Name: Tami Sawyer
Candidate for: Mayor
Date of Birth: 04-27-1982
Occupation: Shelby County Commissioner & Managing Director, External Affairs at Teach For America – Memphis
- High School: St. Mary’s Episcopal High School, 2000
- College: University of Memphis, 2004
- Masters/Ph.D (if applicable):
Family: I’m the daughter of Andrew & Gladys Sawyer who raised me to serve my community, value education, and always take the high road.
Community Involvement: #takeemdown901, founder
Clayborn Temple, speaker in residence
NAACP, board member, education co-chair
Planned Parenthood, board member
Alpha Kappa Alpha, Incorporated, member
The Links, Incorporated, member
District 7 Annual Backpack & Personal Care Item Giveaway
Leaders of Color Initiative, mentor
Official Campaign Website: www.tamisawyer.com
1. What background/experience distinguishes you from the other candidates who want voters to elect them mayor?
I am an educator, advocate, organizer, leader, listener, and elected official. My life’s work and passion is people: ensuring they’re represented, heard, valued, and included. In each of the roles I’ve held, I’ve built coalitions from across communities to challenge systems, propose solutions, and strengthen the bonds between neighbors. No other candidate can claim to have the same grassroots origin, the same courage to speak truth to power, and the same style of leading in coalitions to drive toward solutions.
2. What are the top three issues facing the City of Memphis?
Memphis is the second poorest city in the nation and while 63 percent of our city is Black, only 3 percent of the wealth is held by Black people. For decades, we have pursued a conservative approach to solving our problems and it, frankly, hasn’t worked. Our poverty rate is roughly the same as it was when Dr. King was assassinated here fighting alongside sanitation workers for a raise. Instead of investing in people, we’ve invested in elite business owners and their corporations and we’ve taken a punitive approach to solving the social ills that poverty creates.
Memphis is facing a crisis in outcomes and solutions and we can’t wait for a new approach to ensuring community members have sustainable jobs that pay a living wage, our youth have the opportunities and education that match their boundless potential, and for our communities to be safe without criminalizing poverty and race.
3. What do you propose to address the three issues you rank as top priorities?
Memphis’ long-standing challenges require creative solutions and we must be clear that our attempts to otherwise solve them has not worked to create a city where everyone can succeed.
As mayor, I would ensure we stop selling ourselves to the lowest bidder to recruit low-paying jobs that are at high risk of automation. Instead, I would focus on growing the number of small local businesses, particularly those owned by women of color; fostering our creative industry; and reforming our tax incentive programs to ensure companies who are offered tax abatements are expected to pay every employee a living wage, meet a 30% MWBE spend threshold, and invest in our community’s infrastructure.
I believe it is unconscionable that our city invests $0 in K-12 education. My education priorities focus on establishing a city-wide competitive fund to support schools, classrooms, organizations, and programs that a) focus on new models of learning to prepare students for the 21st century economy, b) end the school-to-prison pipeline through reimagining resource allocation, discipline structures, and curricula in schools, c) improve literacy rates with both children before they enter school and with adults later in life, d) improve effective teacher retention rates and expand representation for special student populations such as Black men and Spanish speakers, and e) expand mentorship and apprenticeship programs for students 14+. Our youth deserve for us to invest in their dreams, not their incarceration, as the current administration insists upon.
Finally, I know we can keep our communities safe without following racist “tough on crime” policies. My first priority to making a change in this direction is to hire a trauma-informed Memphis Police Director, with the people of Memphis’s input, who a) has a track-record of implementing community policing tactics, b) has experience using data to make staffing decisions, c) will publicly go on record and honor a commitment to not work with ICE, d) will instruct the MPD to not issue charges for low-level marijauna possession nor continue to serve as debt collectors in our communities by issuing tickets that only lead to suspended or revoked licenses, e) is committed to transparency and community accountability, f) supports the decriminalization of quality of life crimes, and g) can lead a culture change across the system so that it is just, compassionate, and people-focused.
Readers can access my full platform here: www.tamisawyer.com/issues
4. Do you favor the call for a half-cent sales tax increase to restore healthcare and retirement benefits for police officers and firefighters cut in 2014?
I look forward to the outcome and will support what the voters decide. I believe that all workers deserve to be fairly compensated and have the ability to retire with benefits. I also believe pre k is an important step of many in improving education.
5. Do you think the local PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) program needs to be reformed? If so, why and how?
Yes. Right now, our policies and practices sell our city and our people’s labor to the lowest bidder. Frequently, these bets don’t pay off and our city is left with abandoned warehouses and Memphians pay the price when they don’t have the jobs promised.
I would freeze our PILOT programs to adjust our frameworks so they put Memphians, not businesses, first. I believe any PILOT must include an expectation that companies pay all of their employees a living wage, that they invest a significant portion of their capital in our city, and any bidding process they hold net at least a 30% MWBE spend. Until we demand our citizens come first, we will continue to fight for scraps or offer tax abatements to companies that don’t require them to stay or move here. We have to be real about the fact that the current plan has gotten wealthy Memphians wealthier and has been predicated on an economic model that keeps wages for poor – often Brown and Black people – low. We have to be clear that this is systemic oppression and we can’t wait to dismantle it.
6. Do you see a risk of displacement and gentrification connected to the development boom in Memphis? If so, how would you address that risk from the position you seek?
Yes and many Memphians are living in this fear and reality everyday.
The current administration, in their zeal to create “momentum” has ensured by their short-sighted actions that we are poised for large amounts of neighborhood displacement. The new mayor will have to prioritize combating gentrification in creative – but also proven – ways.
In addition to focusing on increasing earnings across our community to at least a minimum wage, I will identify and expand programs that work to ensure housing is available and affordable in our neighborhoods and prioritize growing programs that increase long-term home ownership by people of color. This could include investing in community land trusts as a city like Houston recently has to tackle this same issue, but could also include work to restructure the Housing and Community Development office to allow for the necessary prioritization of our housing needs.
Finally, I will work with community advocates and renters to identify, support, and implement best practices that protect renters’ rights. Too many of our neighbors are stuck without advocates and without clear avenues for justice when up against moneyed, organized, out-of-town landlords. Memphians should not be at such high-risk for abuse or even homelessness and the mayor has a moral obligation to ensure they are protected.
7. African-American-owned businesses have made up only 1 percent of all Memphis business receipts for several decades. If elected, do you see playing a role in changing that statistic? If so, what do you think that role would entail?
I think the mayor plays a critical role in leading by example in investing in communities and businesses of color and must set the bar higher than “basic” for performance in all areas, and especially in this one, given our city’s history and present realities.
First, I plan to increase the city’s MWBE spend to a minimum of 30% and, as I’ve previously stated, ensure that a similar MWBE spend is a stipulation of any future PILOT and TIF awarded.
Second, I plan to increase effective small business development and growth programs and create small business loans and subsidy programs to ensure our small businesses, particularly those operated by people of color and especially women of color, can grow exponentially in number.
Finally, I will ensure every report that is published on the city’s spending is accurate, transparent, and reflective of future strategies to increase our results even further.