Editor's Note: Elk Grove Patch is interviewing candidates running for mayor in 2012. Click here to read interviews with Jerry Braxmeyer, Gary Davis and Greg Higley, and check back to hear from the remaining candidates.
This isn't the first time LaWanna Montgomery has run for office in Elk Grove, but this time is different. She's one of six people running for mayor in the first election being held for that position, and her twin daughters are now headed off to college.
Montgomery said if she can own and operate her after-school and tutoring business, Reach Learning Center, while looking after twins, there's no telling what she'll be able to accomplish now.
Elk Grove Patch sat down with the candidate to talk about her goals, plans and aspirations. This interview has been edited for length.
Why did you decide to run for mayor?
I decided to run for mayor because they need a strong mayor, someone who knows how to move Elk Grove forward in these tough times.
What were some of the things you learned from [running for city council in 2004 and 2008]?
What I’ve learned is not to give up, that’s one thing … Because I know I’m a person that works well with everyone, so I believe that you need a mayor who can not just work for a small group of people, but be willing to work for everyone, and my leadership skills have proven that year after year. I’ve gone into several cities through northern California and southern California and set up the Reach Learning Center. Everywhere I have gone I’ve prospered. I feel if I have the backings of a city, the sky’s the limit. I can do anything and everything I want to make us prosper [and] be a known, No. 1 city—not just in California, but maybe globally.
What are some of the areas where Elk Grove has room to improve?
One of the things I think Elk Grove needs to improve is equality. We have a small group of people who do everything all the time. You never get a chance to see any changes take place, see any growth happen, because you never let new blood come in to make that difference. … I don’t see representation such as myself on [the city council]. I’ve seen one African American man, that’s Jim Cooper, who’s been the only person there since incorporation. I think I bring something different. This will be really what we call historic because it will be the first African American woman being able to lead [Elk Grove]. That involves a lot—not just me—but it’s inclusive; it involves all of us working together to make this happen.
What do you think that would bring to the city?
That equality would bring the qualities I’ve had everywhere else I’ve been—my successes. I have tutored over 1,000 students throughout northern and southern California.
What are some of the other issues you’d like to focus on if you’re elected?
One of the issues I’m really concerned about is business, because I am a business owner and have been a business owner for over 10 years. I want to make sure that small businesses have incentives to encourage them to hire more or advertise or sell their products. Education—although that is not a city responsibility, it’s one of my major focuses because I’m an educator and a business owner. We’ve seen so many jobs leave—we’ve seen so many companies leave. You have to have companies with livable wages, not just wages to make you work at two or three different jobs just to make ends meet.
Can you give me any specifics of what you would do to help businesses?
Yes, for example I would have workshops [with] so many steps that you have to go to [in order] to graduate from the program. Meaning you’d to have to have a five-year plan, have to attend all the workshops, there would be criteria you’d have to meet, and then we would have money set aside—maybe in the general fund—that we could give to them. Maybe it could help them with advertisement. I don’t want to say all of what I would do and then look and see someone else doing it. What I would like to be able to do is win it and then put my ideas forward.
What do you think of the efforts the city is currently doing to attract businesses?
They haven’t attracted them. They’ve been working on this plan for how long?All I see is some empty buildings. Save Mart was a perfect example—you look up and they’re gone. Whatever they’re doing, it’s not working. It’s one thing to talk—it’s a whole bigger piece when you get actions and results. I’m an actions and results person.
What do you think of the actions the city has taken to give incentives to state agencies that move to Elk Grove?
You have to have incentives. You have to have something...It’s competitive so [that’s] going to make you stand out.
Is there a limit to that spending? Is there a point where the incentive is too much for what you’re getting for it?
Yes, and I think it’s a case-by-case scenario. I don’t think you can say one shoe fits all.
What do you think of the city’s application to expand its Sphere of Influence? Do you support that?
Yes, I do. One of the things I’ve been talking about for a long time is the whole hidden island. I went to Hawaii … I was like, that’s an island, it’s secluded, but so many people [come] from all over the place spending money, bringing commerce and tourists and all those wonderful things. That could happen here.
Do you think Elk Grove could be a tourist destination?
I think it could have some tourists come in here, and the reason why I say that is...people are coming here from all over the place. A lot of times they’re looking for hotels, they’re looking for places to stay and they might not always want to stay in the city of Sacramento. Elk Grove is a good suburban place for them to come. If we have the shopping mall and we promote tourism and some commerce here I don’t see why it couldn’t happen.
You mentioned the mall. Given that that’s a privately owned property, what could you do as mayor to encourage the development of that?
I think it’s working with the developers. I think that we understand the money situations that happen. He’s gotta have investors and partners and different things too. There’s nothing that just the city alone does. I don’t know all the particulars that involve the mall, but I feel as mayor that would be one of my job responsibilities. Then it’s time for me to take it apart and figure out what it is and how do we make this happen?
What do you think the biggest challenge is that the city is facing?
I think it’s more the economy right now. We have an influx of homelessness. We’ve never had a homeless problem like we’re having now. I think that’s a major issue for the food banks, and what are we going to put in place for the people here? I don’t look at Elk Grove as a city who wants to have homeless people standing all by our freeways and standing there begging for money. I think we can solve that problem.
What would you be able to do as mayor to help those people?
I would love to work more with the food bank, work on places for the homeless to be able to come.
What’s been the best and worst thing that’s happened to Elk Grove since [you moved here]?
The best thing that has happened to Elk Grove is education. We have some of the best schools. My daughters are products of that. One of the worst things that has happened here in Elk Grove that I’m hearing about is equality and fairness. … It’s such a tight community—they only have certain people that they make exceptions for and everybody else they don’t.
Who are “they”?
I would have to say our current leaders. I can’t think of anybody else that we can say would be responsible for that.
Can you give me an example of that?
I would say discrimination in many ways. For example I had an incident … I was over at Bank of America with several cars parked in a row. A man came over to me with a Hawaiian shirt and shorts, and he spits on my car, calls me a racial slur, wants to kill me, thank God my doors were locked. I contacted [the] police. I had them come out there, and what they did was they asked him—he admitted to all this. He admitted that he had did this. On my car there is still all this [spit] He wasn’t even arrested or cited for that, at all.
This is what the officer told me. He came up to me and said, ‘He apologized, would you like to accept his apology?’ I thought to myself as I’m looking at my window and all this stuff—I’m thinking, is that all you’re going to do? I’m almost hysterical. That hurt me to the core.
[Editor's note: Elk Grove Police Department spokesman Officer Chris Trim confirmed that Montgomery reported this incident on the afternoon of Aug. 3, telling police that a man sat on her car, hit it and spit on it.
“The notes indicate that there wasn’t any damage and that Montgomery wanted the person warned and advised not to spit on vehicles,” Trim said in an email. “There is no mention of any threats or racial slurs anywhere in the details of the call.”]