Written by Walter L. Johnson II
On Tuesday, registered voters will choose between three people to become the next mayor of Albany: restaurant owner B.J. Fletcher, former Ward II city commissioner Dorothy Hubbard, and former state representative John White.
While all three candidates recognize the challenges that Albany currently faces, whether it be crime, economic development, education, joblessness, or poverty, the way they plan to address such issues are different.
Hubbard sees education—combined with job skills training—as being among the city’s biggest issues. She wants to involve all three of Albany’s colleges, as well as the public schools in bridging that gap.
“What we need to do is to give our children the job skills and the job sets,” Hubbard said, “a set of job skills that are needed, higher education and technical education will also play a part in that.”
As the owner of multiple eateries throughout Albany, including the popular Café 230 downtown, Fletcher has seen a troubling downward spiral for her hometown in several areas.
“Over the years, I have a witnessed a decline in our tourism, in our industry, in our population, in our attitude,” said Fletcher. “I want to be a part of moving Albany forward.”
Like Fletcher, White has also seen Albany’s decline first hand.
“Albany has been stagnant for several years,” said White. “Not moving very forward, not bringing in any new things to Albany.
“New activities, new businesses, have come very spottily in the area,” White added. “But we have all of the skills in Albany that we need.”
White, who served 11 terms as a state representative on the Georgia General Assembly from 1975-1997, wants to increase educational, as well as recreational opportunities for local youth.
Among the things he hopes to bring to Albany if elected mayor, is a boxing gymnasium, with the help of a former champion to serve as an alternative to in-school suspension.
“I’ve talked with the relatives of (former heavyweight champion) Evander Holyfield,” White explained. “I want to tie that to the schools.
When asked why he proposed a boxing gym as an alternative to in-school suspension in middle and high schools, White added: “We have to take some of that energy away from children, the ones who will disrupt normal classes.
“That’s generally why they go (into in-school suspension),” he continued, “either they’re fighting, or they’re disruptive in other ways.
“So with a boxing gym, you would send the students to (the) gym rather than to in-school suspension, for those kind of activities that they would create in a normal school.”
Although the AOL-based website—dailyfinance.com—recently named Albany as the No. 4 poorest city in the U.S., miscalculated numbers very could have put the city at No. 1, Fletcher said.
“They quoted our population at 162,000 people,” said Fletcher. “That was the entire (five) county (metropolitan statistical area) that they were counting on.
“If they had just pulled the city numbers, of approximately 76,000 (residents),” Fletcher added, “that we were probably ranked No. 1.”
Supporting the Strive 2 Thrive initiative sponsored by the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce will be a key to reducing, if not completely eliminating poverty, Hubbard said.
“I think the (Strive 2 Thrive) initiative that’s being done by the Chamber is a good start for working on poverty,” said Hubbard. “I think that we’re going to have to embrace that, and help more people support it, in order for us to really make a dent in poverty.”
A jobless rate that’s well above the national average is also a major contributor to the poverty rate in Albany, Fletcher explained.
“We are at a little less than 15 percent unemployment, which means that is approximately 12,000 people without work.
“We are facing 39 percent poverty here locally. When we can get industry to come look at our area, we don’t have incentives set in place to make these people want to call Albany their home.”
Hubbard believes Albany can turn around if citizens can come together, and deal with the various issues affecting the city as a whole.
“I think it’s going to take us working together to turn our city around,” said Hubbard. “I think it’s going to take changing our mindset, believing we are the greatest city, and that our city is great because we have chosen to live here.
“I think that we have to stop other people from talking negatively about our city, because there are people who come back here to live, and they think that we have a great city.
“But I guess because we’re here and here all the time, and we see everything, and see how things are going, and then we take it for granted. So, what I hope to do is to be able to turn that around, and share with people some of the wonderful things that this city has to offer.”
On The Web: B.J. Fletcher—http://www.bj4mayor.com