DeKALB – DeKalb's Ward 1 Alderman Carolyn Morris announced Aug. 12 her candidacy for Mayor of DeKalb. DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith said he hasn't yet decided whether he will run for re-election. The following is an interview with Morris, who gave further insight into her mayoral platform as she heads into her campaign season ahead of the April 2021 consolidated election.
DC: When did you decide to run and why?
CM: I guess I’ve been thinking about it maybe 6 months now. I wanted to be cautious with the decision, make the right choice for myself and for my family. I think especially going through this masters degree in public policy, I feel so empowered to really have a significant impact, it’s really exciting.
If you were to win the mayoral election, you'd be leaving your Ward 1 Alderman position halfway through. What are your thoughts on that?
CM: I think we need some more diversity on the board. We need a city council that has more women. We need more people of color, we need a different looking board. So I think it’s a really exciting opportunity to fill that position with somebody who looks different than me.
What are your pillars of your mayoral campaign? What would you as Mayor of DeKalb make your big goals?
My focus is going to be safety, caring for our youth and educating for our youth, and equity. I think those are the most salient issues that people want to see. They want to see crime taken care of, our youth invested in and there's a direct link there. When we invest in our youth, we end up with a healthier community.
I understand this is an independent race but the numbers for the City of DeKalb are very strongly Democratic, and we have other candidates who suggest they may be democratic but perhaps aren’t, so I think that that’s the angle I'm taking on this, that I am a Democrat.
During the Black Lives Matter marches throughout DeKalb County this summer, we heard calls for changes in local and state elected offices, that elections allow an avenue for sustainable change. Did that play a role in your decision to run for Mayor?
The factor that it actually played, it gave me pause. It made me curious to see if there might be a more diverse candidate that would be better suited to represent the needs of our community, so I really tried to step back and listen, see if there was somebody else who would better in this role. I talked to lots of people, no one seemed to have that interest. But looking at the change that was needed, I think that it was clear to me from the movement that the City was ready for a change, the world is ready for a change, that we are ready for progress as a community and that I'm suited to bring that about.
Another demand brought up by the Black Lives Mater voices locally was a need for safe housing enforcement and other changes needed in DeKalb's north side, especially in the Annie Glidden North area, which is partly in your ward. How has your role as Ward 1 Alderman shaped what you would bring to the table as Mayor?
I definitely think it comes back to ensuring we are providing for the safety of our community. We need robust enforcement but we need new techniques and that’s what this movement is communicating, that we need to be incorporating new techniques in how we’re policing. So that needs to be a big part of change. Caring for youth and education becomes a long-term solution to reduce crime. And so I see that as a way that our community can lead the way and demonstrate to other communities that this is how we make a long-term change. I will be a strong proponent for city-wide preschooling, after school programs, world class schools. Amazing schools are what convince community members to live in community.
How do you plan to address the City's budgetary impacts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Since I got out of the Marine Corps in 2013, I have been living on a tight, tight budget so I have a lot of experience trying to rub two pennies together to make it a nickle. I think my background in economics will make it a win for everyone to figure out how we move forward, make living easier for the community, reduce costs for the community, continue to provide great community services. I'm eager to take on the challenge.
Do you have plans to further address the list of demands made by the Black Lives Matter group, especially in terms of equity at the city level?
As far as the equity piece of things goes, I want to make sure that we are going through the entire list that the Human Relations Commission put out and that we are implementing every single thing that’s within our power to do so, and we are trying new techniques that have been recommended. I really am eager to do that while of course balancing that perfectly with crime and reduction.
Do you support defunding the police, or amending the City of DeKalb Police Department budget in light of the protests and marches?
Interestingly, I’m looking through the list right here in front of me of recommendations from the HRC and community, and it looks like there is not a huge push to defund the police. I see some of the recommendations here say “Cut the police department's budget by 50% and put it into community services” and in this list from HRC shows multiple statements from people and this one does not have multiple people supporting it, so I'm in favor of making sure that we are staying strong on crime while also trying to implicate really different techniques, trying to add social workers to the police department, sending social workers on those non-violent calls, making sure we’re having mental health treatment access instead of jailing. So we need to be redirecting how were doing policing, but I really want to be the activist of the community and implement what the community wants as a whole, not just a few.
The City of DeKalb still needs to hire a new police chief. The hiring would need to be approved by the City Council. What would be your ideal candidate for that role?
I think our ideal police chief would be extremely progressive, have significant experience and understanding but someone who really understands the need for change in the department. So we want someone who is not looking at more of what has been done but what we can change, they would look to redefine the whole structure and make it so that it is a peace force rather than a police force.
Where do you stand on tax increment financing as it relates to the City of DeKalb and what do you think needs to be changed, if anything, as a result of the forensic audit which confirmed TIF funds had been misspent?
We definitely need more robust scrutiny of how our TIF dollars are spent. We need more checks and balances and more accountability no doubt. That was honestly one of the greatest things that gave me pause, seeing that [audit] come out, I was like 'Oh gosh.' What it means is when I sign off on the TIF audit, I'm going to ask every question, check every dollar, verify that I have created the check and balance that the mayor is intended to create.