Standing against an eclectic backdrop of women supporters with signs and boisterous cheers, Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer amplified on her decision to seek the mayor’s office during a Thursday morning press conference.
Makada’s Cookies, a downtown cookie shop whose specialty is old-fashioned, home-made butter cookies, was the setting for the high-energy political affair.
“Many of my events are held in businesses that are minority-owned or women-owned,” Sawyer said,” because that’s where we should be spending our time. They need our support, and that’s where we as a community should expend our efforts.”
Sawyer declared her candidacy in The New Tri-State Defender on Thursday, joining a field that includes incumbent Jim Strickland and former Mayor Dr. Willie W. Herenton. Others who have declared their candidacies include Pam Moses and Lemichael Wilson.
Reporters had questions aplenty for Sawyer. One referenced the accomplishments of incumbent Mayor Jim Strickland, and then asked: “Why do you think you can do a better job?”
“All this momentum you are talking about will only really benefit the top 1 percent,” Sawyer said. “People of color – and I mean all ethnicities – make up 70 percent of the population of Shelby County.
“Over the past two years, the city of Memphis spent just 23.6 percent of its contract dollars with minorities while women-owned businesses received less than two percent of those contracts. With all of this momentum in these new massive, construction projects, I’d like to see that number be closer to 70 percent for minority and women-owned businesses.”
In her first year as a member of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, Sawyer represents District 7.
“I want to be in a position to help more people, not just in District 7, but people in all the 10 Districts,” Sawyer said. “Memphis still has one of the highest child poverty rates in the country. Thirty-nine percent of our children are living in poverty. Nearly 50 percent of African-American children are impoverished in Memphis. This has to change, and we can’t wait.”
Sawyer asserted that the “city does not put one dime into public education, but where do all the dollars go? To policing and jails. We need a more balanced budget that funds education. Most of the crimes in Memphis are driven by poverty – domestic abuse, robbery, assault. A whole generation of people is disappearing behind bars.
“Only 11 percent of students in Shelby County are college or career ready, and less that 20 percent of Memphis students can read on grade-level in the eighth grade,” she said “Education without financial support creates a pipeline to incarceration. We’ve got to make some changes, and we’ve got to do it now.”
One of the final questions to the 36-year-old Sawyer was this: “What do you say to detractors who feel you want too much too fast?”
“I say we can’t wait. I believe I will become mayor because I dare to dream,” she said.
“Barack Obama, who was also an activist and community organizer, talked about not being afraid to dream and daring to be the change you want to see. I can’t wait for someone else. We have to be the change we want to see. Don’t be blindsided by my candidacy. Come on and join us.”
(For more information, visit: www.tamisawyer.com.)