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Duluth residents to vote for mayor, city council member

DULUTH - Redevelopment is a key issue in Duluth's upcoming election.

Not only will residents be voting on a referendum that would create a tax allocation district in the city, but candidates say redevelopment is one of the biggest issues Duluth faces.

Mayoral candidate James R. "Jim" Johnson said he supports the referendum that, if passed, would create a funding mechanism that could bring economic improvement and investment money into the city.

"Because I am who I am as an economist and a person of action, I want to help bring economic viability to downtown Duluth and the rest of the city," he said.

Johnson, a retired business executive who now does management consulting on the side, said he decided to run for four personal reasons. At the top of his list is that he's used to waking up and being a leader, and he said he's not ready for that to end.

"I want to enjoy the character and small townness of Duluth," he said. "I want to fully retire here. ... I want to extend the quality of life because I want to enjoy it myself."

Johnson's opponent is political newcomer Nancy Harris, a veteran educator who retired as principal of B.B. Harris Elementary School.

"As a principal, you are running a business, you are operating a budget, you are operating personnel, you are dealing with the pressures of the public, and at the same time, you're keeping your school focused, and you're keeping your school on a vision of raising student achievement," Harris said. "As a principal, I have a lot of leadership experience in the business world."

Harris agrees the city needs economic stability and, if elected, she said she wants to renew the city's focus on long-range planning while maintaining the traditions that are part of Duluth.

"I'm a local hometown girl," said Harris, who is the daughter of B.B. Harris, the former superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools. "I appreciate the history, and I want to assimilate that into the new growth."

Although there's some competition for the City Council's Post 5 seat - with four candidates vying for the spot - they all agree revitalization is important for Duluth's future.

Maxine Garner, a former City Councilwoman, said quality of life is the most important issue facing Duluth's future. Revitalization of the Buford Highway corridor is also important, she said.

Garner, the only candidate who has experience serving on the City Council, said three things set her apart from her opponents.

"I have maximum commitment to the city, I have maximum experience and I have maximum integrity," she said.

Arnie Garrett, a Libertarian, said that he sees his lack of political experience as a strength rather than a handicap.

"It will allow me to think outside the box ... when problems need to be attacked," he said.

Like Garner, Garrett said he would like to see a change in the look of the Buford Highway corridor. If elected, he said he'd push for new businesses to occupy existing office space that is vacant and push for more green space. He said he's also like to see an increase in voter registration and participation in city elections.

Marline Santiago-Cook, an information technology manager, said her corporate experience as well as military experience have prepared her for the business of the City Council. She's also involved in Smart Growth Gwinnett, the organization working to keep Wal-Mart out of Duluth.

Santiago-Cook said she would like to maintain Duluth's small sense of community while increasing its economic vitality.

"I do think it is time to take action on redevelopment and move forward," she said. "We need to look at more than the current issues ... and (address) what is the long term ... and how it will affect the city in the future."

Greg Whitlock said his understanding of business sets him apart from his opponents. He said he has a new vision for the city, and he knows what has worked - and what has not - in the past.

Whitlock, who was raised one child in the city and is raising another, said he wants to make sure Duluth is a safe, prosperous place to raise a family.

"A safe, secure community is the most important thing," he said. "Redevelopment is one tool to help get us there."

Incumbent Doug Mundrick is running unopposed for the Council's Post 4 seat.

SideBar: The candidates

Mayor

Jim Johnson

' Age: 64

' Occupation: Semi-retired management consultant

' Education: Master's degree in economics from University of Nebraska

' Political Experience: None

' Family: Wife, Jane; son, Chad, 31

' Web site: www.jimforduluthmayor.com

Nancy Harris

' Age: 53

' Occupation: Retired educator

' Education: Specialist's degree in administration from Georgia State University

' Political Experience: None

' Family: Children, Bebe, 25, Caleb, 19

' Web site: www.nancyharrisformayor.com

City Council Post 5

Maxine Garner

' Age: 54

' Occupation: Medicare coder for Gwinnett Medical Center

' Education: Registered X-ray technician

' Political Experience: 16 years on the Duluth City Council; 2 years appointed to the Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning and Zoning Board

' Family: Two adult children, Sean and Melissa; 4 grandchildren

' Web site: www.maxinegarner.com

Arnie Garrett

' Age: 49

' Occupation: Unemployed business analyst

' Education: Graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in technical management from DeVry Institute of Technology

' Political Experience: None

' Family: Wife, Amy; daughters, Christen, 25, Shannon, 23

' Contact information: warnieg@hotmail.com

Marline Santiago-Cook

' Age: 40

' Occupation: Senior information technology project manager

' Education: Bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix; pursuing a master's degree in information technology from the University of Georgia

' Political Experience: None

' Family: Husband, Jeff Cook; children, Erick, 22, Vanessa, 21, Germaine, 18, Chris, 17

' Contact information: 404-446-7284, msantiagocook@bellsouth.net

Greg Whitlock

' Age: 38

' Occupation: Commercial insurance agent

' Education: Bachelor's degree in risk management from Georgia State University

' Political Experience: Serves on the Duluth Downtown Development Authority, the Duluth Investment and Finance Committee and the Community Core Preservation Board

' Family: Wife, Barbara; children, Andrew, 20, Olivia, 21 months

' Contact information: 770-622-6500, vote4greg@bellsouth.net