Northwest Auburn is a place where women gather around the porch — after eight to nine hours on the job, filling plastic bags with stranger’s food — and discuss their mayoral candidates like they do the abandoned buildings down the street.
An ineffective presence, unconcerned with the community, they say.
Northwest Auburn, a predominantly black sector of the city, has historically contended with local officials for improvements and revitalization in the area. It’s currently scattered with dilapidated structures, poor landscaping and only a few stores that barely support any jobs for those in the area, save the few clerking positions at groceries.
All five women shake their heads disapprovingly when the runoff election for mayor, taking place Tuesday between Ron Anders and David Hill, is brought up. They sip drinks and agree neither candidate will help, or even be focused, with their part of town. The owner of this house on Foster Street where the women meet, Sheryl Jones, briefly goes into why.
“I just think both men aren’t concerned with our area. They’re concerned with downtown, with their business,” Jones said, pointing across the tracks.
The other women nod their heads.
They’ve been around long enough, they say, to be too hopeful of either one’s willingness to help Northwest Auburn.
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“I hope they can build up this area,” Jones said, now pointing at the ground her plastic chair stands on. “But I don’t see it happening. They don’t seem concerned with what happens on this side of the track.”
What will happen on her side is stated in The Northwest Auburn Neighborhood Plan, which was approved by the City Council this summer. While the plan’s vision is to “encourage growth and redevelopment,” and it, indeed, plans to create a walkable, safe and attractive neighborhood through this redevelopment, the plans reception hasn’t been completely positive with residents.
Residents don’t want the University and student housing to encroach their community because of the likely gentrification that could ensue. Some of the redevelopment in the plan includes the building of duplexes and quadplexes, which may not be popular with undergraduates, but are with graduate students. This has made people like Jones weary of the plan, and in turn, weary of the upcoming election between Ron Anders and David Hill.
Yet, because of their Lord, the women wish whoever wins the best of luck and “demand to not be pushed aside,” as Jones put it.
It’s declared in Romans 12:12 that one must “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” Jones said she’s going to focus on the patience in tribulation part when she goes to church this Sunday. Her vote will be for Hill. He is “new blood,” she said.
The Rev. Dr. Stephen Faulk, who preaches at AME Zion Church on Martin Luther King Drive, said he will not spend a single breath of air on either candidate in his sermons. He will remind people to vote, but as for endorsements, he refuses to sway his friends for one or the other, he said.
“As of today, none of the candidates have had a conversation with me. So, I’m not endorsing either one because they are not speaking to our community,” Faulk said.
The congregants don’t seem too polarized on the election either, he said. The last leader they have faith in is on a giant black cross across the church.
“Our people, or black community, discuss the candidates with apathy. Perhaps that apathy is present on both sides — citizens and candidates,” Faulk said.
Faulk remembers current Mayor Bill Ham visiting the church various times to talk with the community, and he said this dialogue was greatly appreciated. He hopes the new mayor will do the same, plus a little more action and assistance for the people of Northwest Auburn, not just sermons. He can handle the speaking part; what Faulk wants is action.
“There has been so much development all over Auburn, except for this community,” Faulk said. “This community has been neglected. So to whoever wins, it’s crucial you build a relationship with this community. Leaders find out problems and assess. We’ve found our problems. Now, it’s time to assess.”
Takisha Payne, who waves at every car that drives by, has a problem with the crime taking place around her home in the Northwest Village subdivision. Neighbors have been robbed. She wants whoever wins to bring more economic opportunity and development in the area. Payne believes that if there’s a place for people to be apart of the workforce, there’d be no need to steal.
Her vote will be for Anders. He is “experienced,” she said.
Lindburgh B. Jackson, a former 2018 mayoral candidate and an outspoken resident of Northwest Auburn, sees Anders experience as a detriment.
“Anders has been there on that Council for a while” Jackson said. "Throughout his time in office, he has not done anything to help promote growth in the African-American community in Northwest Auburn. They do not have a track record that helps stimulate growth here."
Jackson also commented on the lack of diversity in city politics, something his campaign prioritized as a key issue.
“We have difficulty communicating what our needs are because we don’t have people to communicate with. We’re given very little representation,” Jackson said.
On Tuesday, his vote will be for Hill. He “represents a new beginning,” he said.
For Jones and her friends, their representation and their elected officials’ value for them as voters is best captured by the tarnished buildings they still live by.
The women disperse at around 6:30 p.m. There are shifts to wake up for, bills to pay and buildings, abandoned and rotten ones, to come back home to.
“I don’t know,” Jones ponders. “Maybe they can do some good. Lord knows we could use some good people right now.”
The election is schedule for Oct. 9.
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