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Kemba Ford: Committed to creativity and service

I’m not comparing myself to any former City Council person regardless of what district they represent. I’m committed to be a breath of fresh air. I’m coming in with a new paradigm for local leadership, new ideas, new energy. Tri-State Defender: If someone put a microphone in front of you and said, “Tell us about District 7,” what would you say?

 Kemba Ford
 Kemba Ford

Kemba Ford: I would say what the residents have come up to me and said. They want their neighborhoods cleaned up. That means a lot of things. One, the physical, actual neighborhoods cleaned up. Another part of cleaning up the neighborhood is trying to figure out a way to reduce crime, and reduce the number of violent crimes. The killings on the street corners in the middle of the night, sometimes early in the morning…People want to know they can go outside and walk on the street with their kids or let their kids go outside without having to constantly look out their windows.

Another thing, people need jobs and they want their children to have a quality education in their neighborhoods. We’ve got some great schools in Memphis. We’ve got some great residents and neighborhoods in Memphis. But one of the things that happens when you, I guess, starve a community of economic development, of city resources meaning dollars, it’s the same thing that happens when you starve any part of your body of oxygen, it will fall off and die. That’s what is happening.

TSD: Who are you saying is doing the starving?

K. Ford: I’m just saying the city in general. We’ve built up many parts of the city since I’ve been alive…A stone’s throw away from City Hall we have areas of town that look like post apocalyptic, potholes everywhere, the city street lights aren’t operating.

TSD: What are you saying back to the people about those things (of concern)?

K. Ford: I am saying I would like to stand up and fight for our community…

TSD: The district has been long represented by someone that some would say was very committed to it. Are you picking up the baton? Or are you saying you are going to do something different from has been done before.

K. Ford:  I’m not comparing myself to any former City Council person regardless of what district they represent. I’m committed to be a breath of fresh air. I’m coming in with a new paradigm for local leadership, new ideas, new energy. I’m not picking up anyone else’s baton. I respectfully honor all the service everyone has committed to giving our community from any part of town. And I am fully committed to working with every single person with grace, with honor, with dignity.

And being able to work together is something I’ve seen not happening in local leadership. From the Twitter fights and email fights in City Hall to duking it out to somebody wants to beat me up currently on the County Commission. Everybody is doing this.

I’m also a woman and I also believe there needs to be a balance on the City Council. It’s a little male heavy. (It needs) another sensibility. I also want to be representative of real people. We have a mayor who is an attorney, we have a couple of City Council people who are attorneys. I think we’ve got enough attorneys on the City Council. The City Council is supposed to be the metaphor for the Congress of the city…it’s supposed to bring checks and balances to the mayor’s office. But it’s also supposed to be a body that is representative of the city as a whole. This city is made up of all different kinds of people, different kinds of professions…In local leadership, I think it’s important to have different kinds of representation…It should work like a hand, different parts, different people, different paradigms, ways of thinking, all kinds of different inputs into what our policies are being made of. Our policies affect people’s lives. I haven’t seen any urgency in that lately….

TSD: If you had to summarize your action plan, what would you say are three priorities.

K. Ford: Jobs, education and crime…I want to come in and let people know that the plan is really the issues and needs of the people. I don’t create those issues. Politicians don’t create the issues. The people do…My plan is to work diligently to make sure that whatever policies are coming out of City Hall that the City Council has some vote on is what’s good for this many people and not this many (a smaller number).

TSD: So the core issues you mention you see as the core issues in District 7?

K. Ford: There are a lot of issues in District 7. Jobs, jobs, jobs. Unemployment affects crime. Education affects employment. We’ve got to raise the skill level of our population. When companies look at Memphis as a possible destination they are looking at the education level of the population in the city they are moving to. They are looking to see if the people there are literate. Are the people by and large the kind of people we can hire for our company? Or are we going to have to bring people in?…

They are looking at what our population has to offer. And when we are talking about moving into North Memphis, we’ve got to make sure that …In order for them to get jobs, they’ve go to have skills  or a good education. Everybody is not going to go to college. So we’ve got to make sure we shore up the other parts. We’ve got to make sure we have a good relationship with unions because they provide internships for people. We’ve got make sure our people know how to build things again, grow things again…

“We don’t know how to build anything any more. What about technology? I would like to be someone who is moving forward and not constantly moving back to what we used to do, but looking forward to what we can do and what our possibilities are. New energy, new ideas.

TSD: On the campaign trail, is there anything in particular that the people want to know about you?

K. Ford: They just want to know if you are going to get out there and forget about us. I hear that time and time again. “Every time we get behind somebody, once they get in off in office we can’t reach them. All the promises that they made, they never come back to fulfill…are you going to be accessible?”….Some people promised them baseball uniforms and (the people say) we never got any baseball uniforms. I say (to them), look, I’m not promising baseball uniforms….

 One of the things I know that we need to do is get real creative. I want computers on the desks of our schools. I know the City Council doesn’t have anything to do with MCS anymore, but as a leader in District 7 I want to see how I can get private companies to invest in the schools, put some computers, adopt them one by one by one…

TSD: So why now? Why are you deciding to run now?

