MACON, Ga. — Marc Whitfield coached girls' basketball teams and played a little tennis until back surgery sidelined him a few years ago.
He also worked in a few mayoral campaigns including those of former mayors C. Jack Ellis of Macon and Chuck Shaheen of Warner Robins. He’s also worked in the campaigns of Warner Robins City Councilman Daron Lee and Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney David Cooke.
But this year, Whitfield’s moving from the position of helpful campaign spectator to running for the highest office in Macon-Bibb government.
He was interviewed recently at the WMUB Studio at Mercer University by 13WMAZ and its partners in the Center for Collaborative Journalism.
CRIME: Improve the workforce
Asked how he’d address violent crime in the area, Whitfield said a fresh approach on the workforce efforts Ellis pushed when he was mayor would be helpful. Ellis asked Whitfield and his father to come up with a plan.
“So, my dad and I got together and decided it’s going to be jobs, and it’s going to be youth development. So I wrote the initial Workforce Development Program for Macon, and my dad wrote the initial police activity, the PALS program.”
Whitfield said those programs had something for unskilled workers and youth programs. Those things, he said, didn’t exist prior to that. But at that time, the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 came into existence, and it had provisions for youth as well.
“So, I took advantage of that and I created The Youth Workforce Council, and that provided dollars [for] training and youth with soft job skills,” he said.
Whitfield said ways to get people out of poverty must be addressed to reduce crime.
“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.”
BLIGHT: Boost homeownership
While addressing ways to eliminate or reduce blight, Whitfield said in most situations where blight occurs, the property is owned by absentee landowners.
“Most of the time, they’re going to be your landowners, your landlords, and if they are no longer interested in the community, you’re going to have blight.”
Blight seldom occurs in areas dominated by homeownership, Whitfield said.
“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 there, and I think that will transform those neighborhoods.”
ROADS: More information needed
Asked about ways to improve road conditions, safety and traffic flow problems, Whitfield said he’s been so focused on poverty and infrastructure issues that he hasn’t had time to consider those issues properly.
“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’s just with the road construction going on now,” he said. “To answer that question intelligently, I would really have to have more information and review the budget more closely.”
EDUCATION: Task force to review actions
When it comes to assisting the Bibb County Board of Education, Whitfield noted that the county government and school board are two separate entities that operate independently, but he said it’s the mayor’s responsibility to take care of all citizens.
“I would form a task force so that every adverse action that’s taken against a teacher or student will be reviewed by the task force. I mean that task force will review that action and report back to me, you know, based on their observation or their review of that action whether it was warranted or not.”
COUNTY STAFFING: Wait and see
Other than the sheriff’s office, Whitfield was asked if there were other county departments that are over or understaffed. Whitfield called the law enforcement shortage unacceptable.
“We have to do something about the efficiency of the hiring process, and the pay. We have to increase the pay," he said.
Whitfield said he’ll observe operations of the other county departments and then determine what, if any, changes should be made.
RACE: More talk, more jobs
On working to improve racial harmony, Whitfield outlined the problems underprivileged people experience in Macon.
He said they lack the educational skills to get good paying jobs, so many of them are forced to work two or three low-paying jobs to put food on their tables.
It’s impossible, he said, for the providers of those families to send their children to prestigious colleges around the nation.
On the other hand, Whitfield said more privileged families don’t have those problems. They have good paying jobs and can afford to send their children to private schools and college.
Whitfield said there should be communication panels where black and whites sit down together and work through the issues.
“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," he said.
WHY HE’S RUNNING
Whitfield entered the mayor’s race in March during the final hours for qualifying.
Whitfield said, “I want to be very careful not to be disrespectful to any of the other candidates,” but said he jumped into the race after reading their comments on issues and studying their biographical information.
“I just did not see the compassion, 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,” he said.