement saying, “The State banned the rights of a City to raise its own minimum wage.” How would you raise wages?

Silver:  In his remarks, he appeared to support a use of mayoral power in forcing contractors to do what he wanted, in the opinion of several attendee interviewed after the debate. He said. “What the Mayor CAN do? Let’s say a new hotel wants to come to town, and they want to build a building in violation of code.” He said he would meet with them and then tell them, that he is going “to think long and hard about that favor you want me to do,” unless they pay higher wages.

Wilson:  Said he believed there ought to be a hospitality union that would demand higher wages.

Jackson:  Responding to Wilson’s statement, said “We’re a right to work state, so we don’t have the right to put the unions here.  But we do have the ability to encourage all the businesses coming here … but we can get it right into the contract that they must pay at least the living wage,” level.

DeLoach:   Disagreed with the other three candidates. “The minimum wage is a platform.  A person is incarcerated; they go to a transitional center.  You give that guy a job; you can get him started and give him an opportunity.   You pay what you can afford to pay them, but once you develop them, he increases in value, and he can stay there are go somewhere. But he increases in value.”

Q:   What would be your top three budget priorities as Mayor?

Wilson:  “I’m not going to make promises that I cannot fulfill,” he said. He was apparently indicating that he did not know enough about the City’s budget yet, to comment.  

Jackson:  Stated that “The City of Aavannah has a AA+ bond rating; we saved $8.1 million by refinancing the bonds that we can.”   She said she would “look at the projects that we have on the books and get them started right away.  We’re very stable because we planned ahead, and we saved ahead of time.  Savannah is not broke.  We did it the right way.” 

DeLoach:  “Crime would be my top, second and third issue.  Until we can get our house in order, we’re not going to do other things.”  He also said he would focus on a long term plan, “but you cannot do anything until you deal with crime.” 

Silver:   Said his focus would be on rebuilding the Police and Fire Dept.

Q:  There has been high incidence of gunshots. Was Operating Ceasefire, now called ‘End Gun Violence: Step Forward’ a good idea?

Jackson:  Yes, and not paid for with tax dollars, but from confiscated funds from arrests, etc.  She said she also supported Van Johnson’s efforts to enforce the city’s Curfew Ordinances and ‘Parental Responsibility’ laws.

DeLoach:  Said that if Chief Lumpkin wanted the program, it should be supported. “Give him an opportunity, and give him a full force.”

Silver:  Did not address the question directly, but said that the City’s police structure of 3 Officers per 1,000 people was antiquated; does not take into consideration the 13 mil. to 14 mil. tourists, transients coming into the City for work, or the SCAD students.  Said instead of 600, the goal should be 800 police Officers, and that higher police officers would reduce crime.

Wilson:  Said that the young criminals do not trust the police department, and the City must be engaged with them in dialogue (which is part of the Ceasefire program, but did not answer directly.)

Q:  Do you support a merged City/County government?

Silver:  Said that whether he supports it or not, “there’s a 5 year plan to do it; remember who told you.”

Wilson:  Said he was against consolidation because the constituents he has talked to are against it, and he would vote for what his constituents supported.

Jackson:  Said she was against a merged government. “We can’t even get an agreement on the Police Dept.”

DeLoach:  I’ve been a Commissioner… and I think we need to consolidate.  It will reduce the costs for the City. It will be good for the City, and that’s my job as Mayor. It will not be good for the people outside; so we have to deal with that in-between.”

Q:  Do you support privatizing some departments of the City Government, such as the Fire Dept. or Sanitation?

Wilson:  No, but I’d like to see the numbers on why that would work.

Jackson:  “No, because we have some very good people. They have benefits. When these companies come in, they’re the people who make the money.” 

DeLoach:  Disagree with Jackson, stating that he believed in having competition and comparing what employees can do versus an outsourced company – that competition can lead to a governmental department performing better. He told a story about when he was a County Commissioner, and they challenged a department to do as well as a potential outsourced company and the department cut costs.  “Competition… you always need to have that.”

Silver:  “I’m against it because Labor is against it, and I stand with Labor.”

Q:  Do you support enforcing the City’s residential recycling program, and beginning a Commercial recycling program?

Jackson:  Yes – the City needs more volume collected by recycling, and more “cleaning up,” but did not speak specifically to enforcement.

DeLoach:  “Definitely need to expand recycling to commercial industries to increase volume. And, do something to increase the efficiency of the residential program.”

Silver:  “I’m all about green.”  He then discussed installing solar panels on all City buildings and did not answer question.

Wilson:  Said he supported enforcing the residential program, “but I don’t really know how,” yet.

Q:  Less than 1% of the film industry business in Georgia is now coming to Savannah; how would you expand the Film and Entertainment Industry here?

Silver:  Said Savannah needs a world class soundstage to pull business off of Atlanta and back to Savannah, or “We’re just going to be Atlanta’s b-e-a-c-h… and I do mean the other word, too,” which got a big laugh from the audience.

DeLoach:  Said he would work more closely with SCAD to expand Savannah’s film business.

Wilson:  Would work to see what the production companies want.

Jackson:  Discussed the two studios already here, and that the City now has SEDA who hired someone to sell the city’s film business.

 

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