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Mayoral candidates invited to speak to citizens: Part 3 Marcell Baker

Three groups, Unity Community, Sisters in Service of Southwest Georgia and Ready for Change-AME will be hosting all three mayoral candidates in a virtual forum. The Zoom session was recorded and posted on social media. Technical support for the Zoom meeting indicated a Facebook page belonging to Ready for Change AME would stream the event.

The third of three candidates for mayor to join the forum was Marcell Baker. Willie Davis moderated the event and outlined the expectations. When he completed posing a question there are three minutes in which to answer. The forum was to last no longer than 30 minutes. Although the moderator went directly into the questions, Baker would later be given the chance to introduce himself. Davis spoke on the importance of trust of the leaders in government. He opined, “It is our experience that lack of trust in city leadership, including the mayor, council members and city managers has resulted in a level of citizen resentment and cynicism which discourages civic involvement. Please share with us your strategy on restoring public trust, what reforms your administration will attempt to undertake to renewing trust, and the effectiveness of city government. Again, what is your strategy on restoring public trust?” Baker made several expressions of gratitude to include the sponsors of the event. He then proceeded to address the question at hand. “I’ve sat back, and I’ve noticed the separation between the community and the government. And that’s the reason why I even attempted to help. It boils down to the proper fit. It’s platforms like yours is what’s needed to screen candidates before we get them into office or before we get them into place. You see most of them get excited and they turn, or they change, which is almost systematic. It’s time to heal Americus, Georgia, it’s time to bridge the gap of communication, it’s time to form a trust build, it’s time to wake up. If you want change, we got to make change.” Baker went on to say if he was the mayor he would “form a committee to reach out to the community to see what it is we are missing because it seems like we are missing something here.” He gave his opinion on “city council and people in office are doing pretty well but they don’t stand up for what’s right.” Baker reports having seen “some great ideas but they seem to get railroaded.” Baker then asked moderator Davis if there was any of “the question left.” Davis reiterated wanting to know about “any specific reforms you would implement to bring about change, to restore trust. You talk about establish a committee but what specifically would that look like?” Baker wanted further clarification and asked the moderator what he “meant by reform.” Davis went on further to ask in regard to the committee he wishes to form, “what is the end result, that you are looking for to re-establish that trust?” Davis then went on to flesh out his ideas on what the platforms could possibly look like, “would you be establishing programs or platforms which you got different neighborhoods, or different members of the community or on city commission–will you have them engage their community by bringing different people in the community to the table to discuss what they have seen over time because I think at the end of the day you need to have the buy-in and too often we make those decisions in a box and that might not be what the community wants.” Baker agreed asking the community what they wants is important and established he is “data guy.” He agreed sitting down with people was a good idea then admitted “I’m no politician. My whole campaign is ‘Help not Hinder.’” He then stated he steps backs and watches, and he doesn’t know where “they are getting railroaded at. My position that I’m seeking is to find out where we are going wrong and to correct it.”

Davis moved on to the next question, which was in regard to COVID-19. “What is your strategy on vaccination knowledge, education and how would you improve the community response to vaccinations?” Baker responded, “I would definitely educate the community on vaccinations.” Baker responded he has two children, and education, information and awareness is important. He states, “it is a personal choice. I ask that you do wear your mask and that you do social distancing.” Davis added further to the question, “what does that partnership look like when we are working with the school system?” Baker reports, “Well, it’s not a good look. We losing tax payor dollars with the kids not being in school. It’s devastating, brother, it’s devastating to know what we are going through here in Americus, Georgia, it really is. We can’t get on the same page to beat the virus; we can’t get on the same page to treat each other right. I definitely form a committee of trusted messengers.” Baker went on to say he wants to know “what’s working and what’s not working and then implement the changes if you will have them.” Davis further prompted conversation by asking additional questions. What would be your process in including the community and insuring funding for the ideas? “I would get with community leaders and social gatherings and see what we can come up with as far as funding and finding resources to combat the problem.” Marcell reiterated he is “not a politician.” However, he also added, “I see where you need the help at, and I definitely want to help you guys get to where you’re trying  to go.” He said he would get with different sets of governing leaders and “we’ll sit down, and we’ll hash this thing out until we get some results.”

Davis moved on economic issues which highlighted “African American workers continue to face more hurdles disproportionately than their white counterparts.”   The question then followed, “Where do those addressing the issue begin as an elected official? Can you speak on specific programs that you would implement and/or support?”  Baker reports “I would talk to the leaders; I would talk to the citizens. I don’t know where the problem is, but I am good at trouble shooting.” Baker asked for the question to be reported a second time. Davis obliged and added some possibilities he could choose from to garner support. “Would you network with Good Will in the community for job training, would you do interviewing skills, what does that look like for you as mayor? Baker agreed more programs were needed for “financial advisory” there is a need for “someone to help build the morale in the city” he added “we need  programs that steer.” After a pause, he said, “we need to help them. I don’t know how much I need to tell you about this ‘Help not Hinder’ program. They need some help, I don’t know where to go, brother, I’m trying to find out. I know we need some help, I know we do, as mayor I will seek and search out every possible outlet there is to make sure these people are getting what they need.” He went on to state he understood “there is a separation in between and employment is one. I understand there’s not enough jobs here. I understand there’s not enough opportunity here. I understand we sometimes get ourself in a hole and we need programs and leaders that can step forward and help us bridge the gap between that.” Davis further pressed by asking, “So what would one program look like for you to help African Americans do a better job when it comes to seeking employment?” Baker hesitated then answered, “to ask them what it is they want to do.” He listed off different types of workers to include small business, factory and creative. “We got a lot of people that are dreamers, per se.” He then stated we don’t have jobs to give some people. He did admit we have some “base-line jobs but we don’t have anything for the youth, we don’t have anything for the dreamers. I would sit down to see how we could bring entertainment here, to help people become involved again to help them dream again, become inspired again.” He then stated his committee would assist in this goal.

