District 5 candidates discuss issues facing Savannah's largest geographical area

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - One week from Tuesday, voters will be heading to the polls to vote for Savannah City Council.

The one race generating the most heat has been in the 5th District.

Challenger Shaundra McKeithen claims that at one of the debates, the husband of incumbent City Council woman Estella Shabazz blocked her way and flashed a gun to intimidate her.  Estella's husband, Yusuf Shabazz, a Chatham County Commissioner, has denied doing anything wrong and says he doesn't even own a gun.

That alleged incident has overshadowed the race, but where do the candidates actually stand on the issues?

Savannah's 5th District is a sprawling district that includes areas of Savannah from Liberty City and Tatumville, to south of Hunter Army Airfield and the Savannah Mall. It includes New Hampstead High School, and areas west of I-95 including Bradley Point, up to the Bryan County line.

It is the largest geographical area in Savannah. And it doesn't matter where you live, the number one issue both candidates say they hear most often is about crime.

"We've got to do this thing together. It is going to take the trusting of our residents with our police departments, to come together and the speaking out of our residents to the police on what took place, so we can get those who have committed gun violence in the places that they need to be," said Estella Shabazz.

"I don't believe youth wake up today and just want to sell drugs or rob people. When you don't have alternatives for them if we do not invest in our children, we did not invest and this is what we have," said Shaundra McKeithen.

"People are not trusting of our police, I think that has to wipe away. The trust mechanism has got to be brought back into the neighborhoods. So we can help alleviate crime. So neighborhood policing is one of the things," said Shabazz.

"Once you hurt the trust factor with your citizens it's going to take a lot to rebuild that and that's going to come over time, but first we have to stop the bleeding. Enforce some of the laws already on the books, curfew we have to tighten it up, we need to put some of the responsibilities back on the parents. Even if we had police on every corner we would still have crime. But it's parents' duties to make sure they know where there children are at all times," said McKeithen.

One investment the city is looking to make is the $3 million dollar buy of the fairgrounds in the 5th District. Commissioner Shabazz voted for the purchase because she feels it's a good investment for taxpayers.

"So that we can use that property for our young people to have more recreational facilities available for them. Also for the family having a little affordable housing for them there," said Shabazz.

"I'm very cautious about it for the people of Tatumville, and Feiler Park, because no one knows what that land could possibly be," said McKeithen.

Shabazz is in her first term on Savannah City Council and feels like she is just getting started with making a positive change for the 5th District.

"I use as my theme for this campaign season, born to serve. I realize my purpose is as a servant of the people," said Shabazz.

Her challenger, McKeithen, feels she can serve the people best.

"I am a leader for all people that's what I would like to see a united 5th District. I would like to see a thriving 5th District where we have opportunity for all of our citizens," said McKeithen.

Both Candidates feel we need to invest money and time in our youth.

"We have a group of youth now, who were babies back when we started pulling money from programs that worked. Now they are our 14-25 year olds committing crime and getting murdered in our streets," said McKeithen.

"Working with our business community with programs such as Youth Build Savannah, a program for young people between the ages of 16-24, to build them up, construction and leadership training," said Shabazz.

Both candidates feel they bring special qualities to the table. McKeithen has been a grant writer for more than 20 years and feels we need to strengthen the non-profits in our community.

"I have said for a long time, we need to provide the technical assistance even if that means creating or having grant writers on city staff that wouldn't cost the city any extra money to write grants specifically for our social programs," said McKeithen.

Shabazz is a business owner and civil engineer.

"Just having the skill as an engineer to be able to communicate with our staff and our city manager, staying on top of the projects, when contractors come in and making sure the right thing is being done," said Shabazz.

Shabazz says her engineering background has helped move the city forward on projects, like the new police facility, the Feiler Park Playground, and the fire station at Bradley Point South.

"We have that wonderful station, at Bradley Point South, That particular model is going to be the model as we go through the 21st century in the city and county," said Shabazz.

Shabazz goals for the next four years would be moving the long awaited DeRenne Project along and zeroing in on flooding in her district.

"Moving forward as I already have with the drainage situation in the 5th District, I do believe that with my expertise as a civil engineer I can help move the projects forward," said Shabazz.

McKeithen says she started her career as a strategic planner for the City of Savannah. And worked on several project plans for the City that went nowhere.

"It's repetition, and the taxpayers should feel jilted because we have wasted millions of dollars in manpower and tax dollars doing plans and redoing plans," said McKeithen.

McKeithen wants to see more people rise above the poverty line.

"We must stimulate economic growth, we must have a living wage, job opportunities for our youth," said McKeithen. "I have been a large advocate for minority business enterprises and minority business enterprises for our city."

Shabazz says she wants people who are awarded city contracts to hire more local, skilled laborers.

"I have been a large advocate for minority business enterprises and minority business enterprises for our city," said Shabazz.

"Vote by who is able to really catapult this district forward and who's going to really fight for the district and that's what I plan on doing. Really fighting for the district," said McKeithen.

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