Monday, December 10, 2007

Extra Ellis

I followed Mayor Jack Ellis around a bit last week for this story on the end of his tenure.

He's just quotable as hell, and this is some of the stuff I had to leave out, but that I thought was worth reading. The first part takes place as we were walking out of an elementary school where he had been speaking to children.

You can say a lot about Jack Ellis, and people have. But one thing you can't say is that he doesn't care.

What was your life like when you were in the 1st and 2nd grade?
It was exciting, because I've always liked to learn. And I remember the excitement of going to school... because I was a farmer's son we couldn't go to school. We had to stay out and...

He trails off. Something comes over his eyes. He sighs a bit and sniffs. A school official thanks him for coming and he says goodbye and thank you. He continues, but he does not return to that farmland.
These kids. If they only knew the kind of world that they're going to. It's kind of hard for them to visualize it now. But the kind of world that they're going to encounter. We just owe them the very best that we can give them.

They have so much potential. But my question is always: What happens to them between now and when they finally get into some of the things that's happening in this community. Murdering. Going to jail. Dropping out of school. Where do we go wrong as adults?

I went to an all black school because we were segregated by law in those days. These kids are in an all black school and it's not segregated by law. I don't know, good bad, indifferent. I think these kids are learning. ... I just think kids should be taught.


Is this an emotional week for you?
Well, it hasn't been until just - these children. ... I became emotional in there with these children because I saw myself sitting on that floor.

Then to L.H. Williams. Then quickly back to City Hall, where the mayor greeted members of a Warner Robins church choir that wanted to put on a Christmas concert at City Hall after Ellis invited Muslim leaders to pray there during Ramadan.

Ellis, once a Christian and now converted to Islam, welcomed the group, then headed to his office as the choir broke into religious Christmas songs. In another city, with another mayor, all of that might have seemed odd.
I think it's very fitting to come in a government building - we live in a country where all religions can come here. The Muslims were here. I hope the Jews will come and celebrate Hannukah. We're not saying that we endorse any particular religion over another, but it just should be open.

Have you felt any backlash from Christians or Christian groups since you converted to Islam?
I don't think backlash from any groups. I think it's been more individuals than anything. The Baptist preachers in this town were great supporters of mine. Baptist and Methodist. The Christian ministers period. ... But have I recieved some deragatory letters or emails from people who claimed they were Christians? I have. I have to question how much Christians they really are.

(This last bit was after he spoke to some parks and recreation employees Thursday morning. The sun was finally up, and it was a question I'd come up with the night before.)

You're leaving, and Reichert's coming in. But who's the new guard and who's the old guard in that?
That's a good question, isn't it? Some people, it depends on who you ask, I guess. I happen to have a lot of respect for Robert Reichert. If I didn't, I wouldn't have hired him on several occassions to help me through some complicated and complex issues, legal issues. A lot of people say he's 'back to the future' and so forth. I want to give him every benefit of the doubt.

... He's my mayor now and I will support him 100 percent. But, you know, like they did me, when they thought I was wrong, they called it to my attention. I won't be publicly - I would never publicly criticize him. Never, ever. But, if I have some issues, I'll call him.

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