Decision 2020: Meet Larry Schlesinger, candidate for Macon-Bibb mayor
MACON, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – Five candidates are qualified for the upcoming Macon-Bibb mayoral election.
Lester Miller, Larry Schlesinger, Blake Sullivan, Cliffard Whitby and Marc Whitfield are competing to fill the seat held by Robert Reichert since 2007.
Reichert, who was inaugurated in 2007 as the mayor of the City of Macon, won a runoff election against C. Jack Ellis in October 2013 to become the first mayor of what is now consolidated Macon-Bibb County. His term ends in December.
41NBC’s Tucker Sargent spoke with each candidate ahead of the June 9 election.
Candidate name: Larry Schlesinger
Running for: Macon-Bibb mayor
Occupation: Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Beth Israel & District 2 Macon-Bibb Commissioner
Campaign Website: larryformacon.com
Campaign Facebook: @LarryForMacon
TUCKER: Commissioner Larry Schlesinger joining us now—candidate for Macon-Bibb Mayor. We appreciate you joining us.
LARRY: Oh, it’s great to be here. Thanks for this opportunity in this COVID-19 environment we’re in.
TUCKER: We want to start with your priorities for Macon-Bibb if elected mayor of Macon-Bibb.
LARRY: Well, I’ve got a lot of priorities. I will tell you that I’ve got three things that I’m going to focus my attention on once I take office, and the first thing is obviously our public safety staff for our fire department and our police officers. We want to make sure they are compensated fairly. We want to make sure we’re providing competitive salaries for them. We want to make sure they stay here in Macon. We don’t want to be a training ground. So we want to make sure through a pay scale and through competitive salaries that they’re happy. The second thing I want to do is take a look at blight. We need more code enforcement officers out there citing properties and property owners. Code, which we have in existence, is not a code unless it’s enforced. So we need more code enforcement officers out there, and we also need to revitalize as many properties as we possibly can, and I’ve been talking to our tax commissioner. I’ve been talking to our Land Bank Authority about a program that would get these blighted properties that could be repaired into the hands of people who will renovate them, bring them up to code, make them owner-occupied and basically revitalize the property itself. The third thing I want to do is I want to appoint a Youth Advisory Council. Our students—they spend 80% of their time outside of the classroom, and what we really need to do is we need to provide them with productive, constructive activities after school in their own neighborhoods, and a Youth Activities Council will be the starting point for doing exactly that. Economic development is one of my main interests. We really need to take advantage of our tax allocation districts, of our business improvement districts, of opportunity zones, they are out there. We need to attract people to these zones. We’ve got great colleges out there, hospitals. Film industry here in Macon, Georgia is really increasing, and tourism—once this COVID-19 thing is behind us—we really need to give the 5 of 6 million people who live just 85 miles up the road a really good reason to come down, spend the day here, spend the weekend here. I think with our music heritage and all the museums that we offer, we have the ability to do exactly that.
TUCKER: You killed two birds with one stone for me. I was going to ask next what are Macon-Bibb’s strongest selling points, and you went over several there. So I’ll move on to crime. Obviously, that’s a huge concern within the county. What do you plan to do to help the sheriff’s office mitigate the crime that we see in Macon-Bibb?
LARRY: Well, on my campaign page, which is larryformacon.com, there is a 5-point plan. I don’t have the time to go into all the details, but the five points are this: The first thing we want to do is decrease gun violence. We want to put our first responders first. That’s number two. We want to invest in our youth. I talked a little bit about that with the Youth Advisory Council. We want to implement real justice reform, and I will work with the district attorney. Our present district attorney and I have already had talks about that. And we want to—number five—fight crime before it happens. I am really proud of my record of fully funding our sheriff’s office, local law enforcement. I plan to keep that streak going, because one of our primary duties as a municipality and a county is to provide for the safety of the people who live here. So public safety is really number one on my list.
TUCKER: You touched on, a few minutes ago, about the pay scale study for county employee possible pay raises. For those who don’t know where you stand on that as far as compensating county employees, which also would include public safety—officers and fire members as well.
LARRY: Exactly. We are in the process—I’m the District 2 commissioner, so the commission is really in the process of doing a pay scale study. We are supposed to get our first results—preliminary results—within the next few weeks. But what we want to make sure we are doing is that we have a graded step scale for all county employees that is fair. Part of our problem was consolidation and the city and the county not exactly jiving with one another. This is particularly true with Macon PD officers. But we want to make sure that we’ve got a fair pay scale in place, and that our employees are compensated fairly and happy.
TUCKER: Downtown has seen so much improvement since I moved here in 2012. You’ve obviously been a part of that with being on commission. What are your thoughts on the improvement downtown, first of all, and then for the people who feel they’re left out in other parts of the county. I’ve asked all the candidates: I see people post on social media, ‘Well what about East Macon, South Macon, West Macon?’ How do you plan to reach out to those places, if you’re elected mayor, to get those places thriving as well?
LARRY: Well, what’s happened downtown is really amazing. When my wife and I settled here, we actually wanted to live downtown, and there was actually no living space down there at the time. Now, every nook and cranny has been converted into some sort of a loft apartment, and that development is simply phenomenal. Anybody who knows anything about economic development and redevelopment will tell you that the natural course of events is that it starts downtown and it radiates out. So, it started downtown. I mean it’s been going full guns downtown. It’s now jumped over the river with the Mill Hill development across from the Marriott and the Coliseum. It’s heading out with this Second Street project towards the Tindall Heights area, and it’ll happen in Pleasant Hill, because Pleasant Hill is contiguous to downtown. Now, I’m hoping that my blight program—which basically will target structures that are irreparable in any neighborhood—will reach out into the Bloomfield area, these other areas that are not contiguous to downtown itself. So I am hoping to rehabilitate structures all over the county, and nobody is going to be ignored if we can get this program up and running.
TUCKER: All right. Larry Schlesinger, candidate for Macon-Bibb Mayor. We thank you for joining us.
LARRY: Well thanks so much, Tucker. I really appreciate this opportunity, and I just want to tell you and your viewers to stay safe in this COVID-19 environment.
Snippets from all candidates’ interviews will air on 41NBC News at 5:30 p.m. and 41NBC News at 7 p.m. on Bounce TV Macon. All interviews will also be posted in full on 41NBC.com on the following days: