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Challenge 2015: Kim Dulek, District 3
'The gunfire is every night. We need to bring Savannah from the dark back into the light.'

IT MAY NOT be Savannah’s most glamorous sector, but District 3 has a lot of things going for it: A bustling commercial corridor, diverse neighborhoods and lots of greenspace. It also has seen a marked uptick in robberies, auto theft and gunfire in the past year, and violent crime has increased 100 percent since incumbent John Hall took office in 2011.

Kim Dulek enters the race for Alderman District 3 with a background in advocacy and a degree in Public Health from UGA. Originally from Gwinnett County, Dulek brought that local government into the 21st century by designing the first website of that county’s Tax Commissioner office. She lives in Gordonston and currently owns and operates the consulting firm Anchor Advocacy.

What made you decide to run for office?

I had already been investigating crime in our neighborhood because of what happened here—a spray of bullets came through our window in March, during St. Patrick’s Day weekend —so I had started attending neighborhood association meetings to see if others were as pissed off as I was.

On May 29, I was sitting in a pew at Aldersgate Methodist Church at a town hall meeting, and John Hall said, “What do you mean, crime? We don’t have a crime problem in District 3.”

When I heard that, I turned to my husband and said “Honey, hold on. I think we’re fixin’ to get into politics.”

What did you do before?

I’m an advocate for seniors and the developmentally disabled, working with them to find community options for living. I work with a lot of groups around town that help advocate for others as well. So I thought, why not advocate for our district? It’s what I do every day. It’s a little different as I’ve discovered, but it requires no less passion for people.

What is it like to live in D3 right now?

Right now in District 3? It’s being afraid to open your door after dark. It means keeping the blinds closed. For many, especially the older population who I happen to have a special place in my heart for, it means not even going outside at all.

The gunfire is every night. Thank goodness it doesn’t usually hit people. There are a few residents on the east side who were talking about forming a therapy group amongst each other so they could talk about issues regarding PTSD.

We need to bring Savannah from the dark back into the light. Not only opening our blinds and being aware of what going on in our neighborhoods but in our mindset and transparency in the way we do things. We still have some cleaning up to do on the police force to get to the real issues in the neighborhood.

The police precinct that answers calls for the Eastside is on Wilmington Island. Will you advocate for a new one?

This was one of the earliest issues that came up at the town hall meetings, and it’s something I hear a lot when I go out into the neighborhoods. And yes, it’s one of the things I will push for.

In fact, in a couple of years when you guys at Connect move out of the building you're in now, we have ideas for that space. It used to be a police precinct and it needs to be again.

D3 has its share of poverty and crime and also Gordonston, an affluent enclave that's mostly white. How do you unify the community?

The first public meeting I had with John Hall, he threw the race card out immediately. I am so not there. It is not black and white. It is not black versus white. It is about what we can do to bring Savannah together as a community and do what's best for our children, our elders, our single mothers, all our citizens.

I respect what John Hall has done for civil rights. But in this day and age, when the people of this district are clamoring for help fighting crime and derelict properties, we need to fight for everyone.

I wouldn’t have put my declaration of intent if had I heard in the meetings, “Oh, you’re some white lady, there’s no way you’re going to win.” Instead I just heard a lot of anger.

The people at these meetings are mostly female. They’re mothers, they’re grandmothers raising grandchildren, and they’re tired. Not just because they’re working three jobs to support their families; they’re tired because they’re not getting support from their own city.

It is not the responsibility of the citizens of Savannah to lead. It is their responsibility of the mayor and council to help us get where we need to go. And I don’t think that’s being done.

What initiatives would you implement?

More neighborhood associations—there aren’t enough here to support the population that lives here. We will also create community centers, not only for youth programs but that involve seniors and have them on site as well. We need cross-generational involvement.

Our elders would love to give back through tutoring or arts and crafts or rocking the babies, all of the things we can share with one another.

We were talking to some kids the other day, right in the heart of the state streets, and asked them what they would want in their community to make their lives better. Little children, probably 9 or 10 years old. And they said “Art! We want to do art!”

Art comes in a lot of forms, whether it’s music, drawing, dancing and we need to make it accessible and easy to get to. Young people shouldn’t have to be bussed out to get these types of services, we need to bring it to them.

We also have a Blight-to-Bright program already that’s underfunded and understaffed. It could do amazing things if we gave it the resources it needs. We can take those boarded-up buildings and help entrepreneurs and small businesses create viable business that give back to the community and create jobs in the neighborhood.

Right off of Skidaway—a block from John Hall’s house—there are several boarded-up properties with junk piled up in the yard. That could easily rezoned commercial.

Parts of the D3 aren’t very far from the tourist district. Do you have any ideas that could bring some of those visitor dollars out this way?

I would love to see us do something along Presidents Street on the north end. I don’t know who owns those undeveloped properties by Second Harvest and the golf club, but there could be a shopping village for those who have been displaced off Broughton Street. And a big parking area for food trucks so we can have that in this area.

We also need something for kids to do other than a playground, something interactive or with water. You see what Pooler has done with their water park; that’s smart.

I know a lot of people don’t agree that a water park would be a good idea, but I love what Charleston did. You have a county-funded development that’s bringing in revenue and jobs for the city. I’d like to see more public private partnerships.

Also, it’s great what we have going on Victory with Whole Foods, but we need some type of market out near Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s a food desert out there. There’s a Family Dollar and convenience stores with lottery. How many more of those do we need on the east side? Zero.

Any more thoughts for the future of Savannah?

I think we’re at a very pivotal time in this city, not just in this district but all over. We’ve got to get people in office who aren’t complacent. I don’t have any hidden agendas, I’m not connected to PACs or groups trying to sway me one way or another.

We want to show off this beautiful city, but a lot of people are scared to death because of what they’re reading in the news. We’re going to back to time in Savannah when people are afraid to come here. This is a vibrant, beautiful city and we need to protect that.