At this point, Marcell was invited to share about himself and his platform. He expressed his thanks to God, introduced himself and admitted he was 43 years old. He was born and raised in Americus. He referred to his “wonderful” parents, “beautiful” wife and “amazing” two girls. He is a Sumter County High School graduate, went into the military and is currently a member of the American Legion.

Davis picked up again with another question regarding jobs, “How will you know who to reach out to for the job program? He states he would “reach out to the ones I have already reached out to.” He then stated he was a follower and gave an example of following ants to find food. Then he pontificated upon the skills to solve problems. “It comes down to a few things.” Knowing something is wrong is “the first thing.” Once you know what is wrong, “you gather resources.” Following is “form a committee” to formulate a plan. Once the plan is formulated, “we’ll find out exactly how much funding we have.” Then “we put the plan in action.” He stated, “that’s how most of the businesses run each and every day.”

Davis followed with a question on marginalized communities and  “quality housing.” “How important is the quality of living standards for those who are less fortunate as it pertains to allocating grant funding and resources, specifically for the elderly and how will you help landlords improve their properties for those…. who are not meeting one’s basic needs?” Marcell reported he knew about land banks which he described as “government buys property, brings it back to par, cut all the red tape and then selling back to the community to basically keep dollars inside of the city and it beautifies the land at the same time.” He then said working with Housing Authority and the PDA to determine “what kind of resources we can get to be able to combat this problem.” He then empathized with the landlords and requested they be patient “till we work this out.”

Moderator Davis moved on to crime and gun violence. “What immediate changes do you plan to make that will benefit the black community?” Davis went on to describe the black community as “disenfranchised, marginalized, and overlooked when it comes to grants, loans and housing.” Davis then warned of gentrification. First, I’ll start with an annual block party, let me say quarterly. A quarterly block parties to get the neighborhood out and get them involved, even with the law enforcement.” Baker then added the crime had to be combated and a lot of youth are being lost to “senseless acts of violence.” He then mentioned the importance of a “trusted messenger” again “to tell one side what we need and what we don’t need.” He sees benefit in early intervention, to compensating the police department “up to par.” He then expressed his gratitude for law enforcement. He continued, “We definitely need to get our hands on our own community. There’s a bunch of leaders out there, and I trust you leaders. I’ve seen you; I don’t know what happened to make you—I know it can be tough and it’s a process, but we got to keep hashing this thing out until we reach our youth. We can reach them. Americus, Georgia, the youth is outgrowing the city, we’re in trouble.” Davis further questioned, “When you look at all of that what is one thing that you would do to help solve those issues/what is your plans.” Baker answered, “I tell you man I wish I knew how much power I would have as mayor, honestly. But what I would do is do everything to my power to make sure they’re not being overlooked.” Baker expressed some confusion at the question and Davis took over by stating, “So as mayor would you and the city leaders—what idea will you bring to the table to combat crime and gun violence in the black community?” “We are definitely going to get with different agencies—The Boys and Girls Club, we definitely going to get with the parents, the pastors, the leaders, the social organizations, and we are going to sit down and come up with a probable answer. And we are going to sit down with the community, you got to listen to community.” He then guarantees “we will come up with something.”

Davis then welcomed Baker to give his closing statements and his charge to his “future constituents.” Marcell spoke on his promise. “Here’s my promise to you Americus—to all the citizens out there—I’ll work diligently for you. It’s a part time job, but I’ll work full time for you. You need a trusted messenger; you need someone who understands what you’re going through. I’ve set back and I watch, and I couldn’t watch anymore. I had no dream of being a mayor, I felt that I’m called to duty. I know there’s a bunch of leaders that’s already establishing ideas, I don’t know why they didn’t go anywhere, but I’m here to help you. And for the citizens, I ask that you start think about the proper fit when you start putting people into positions. We are talking about advancement and future plans. We’re getting railroaded based on popularity. We’re getting railroaded based on who you know. That got to stop because we’re headed the wrong way. If you allow me, if you give me the chance, I can turn it around in four years. It is a process, but I’m a fast learner, I’m a team builder, I am big on integrity, I’m selfless service, and I’m here for you. As a matter of fact, I’m willing to put my first year’s salary into helping profit and non-profit organizations such as yourself, Unity Community, and all the organizations that’s been trying to do something with the community. I’m willing to put my first year’s salary each month towards caring for these kids, get what they don’t need. I don’t know what they don’t need—or what they don’t have. But I know you guys can help me find out what they don’t have. The bridge between the government and the citizens—we going to get that bond back. We both understand we have to share here. We’re here in Americus, the same way with the virus, we all stuck together. So, we got to do better Americus. I was here before the internet and here with the young folks, so I think I’m the right person to bridge the gap, for you guys, if you’ll have me.” He then offered a message to leaders, “keep your nose clean. Do the right thing, and help your community be better than it was.” He then sited his 2 children and his investment, wanting to see smiles, and wanting to see change in Americus, and hopes others do as well.

To view clips from this forum, please visit Ready for Change AME Facebook page. Election day for mayoral and city council members is November 2, 2021. Early voting is 10.12—29.21, with two Saturdays, 10.16 and 10.23 being opened to voters. All early voting will be at GSW/Griffin Bell Golf Club on Lee Street. Regular precincts will be open on election day. To check or change your voting status, please visit mvp.sos.ga.gov.