Written by Gabe Burns, Asst. Sports Writer
Before his reelection on Tuesday, Mayor John Gayle addressed local issues during a press conference last week for Valdosta State University journalism students at City Hall, including a potential public transportation system and efforts to contain drug distribution.
Gayle, who has now approached his second term in office, set aside time to address topics pertaining to the students’ interests. Among the most discussed subjects was the establishment of a public transportation circuit.
The mayor confirmed that a year-long trial run is in progress to examine how affective the arrangement would be, from which he alluded would determine if the city will produce a full transportation system in the near future.
Though not said with malicious intent, Gayle suggested that his competition with opponent J.D. Rice has racial implications. With Rice being an African-American, Gayle feels that the political race has become a racial debate. Gayle said he believes that the African-American community strongly desires a larger voice, and with 52 percent of the area’s population being of that descent, it could have a significant impact on Tuesday’s results.
“I hate to put it this way, but I’m in an election where it’s the white community against the black community right now. That’s what it’s boiled down to,” said Gayle. “They (the African-American community) do feel like they should have more representation, and so they’re pushing as a group for J.D. to be elected.
“I’m hoping I’ve been the mayor enough to get the support of all of the community. I feel like I’ve been the mayor for all of Valdosta, and I’ve been spreading that message.”
VSU journalist Candace Mitchell who was present at the conference, concurred that race is still a relevant concern of Valdosta.
“With me being an African-American woman, it showed that he knows there is still a separation, and that race, this day and age, is still a big part of life, especially in Valdosta,” Mitchell said. “I think that that might be one of his—not downfalls—concerns for his campaign. I think that’s why he was reaching out to everyone, to gain everyone’s attention.”
Gayle also spoke on the emergence of the drug “flakka”, a substance that has recently reached circulation in Valdosta. He explained the effects of the drug, and that it is even being dispersed via candy such as gummy bears and jolly ranchers. He cautions all citizens to not be ignorant of the variety of ways in which the drug is spread.
Pertaining to the drug outbreak, as well as the city’s high STD rate, Gayle said it all starts with educating our youth. The mayor has been traveling to different functions and events to help raise awareness in the community. He said that it is not connected to his campaign, but rather a focus on improving the future of the United States.
“We have to see that the parents are involved. The churches have to see to it that the congregation is involved,” said Gayle. “It’s got to be a community-wide effort where education is important, and most of all, home life is important.”
Regarding the current state of the town’s economy, Gayle teased the prospect of an unnamed European business setting up their first American plant in Valdosta, though the city is competing with an undisclosed Florida location for that honor. If the business ultimately settles in the Azalea City, it would provide over 200 high-paying jobs for the area.
The press conference was considered an overall success, educating students on the government’s involvement in the community.
“This event is a great opportunity for VSU journalism students to experience actual working government,” said Ted Geltner, a VSU journalism professor. “It gives them a chance to interview a real public figure, and maybe even break some news. City government is something that new journalists should become familiar with. It’s one of the beats that they will probably encounter when they enter the profession.”