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VOL. 132 | NO. 237 | Thursday, November 30, 2017

Sawyer, Goff Kick Off Commission Campaigns

By Bill Dries

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Tami Sawyer and Sam Goff may be seeing each other on the August county general election ballot. But between now and May, they have separate primary races for the District 7 seat on the Shelby County Commission.

Sawyer, running in the Democratic primary, and Goff, running in the Republican primary, both opened their campaigns Tuesday, Nov. 28, in Midtown about a mile and a half from each other.

“To me this isn’t a partisan race. I am a Republican,” Goff said after a speech to a group of around 30 supporters at Playhouse on the Square. “I’m not running necessarily on being a Republican as much as I am on what I hope to help change in the city and the skills I have acquired over the years in management.”

Sawyer told a group of 100 supporters at the 1524 Events and Banquet Facility on Madison Avenue that the majority Democratic district covering Frayser, North Memphis, Binghampton and Midtown should stay Democratic.

Sam Goff (pictured) and Tami Sawyer both want the same seat on the Shelby County Commission. They might meet on the August 2018 county general election ballot. But first they have to win their respective primaries in May. Both opened their campaigns Tuesday evening in Midtown. (Daily News/ Bill Dries)

“I think that this district is one of the most engaged politically,” Sawyer said later, talking about the reaction to the election of Donald Trump as president. “Folks are afraid of what is going to happen. These people woke up in that moment and said, ‘We’ve got to own our communities; We’ve got to vote in our districts and we’ve got to do the work now.’”

Goff, a former mortgage loan officer and president of the Evergreen Historic District Association and the Midtown Memphis Development Corp., said his first run for elected office is an outgrowth of going to the Memphis City Council and county commission on land-use and other issues “and being disappointed at what I saw going on.”

“So, here I am running for office,” he told the group, outlining goals of “responsible government, being good leaders in watching your tax dollars.”

Goff has the endorsement of Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell.

This is Sawyer’s second bid for elected office. Her first effort was a 2016 Democratic primary challenge of state Rep. John DeBerry that was a strong first showing in retail politics.

Sawyer organized the first Black Lives Matters demonstrations in 2014 and is probably best known recently as the founder of the “Take Them Down 901” effort to remove Confederate monuments from city parks.

Between those two efforts, Sawyer became part of new and younger blood on the Memphis branch NAACP board that included protesting the visit by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to Memphis earlier this year.

“When Sessions came to town and I saw so many people were about to roll off the county commission, that’s when I said that’s where I need to be doing this work,” she said.

Tami Sawyer (pictured) and Sam Goff both want the same seat on the Shelby County Commission. They might meet on the August 2018 county general election ballot. But first they have to win their respective primaries in May. Both opened their campaigns Tuesday evening in Midtown. (Daily News/ Bill Dries)

She will continue to lead the effort to take down the Confederate monuments that is at odds and frequently critical of a different strategy by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland toward the same general goal.

“It’s like a job to me. I’m not going to shy away from it,” she said. “I’m going to continue to lead it and co-lead it and continue to organize around it. … I don’t think it’s a distraction.”

Goff, in a very different way, also expresses some problems with the status quo.

“I hesitate to say that we have politicians in office now who do grandstanding, but I think I’ve seen that,” he said. “I’m not bringing anything to the table other than a desire to help make this a better place to live.”

Goff said county government should continue paying down a debt that was once at $1.8 billion and is now under $1 billion.

“The interest savings alone on the $1.8 billion is huge. ... I don’t know yet what a happy number might be,” he said of a new debt reduction goal. “It’s very hard for a government to operate completely debt free, obviously, but education is where I think the county needs to focus any extra money. … We’ve got to be able to get enough teachers per student that they can manage a class and find a way to help those kids that are lagging that don’t have the opportunities that other kids get.”

Access to a quality education is among the disparities that Sawyer says will be her priority if elected.

“We have to think about – as Shelby County grows, as Memphis grows – making sure people have the opportunities to grow with it,” she said. “We can’t leave our neighbors behind.”

Sawyer specifically talks small business growth that preserves the social core of areas as opposed to expansion of large businesses into areas.

“Access to small-business jobs that lead to development in hyper-local areas so that people don’t have to rely on an old, aging transportation system which just isn’t getting it right right now,” was how she put it. “So that we have jobs and businesses that people can walk to and be proud of what’s on their corner. So their kids can get fresh food on the way to school and not be afraid to walk their streets. That’s the Shelby County that I’m hoping for.”

Goff, who has done volunteer work in several local schools, said he wants to see more county government funding for Shelby County Schools go to reading and literacy efforts in the early grades. He’s also aware that while the commission approves the school system’s budget, it has no line-item control over what specific dollar amounts are used for.

“It would be, quite honestly, my focus to try to convince the school board with funding to make moves to reduce class size in those first few years of education and not have 25-plus kids in a classroom,” he said. “I know that if you do anything, it’s going to mean X more dollars. I understand. But I also am not a rubber stamp. I will look at what they are asking for. But if I figure out maybe there is too much here or maybe we need to cut back administratively here – I will make those decisions as well.”

Goff and Sawyer are each likely to have competition in their respective primaries on the May 1 ballot. The seat is currently held by Democrat Melvin Burgess who is term-limited and plans to run for property assessor in 2018. His is one of six open seats on the 13-member commission. Five of the open seats are a result of term limits. The sixth open seat is the result of Republican commissioner David Reaves deciding not to run after one term on the commission.

PROPERTY SALES 76 133 1,342
MORTGAGES 83 131 1,047
BUILDING PERMITS 190 277 3,028