Leader Blues

Monday, February 02, 2009

TOP STORY>>Jacksonville mayoral race more crowded

By GARRICK FELDMAN
Leader executive editor

Saying the passion for governing has long been absent from city hall, veteran Jacksonville Alderman Gary Fletcher has announced he is running for mayor.

Mayor Tommy Swaim told the city council two weeks ago that he would resign July 1 with 18 months left in his term. The council will set the date next week for a special election.

Kenny Elliott, another longtime alderman, has also said he is running for mayor, as has Randy (Doc) Rhodd of Motorcyle Ministry. Banker Donny Farmer is also said to be considering a race.

Fletcher, who has been on the city council for 30 years, says he’s ready to become mayor.

“I want to bring passion to the job,” said Fletcher, who is 54. “We’ve lost that passion when it comes to running the city.

“I want to bring back the human factor to government,” Fletcher said in an interview. “We need to make some changes. We need someone with fresh ideas. We need someone with passion, energy and vision and try to inspire others.”

Fletcher said he believes in the three R’s to move forward — “re-identify ourselves, reinvest in ourselves and rejuvenate the community.”

He said his platform includes annexing land to Jacksonville wherever possible, improving housing, reducing crime, reinvigorating downtown, ensuring the future of the city’s hospital, bringing new industry to the city, rehabilitating the Sunnyside neighborhood and considering reopening the Graham Road railroad crossing, whose closing has divided the city.

He also supports an independent school district for Jacksonville and more investment in the city’s infrastructure. He’s hoping the federal economic-stimulus plan will help pay for improvements in the city.

“I will appoint a citizens advisory board on where the people want to go,” Fletcher said.

“I’ve always been interested in politics. I went to my first city council meeting when I was 17, when John Harden was mayor. I ran for alderman when I was 19 in 1974 and in 1976 and lost both times, but I won in 1978 and have been on the council ever since.”

Fletcher, who is a homebuilder, ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1982 and 1986. He has been re-elected to the city council 14 times.

Fletcher wants to see new housing to replace the city’s older homes, which attract more renters than the new ones. About half the city’s residential properties are rented.

The candidate says the city’s industrial zone in underutilized.

“We have the best industrial area,” Fletcher said. “Industry is still interested in staying in the U.S. The city needs to pick up the ball in the recruiting area.”

He said he’s concerned about the new management at North Metro Medical Center. Allegiance Health of Shreveport, La., has signed a long-term contract to manage the troubled hospital.

“The contract with Allegiance may not be the solution to our problem,” Fletcher said.

He was born in Little Rock and moved to Jacksonville with his family in 1968. He was the first Jacksonville Jaycee to join at the age of 18 and was named Jaycee of the year in 1975. He is also a former president of the Jaycees.

Fletcher was also named Out-standing Young Man of America in 1976 and 1984, Noteworthy American Leader, Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year, and Arkansas Home-builder of the Year.

He is an active member of Second Baptist Church of Jacksonville and has a diploma in Christian ministry from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.
Fletcher is married to the former Glenda Kyzer, and they have two children, Ray and Autumn, and five grandchildren.

“I’m not going to run my campaign on negatives,” Fletcher said. “Jacksonville was the fastest-growing community in the state in the 1960s and 1970s. We’d like to see it come back.”