K. Ford: One of things that made me get up off the sidelines is I see young professionals leaving here two by two. I was one of them. I came back…We are losing talented young people….We are not creating the kinds of jobs that are worth the education they have worked so hard for, gone into debt for…they can’t stay here. It doesn’t make sense....Young people are not interested as much in manufacturing any more. We’re not going to have the great Firestone of yesterday’s lore. But what we can have is have a great technology company come and we can invest in some young people and make sure they have some really great jobs for the future; jobs that will build the future…

TSD: Who has endorsed your candidacy up to this point?

K. Ford: I’ve been endorsed by the Firefighters, the Police Association, AFL-CIO, labor. Anybody who works hard in this town is probably, hopefully standing behind me. My headquarters is at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Labor Center because AFSCME has endorsed me…

“We’ve got to stop telling people that the only way to balance the budget is on the backs of hardworking people. It’s just not true. It’s not true when we can give upwards to $200 million in city bonds to Bass Pro. It’s not true when we can almost match public and private to build up Overton Square….We can give millions of dollars to wealthy businesses and corporations but can’t take care of our own?

And even in these P.I.L.O.T. (payment in lieu of taxes) programs where we are giving away the store, we’re not doing any oversight. There is nothing that guarantees that these companies will hire Memphians; that these companies will give back to this community in the form of jobs, good paying jobs….

TSD: What would be your thoughts in terms of new revenue creation, alternative revenue sources for the city? What’s you approach to the whole budget challenge?

 K. Ford: There was a 4.6 percent wage cut for city workers and that included police and fire. What’s important to look at is when you cut police and fire you are cutting essential services. Firefighters are hurting. Not only are they looking at that 4.6 percent cut, but right behind it their pension is on the chopping block. What we have is a 4.6 percent wage cut at the city time we have this one-time, 18-cent property tax increase…they cut property taxes back that same 18-cents three years ago when they decided not to pay the schools. Now this 18-cent, one-time property tax increase is supposed to go to schools, but you know what it went to? It never went to the schools. They’re using that money to do a backdoor privatization with the Sanitation Department to basically buy them out of their pension and push them out to pasture.

I think we need to open up the city budget and find out where all this money is going first before we talk about anything else…We’re crying broke but we seem to find ways to give money to the interests that they want to give money to. I just don’t believe it first…We need to show everybody where this money is going, not just me.

I don’t want to talk about balancing the budget because I don’t necessarily think it is broken. Not when you have the resources to do all this other stuff…

TSD: So your thoughts are that it is a matter of resource allocation rather than lack of resources?

K. Ford: I believe that first we should look at resource allocation….I don’t believe you have to be a rocket scientist to be a City Council person. I believe it takes common sense and little bit of courage to do what is right for this many people, not this many.

TSD: Are you saying that you have a level of common sense and courage that distinguishes you from the other candidate?

K. Ford: I’m not comparing myself to my opponent at all or my predecessors…I compare myself to myself and (I am) constantly trying to be a better version of myself and the human being that God created me to be.

TSD: The voters have to make a choice.

K. Ford: They have to make a choice. I’m not comparing myself. It’s up to them to compare. I’m not comparing anything I do to what my opponent is doing. I’m not basing what I do off of what someone else that is in this race is doing. I’m not following him around around. I’m out here talking to people for myself, on my own, to represent them…

“At the end of the day, I want to be able to come back to my opponent and say, “Great job, great run of a campaign.” I have nothing bad to say about anybody. Let’s get that very clear. I’m not comparing myself to him. I am very different. What’s similar about all of us is that we are human beings and we all want a great quality of life here in Memphis.

So I’m not looking to compare and find differences. I’m trying to find ways to bring commonality, what we have in common. Let’s stop separating ourselves by religion, race, socio-economics….We’ve got to start facing each other and our challenges so that we can find solutions together. I’m not saying we are going to eradicate anything. I’m just saying we can’t run from it anymore.

TSD: What’s your take on wealth creation in the African-American community? How do you see from your seat being able to affect the growth of African-American businesses, particularly in participation with public projects?

K. Ford: I’ll use a specific one, Bass Pro, coming here. They don’t have the best reputation with minorities now do they? They’ve got a lawsuit going on right now brought solely by the federal department of justice. I stood up in front of the Pyramid with (City Council member) Janis Fullilove and she was talking about having some guarantees (with P.I.L.O.T) programs and what we were asking for, demanding of City Hall, was that there be a guarantee of a certain percentage, not just these little percentages…go to local and minority contractors….

We can build our community. We have the people to do it. City Hall is eroding its relationship with organized labor and I don’t see that as an effective way to move forward….

I know times are tough. I’m not saying we’ve got some windfall somewhere. What I’m saying is that you’ve got to create your way to get to the end result that we all want…all hands on deck and be creative and maybe make sacrifices here and there. But the sacrifices don’t all have be put on the backs of hardworking people…

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