Harris ready to amplify Chandler’s voiceless - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Harris ready to amplify Chandler’s voiceless

September 8th, 2020 development
Harris ready to amplify Chandler’s voiceless

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

OD Harris is quick to recall how many votes he won in Chandler’s recent city council election: 23,227.

“It’s important for me to know that number,” said Harris, one of three candidates to win a seat on the council in August’s primary race.

Harris doesn’t mean to brag by recalling how many Chandler residents elected him. If anything, the 40-year-old said he’s humbled by the recent election results and feels compelled to thank every voter who put their faith in him.

As the initial results started to come in on election night, Harris said he felt overwhelmed with gratitude for the voters who picked him to represent them.

“If I would have been able to give the people of Chandler a bearhug,” he said, “I would have done it in that moment.”

Harris, a relative newcomer to local politics, was up against two incumbents, a former councilmember and a former school board member.

Yet, he and Christine Ellis, another political novice, managed to snag two seats on the council alongside Councilman Mark Stewart, who was reelected to a second term.

Harris, a native of Chicago, credits his victory to the extensive outreach he did in Chandler’s northern and western neighborhoods – which he called home to many marginalized and forgotten communities.

“Those communities put me in office because they want to have an active voice on Council for their needs,” Harris said. 

Harris said he championed a message of hope to voters in these communities by knocking on more than 9,000 doors and preaching a platform that envisioned Chandler as having safe, strong, thriving neighborhoods in every section of the city.

The candidate further tried to appeal to first-time, younger voters by deploying an aggressive social media campaign that included posting daily updates of his life canvassing neighborhoods and shaking hands with voters.

“I knew I had to engage new voters in order to win this election,” Harris said.

The strategy seems to have worked since Chandler saw voter turnout increase substantially during the primary election. More than 35 percent of the city’s eligible voters submitted ballots this year – a notable jump from the 25 percent turnout in 2016.

Ellis earned 19 percent of all votes while Stewart and Harris each received 17 percent – enough for all three to avoid a run-off in November.

This year’s election results turned out to be quite historic, Harris said, noting how two African-American candidates won during the same year.

It’s a sign that Chandler has proven itself to be a forward-thinking community that values diversity, he added.

Ellis is the first Black woman to be elected to the council in Chandler’s 100-year history as charter city. Harris is one of only a couple Black men to be elected to local office.

The late Coy Payne, first Black mayor elected in Arizona, was Chandler’s first Black candidate to win a seat on the council in the 1980s, which was followed by Phillip Westbrooks’ victory in 1998.

Those are big shoes to fill, Harris said, and he’s proud to be given an opportunity to try to fill them.

One of his first priorities before assuming office in January will be to conduct a series of listening sessions with residents all across the city.

Harris said he’s hoping to host some provocative conversations and allow residents the opportunity to share an opinion that could ultimately help him set his policy platform for his first term in office.

Chandler is in the midst of persevering through the COVID-19 pandemic, Harris said, so much of his focus has been steered toward what the city may be able to do to help struggling businesses during this uncertain time.   

He refrained from commenting on how he thinks the city has responded to the pandemic’s impacts thus far, but suggested the recent election results indicate Chandler’s residents believe there’s more that can be done.

“The people have spoken,” he said. “The people have shared that there’s more that we can do. And the people have chosen me to be their voice during this tough time.”

One issue Harris said he’ll be closely tracking over his four-year term involves Chandler’s supply of affordable housing.

In 2019, a survey of Chandler residents told the city that a lack of affordable homes was their biggest concern and the number of local citizens living below the federal poverty line has grown by 78 percent over the last couple decades.

Harris said he’ll be researching the city’s various zoning practices to find out how Chandler might be able to develop more affordable units and avoid neighborhoods from becoming too gentrified. 

“I’m going to be looking at our affordable housing with a scrutinizing eye,” he said.

After months of tirelessly campaigning, Harris said he’s eager to be sworn into office and become an advocate for any Chandler resident who feels voiceless and underrepresented.

“I now am their amplifier,” he declared.