ALBANY — Incumbent Ward III Albany City Commissioner Christopher Pike remembers well the moment he became aware of the power of his office.
“There was an 80-something-year-old little old lady who called me and told me she was about to be kicked out of her home,” Pike, who is seeking a second term in office in the Nov. 5 municipal election, said. “She told me she was on a fixed income and that her house was going to be foreclosed on the next day. I told her, quite frankly, that I didn’t think there was anything I or the city could do.
“I called (City Manager) Mr. (James) Taylor and told him her story, and he told me the city has special funds for people like that. We were able to help this lady save her house. That’s when I realized this is really powerful stuff.”
Pike defeated long-time Albany politico Arthur Williams four years ago to claim the Ward III seat, and he says he expects just as tough a challenge from his opponents in the Nov. 5 election: businesswoman B.J. Fletcher and school system bus driver Cheryl Calhoun.
“My thing has always been I talk about issues, not people,” Pike said. “I think it’s great that in this country, everyone has an opportunity to run for office. I kind of look at this from a spiritual perspective: I believe God has a purpose for everyone, and I’m here doing what God has me here to do. I grew up in metro Atlanta, and every time I thought I’d head back there, God has kept me here.”
Pike said his relative youth has allowed him to bring a new perspective to the City Commission, and that’s something he doesn’t take lightly. But he said he learned quickly to stand up for himself and for his ward.
“I kind of jumped in head-first right from the start,” Pike said. “The mayor pro tem is named on a rotating basis, and when I took office it was the Ward III commissioner’s time to serve as mayor pro tem. Some argued that I should have to wait because of my lack of experience, but I stood up for myself, told them Ward III shouldn’t be skipped. I gained valuable experience that year serving as acting mayor in Mayor (Willie) Adams’ absence on a number of occasions.
“It took me a little time to win the confidence of the other folks at the table, but after a little while I could feel the shift when they decided, ‘This kid knows what he’s talking about.’”
Respect, the Ward III commissioner said, is vital.
“In order to get things done, you have to be a consensus builder,” Pike said. “At the end of the day, you have to be able to get three other votes. I’ve been able to do that because I understand the dynamic of the group. See, it’s OK to be a hell-raiser, but what really matters is getting stuff done to make Albany a better community.
“In a lot of ways, that’s even more important to me. I’m 35, and I’m going to be here for a long time. I’ve got kids in the school system, and it’s important that I help create what’s best for them and their generation.”
Pike said he and his colleagues on the commission will best move toward that goal through sound economic policies. That, he said, is the key to Albany’s future.
“You take an issue like crime,” he said. “People think fighting crime is putting a police officer on every corner. Our police department is 100 percent funded, but we still have a high crime rate. You reduce crime through economic prosperity. People are hurting. When you read crime reports and see that people aren’t stealing cigarettes and beer but tooth paste and other toiletries, you get an idea of how bad it is.”
Pike said the economic downturn hurt Albany significantly, but he noted that there are signs of life in the city. He points out a number of new businesses that have located in Ward III during his tenure.
“The overall picture hasn’t changed a lot, but there have been lots of little moments the last four years,” Pike said. “There’s the Walgreens, Kauffman Tire, Short & Paulk, Zaxby’s, Homerun Foods and the new Hardee’s that will locate next to Krispy Kreme. I look at issues like working with Short & Paulk to help with sign ordinance issues and working with ADICA (the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority) to pave the way for Homerun Foods. And we just addressed flooding issues in that area with a drainage project.
“Those are the kinds of things that make a difference.”
Pike said he expects significant local growth “within the next two years” thanks to a $30 million “Deal-Closing Fund” set aside by the commission’s Long-Term Financial Planning Committee. The fund, one-third of credits returned to the city’s Water, Gas & Light utility by the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia collective, offers incentives to businesses bringing significant jobs to the community.
The LTFPC set up guidelines for use of the fund with the help of the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission. Pike is a member of both groups.
“We’re going to be able to spur significant economic development with that fund,” Pike said. “We’re going to have jobs that offer true career value. This fund sets us apart. In the past (economic developers) didn’t really look at us, but they’re talking about us all over the state now.
“I think most people understand that a multimillion-dollar deal we’re looking for is not going to happen overnight. But we’re cultivating relationships that are going to pay off long-term.”
That, Pike said, is key to the commission’s next four years.
“There’s negative pushback right now, but with the influx of public-private partnerships, I think you’re going to see growth downtown,” he said. “We’ve laid the foundation to provide the needs of our law enforcement and public safety personnel, and we’re going to continue our significant blight eradication.
“I’m not going to bash anyone in Albany; I’m just not a negative person. I’m looking at ways to build our community. I’ve got the good of this community in my heart. And if I lose this race, I will still be out there, working even harder.”