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Local

Update: DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith will not seek 2nd term, says 'now is right time' to exit office

DeKALB - DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith announced Thursday he will not seek a second term as Mayor.

Smith, 76, who celebrates his 77th birthday next week, held a news conference at city hall, 164 E. Lincoln Highway, Thursday afternoon and said by the time he'd finish his second term, if re-elected, he'd be 81. He cited his age and a desire for retirement "not quite as stressful" as a reason for his decision.

"Looking at the prospect of being 81 near the end of another mayoral term simply is not something that is right for the Smiths or, frankly, for the City of DeKalb," he said, sitting next to his wife, Ging Smith.

Ging Smith echoed her husband's words of thanks to residents Thursday.

"I want to reiterate my sincere thanks to the DeKalb community for the overwhelming mandate the electorate has given for the past four years," she said. "It has been quite the journey, with some bumps along the way, but we've managed and faced them head on with fortitude."

In 2016, Smith – a former executive director of the DeKalb County Community Foundation – announced he'd be running for Mayor, ousting incumbent John Rey. He said when he ran in 2016, he didn't think he'd win as he had not background in government.

The election isn't until April 2021, though another elected official, Ward 1 Alderman Carolyn Morris, 36, announced her intention to run for mayor as well on Aug. 12.

With the recent announcements that social media giant Facebook is building a data center in the city's south side, and will be joined down the road by Ferrara Candy Company's distribution facility campus, he said he believes the city is in a good trajectory to continue its economic development.

"It has been so rewarding," Smith said, adding he never considered himself a politician. "I've learned so much about government, about this community's fine, upstanding people. DeKalb continues to be a place, a good place, where folks can live, work and raise their families."

Much has changed over the past four years, especially within the past seven months with the COVID-19 pandemic and local and worldwide civil unrest involving a reckoning with race and police brutality, prompting calls for change within DeKalb, too, something Smith said he knows.

"I think we need to continue to be very cognizant of the cries for social justice," he said. "We have made tremendous progress in trying to be as transparent as we can in some of those concerns that were brought forth, especially those that were brought forth after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. So that's, I think, areas in which we make progress."

As far as a successor, Smith said he hopes those who follow next in the office continue to hold community conversations surrounding social justice and be willing to work collectively with city council members.

"Listen to the constituency, be responsive," he said. "We have seven members on the council. The mayor and the council aren't always going to individually agree on whatever issue, but if at the end of the day we can reach some consensus and walk out of the room knowing that we had given it our best shot, that would certainly be another thing I would encourage anyone who's seeking this post to think seriously about."

With seven months still left in the office, Smith said he came to the decision collectively with Ging.

"I love what I'm doing, this is great, but the time is now," Smith said. "Given my age, given the fact that we are in a position where we're going to continue to make great progress, and given the fact that I know my wife is certainly supportive with this decision that we've made, now is the right time."

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