By Emily King | Illustration by Jenn Carroll
WHILE walking around the city lately, you've probably noticed campaign signs sprouting up across town. The approaching local election is to thank for the uptick in yard signs, posters, and flyers over the last month; this year's race is heating up. Nearly every position has two candidates– some newcomers and others longtime local political players. District 2, for instance, has current Alderman Detric Leggett, rookie Taylor Washington, and activist Tia Brightwell.
In continuation of bringing coverage to the community regarding critical local happenings, The Savannahian sat down with each candidate to discuss this year's race. Interviews covered each district's political platforms, resident concerns, and other hot topics to provide first-hand accounts of each candidate's intent. First on the docket for District 2 was the current Alderman Detric Leggett.
Please share a bit about yourself, your history, etc.
My name is Detric Leggett. I'm a father of three biological children. I have two stepchildren, and I share them with my current wife, Lenaida.
This political journey happened in 2015 when we were experiencing so much death in the streets. Many different services were only allowed for a few young people, and there was so much division in the community. I ran for City Council, and after that wasn't successful, we ran for County Commission. Those experiences helped me get where we are today. Then, in 2019, I ran for City Council and was successful.
We did a couple of more initiatives throughout the community. We put some things in place to make our neighborhood associations stronger, and we were more transparent with our communities. We put some initiatives in place to build partnerships with the community, such as our Savannah Impact Program; we put more investment into our community centers; and we put more money into our infrastructure. We work with our police departments to make them more visible within the community by being more community-oriented so that our officers know the community and the people who live there. We heard the call from the Police Department that they weren't paid enough, so working with this current Council, we ensured that the sign-on was $50,000. We have hired a new chief who's very knowledgeable about his job. He's a homegrown chief and went through the ranks to the top brass in our Police Department.
We will continue to work on bringing the initiatives that we've learned in different cities as we go and visit Savannah. We've been educated by the National League of Cities and Georgia Municipal Associations; we've joined various boards to help us do our jobs better. I'm on the board for the Horizons Board to help our young people in the summertime. I'm on the Chatham Area Transit Board so that we can help our seniors and our young people move around the city, especially when we try to get them from downtown to workable places when it's starting to be dark. We've got shuttles that can go into communities and help people get free travel from point A to point B.
It's a lot that we put together. I'm also a championship football coach–you can put that in there–with Oglethorpe Charter School. For the past three years, we've won the championship and mentored so many people as they leave middle school and go to high school. Within that program, we dress for success, and we have a personal responsibility topic to teach them sports and accountability as they move from one area of life to another.
We tried to be involved with everything. We didn't want to be conventional alderpersons who put themselves higher than the city. We wanted to ensure that we stay grounded and that the community has equal representation. I try to answer the phone and call people back–even at 3 in the morning. We've heard the call for people who've had issues with short-term vacation rentals and the different crime issues.
If you look at the stats from the 2nd district– the most celebrated part of the city– it's the lowest per capita in gun violence in the past three years. So, I pat myself on the back–not just me but the excellent policing. We have many good people in our police department who want to do a good job. Our partnership with you guys in media works well, and that's the only way to get a lot of good content. We want to be able to continue with a good relationship so that when anything happens–we'll be able to give you something in real-time that you can put back into the community because, without entities like yourself, the community misses out.
I remember when we first spoke months ago, I was surprised that it was you who answered the phone and so quickly, too.
Yeah. Many people think we have secretaries and offices, but nope– it's me. My office is in the front seat of my truck.
That's great. So, in talking about your involvement with the community, you were born and raised here. Is that correct? Is that what spurred you to first run for public office?
I think that's the first reason. It's the trust the people have in me. I grew up in a tight community with many elderly people, and those people watched me grow up. They put their responsibility for themselves on the back of us young people. When the call came for us to be the community's voice, we had to learn how to do it and be the voice of the community without disrespecting or taking away from it as it is. We want to keep the history of the community– even though it's changing– to let people know precisely where we come from, how the community has been underserved, and how we can better serve the community.
Obviously, District 2 is a significant tourism district. We already touched on rentals, but the hotel expansion is a big issue for residents in that area. Do you have a plan in place as far as easing their worries about that?
We're working with the neighborhood associations to create a standard of how much development we want. We encourage development, but to a certain extent. We don't want to overdevelop areas to the point where there's a quality of life change. People still want to have that sense of neighborhood and not be overshadowed by large developments or anything that would take away what we know our community to be. I'm giving that power back to our neighborhood associations before every vote is made. I contacted the neighborhood association president to provide them with a dialogue so they could give me talking points to advocate on their behalf.
Have you found that to be working out better than before?
Yes, very much. They appreciate the transparency of what we're doing and that we reach out to them to get some content.
On the other side, there's a concern for housing prices and residents getting pushed out–people that have been here for years. Is there any plan to address that?
It coincides with development issues, but people want to see the Victorian houses. They want to see all the history of Savannah preserved. Still, many people have the misconception that we are going through gentrification and it's not our fault. I say that in two ways because for us young people, our parents and grandparents work all their lives to leave us property, and once we acquire that property, we see the value in it once we've sold it and moved away. It is gentrification, but it's not forced gentrification. People are selling these properties and moving away from their family's legacy and investment.
We already talked a bit about the transportation, but if you can talk about parking problems and ride access like Downtowner, that would be great.
So, the Downtowner was the brainchild of the neighborhoods. They wanted to know how to get downtown, and we wanted to give them an opportunity to park away from the job site but still be able to get people to work without having to bring their cars downtown. The solution came between the Downtowner and the Dot Shuttle.
I was instrumental in ensuring that the Dot Shuttle moved North-South and East-West to get to the Enmarket Arena– the largest municipal project ever in Savannah. We're doing all we can to move the Dot Shuttle further East to give everybody a holistic opportunity to see what transportation looks like in Savannah.
Tourism takes up a lot of parking. Is there any plan that would be good for residential parking?
We do have a large parking challenge. We're working with our mobility office, and I'm working with the different people in the downtown neighborhoods–specifically the areas around the Washington Square ward and the Downtown Neighborhood Association–to alleviate much of that stress. Some people live by short-term vacation rentals and can't park in the afternoons when they come home. I went to Washington, D.C., to find out how they've been doing it, so we're thinking about giving them some placards to put on each residence's car. That way, if somebody just parked there or left their vehicle there and may be towed, they can always have a space if they don't have a parking space by their home.
The placards will be street markers identifying their address to alleviate much of that stress. That's a quality of life issue when you can't park in front of your door. When you have a short term next door to your house, they probably didn't think about the parking challenges they may be causing, especially for those who have lived in those houses for 40-50 years.
Right. Maybe they can't walk as far as they used to.
Right, right. They all are seniors or retirees, and they've said, "I really can't have any guests to my house because of these issues." So, what do we do? In the next administration–and this is one of the first things on our agenda–we'll make sure that we address all of the parking issues downtown and throughout the district.
And I don't know if people know the district's boundaries. So, our district is from River Street to Victory Drive North, North-South, from East West Ash to the East, and across to Martin Luther King to the West. We entertain all the way to Bull Street. Everything is in the entertainment district. We want to entertain, but we want to be very responsible. We want to keep the amenities, but we want to care for the 27,000 people in this district.
It's a significant burden to carry.
Yeah, but it's okay. I would rather them call me and alleviate some of their stress than for them to say, "Something happened, and nobody showed up." You think about that when you call 911 and have somebody there, and you're doing CPR on them, and nobody shows up. That's what the community is right now. We're doing CPR on our community and looking for somebody to show up. I'm showing up as much as possible.
If you could flesh out your platform more, why you want to be reelected, etc.
We want to finish the work that has been done. We want to ensure that the 2nd District's footprint will continue to be what it is. It's the staple of Savannah, and within this next platform, we want to ensure that our partnerships will continue to work to secure a place for our neighborhoods to have a more prominent voice in City Hall. We want to prevent our community from being flushed out by business. We welcome business, but we want businesses to partner with the district.
We want to give more of a voice to our seniors and ensure our infrastructure creates more growth opportunities. We want to address crime as it happens and support our Savannah Impact program for our young people. We want to create more opportunities for businesses to utilize our city services, give more content to our 311 processes, and allow our community to speak with city services in real-time rather than waiting for tomorrow.
Do you have any advice to constituents with topics they need help with on how to reach you best?
If anybody has any questions, they can e-mail me or call me at 912-346-8176. That's my 24-hour cell phone the city provides, and I will answer. If not, they can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is there anything else that you'd like to share?
I appreciate the opportunity they've given me these past four years. I look forward to representing them even more. The partnership between the community and elected officials has been challenging.
Still, the 2nd District has shown the other communities how it's done. I'm proud of the community itself, I'm proud of the investment, and I'm proud of the ownership that they've taken in what the community and district is. I'm glad to say that I represent one of the districts in the newspaper, constantly in movies. It's a sought-after place to live, and it's one of the most toured places in this country because of the people, not the government.
Like our City Council election coverage? Help us do more of this kind of work by making a donation.