JONESBORO, Ga.- The first Black mayor in the history of the city of Jonesboro is still adjusting to her new title and role. In the 164-year history of Jonesboro as a city there has never been a Black leader at City Hall. There have been Black police chiefs and Black city council members, but not a mayor. Never a mayor, until now.
On Friday, March 31, 2023 Dr. Donya L. Sartor was inaugurated and simultaneously changed the history of the city of Jonesboro forever. Reflecting back on that moment from less than a week earlier, Sartor put being the mayor of Jonesboro into words.
“I was so incredibly grateful to be elected, I didn’t take any vote for granted,” she remembered during an interview with The Atlanta Voice inside her office at the new Jonesboro City Center. Sartor added that earlier that day she was still helping give citizens rides to the polling station minutes before 7 p.m. when the polls were scheduled to close. Every vote did indeed count in this case. Sartor won the election by 83 votes.
“Since January we have been knocking on doors three, four and five times,” she said. Sartor said she even hand-delivered yard signs. She did what she felt she had to do in order to get the word out and win.
Sartor shared a story of a man arriving at the polling station at 6:48 p.m. on election night. He had been told by his wife that the Sartor campaign, which was roundly supported by the Georgia Working Families Party, had been back at their house to remind them to vote. “He said, ‘Where do I go vote?’, said Sartor.
Born in Fort Benning, Sartor, 52, was a military brat and had moved three times within the first three weeks of her life. Her parents had to deal with where to live while her father prepared to be deployed to Vietnam. “By the time I was 21 days old I had lived in three states,” she said with a laugh. Despite all of the moving, Georgia has been her home for the majority of her life, including her high school and college years.
With an undergraduate degree from Emory University, Master’s degree from Clark Atlanta University and doctorate degree from Georgia State University, Sartor has lived in Clayton County since 1993. She said the combination of education and familiarity with the city and county makes her more than qualified to be mayor.
“I never wanted to fail. That’s how I’ve always been,” Sartor said.
Giving props to those who inspired her
At the inauguration Sartor wore a white outfit; blazer and pants, with a red flower on the blazer lapel. The outfit was her way of paying homage to two women that inspired her to go forward with her political dream of becoming mayor of Jonesboro.
The white suit was inspired by former First Lady Michelle Obama who wore a similar outfit while on tour for her New York Times best selling book, Becoming on November 15, 2018 in Inglewood, California.
“A girlfriend told me I was giving Michelle Obama that night, and I told her that’s what I wanted. That’s what I’m trying to give,” Sartor said.
The red flower was in honor of former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin who often wore red flowers on her blazers and jackets.
The future for the first Black mayor of Jonesboro
On the front door of the Jonesboro City Center is a posting with the voter tally for the special election results for mayor. Sartor won the election 263-180. For the next six months that will be a number she will have to keep in mind because there will be another election in November in order to determine a full term as mayor of Jonesboro.
Voter turnout was low last month. There’s an expectation that it might be better in November without the Clayton County Sheriff election taking more of the spotlight like it did on election day. The election for sheriff will take place Tuesday, April 18.
Sartor believes being in office instead of running for the first time is a good place to be heading into November. “Incumbency has its privileges,” she said with a smile. “And that’s why it was so important that I ran when I did.”
There was discussion with her advisors about what would be the best time to run for a seat that was going to be back up for grabs less than a year after the election, but Sartor said the timing was right. “There had been discussion that I would wait until November, but it boiled down to if not now when,” she said. “What we decided was to do this.”
The odds of Sartor running unopposed in November are slim, but she feels like the groundwork is being laid for an administration that the voters of Jonesboro, population 4,492, according to data provided by the United States Census Bureau, can trust.
“We awakened citizens with this campaign,” said Sartor. “We sparked interest and all I have to do is hold it and maintain it, and they’ll continue to support me.”
“I felt like my inauguration speech brought people together,” she added.
During the campaign there was negativity, Facebook posts, for example, that Sartor said she was made aware of by family, friends and supporters. The fact that the negativity didn’t work the first time doesn’t mean it’s not on Sartor’s mind. In fact, she welcomes all input, good or bad. Either way it’s not keeping her from the work that needs to be done as mayor.
“With all the evil that’s been spewed towards me, I’ll say this, they will get tired of being evil long before I get tired of doing good,” Sartor said. “Evil takes a lot of energy. Doing good is what;s necessary and required, and it comes natural for me.”
Legacy for my family
Asked about whether the fact that she is the mayor of Jonesboro, the first Black mayor in the city’s history, has set in yet? Sartor, sitting behind her desk, was surrounded by the tools of the trade. The nameplate on her desk read “Dr. Donya L. Sartor: Mayor” was in front of her next to the gavel she used to preside over her first city council work session a day earlier.
Only a few weeks ago she was a first-term city councilwoman who ran for a seat because she didn’t see anyone like her on the city council. Now she’s the mayor.
“It didn’t hit me until I thought about what it means for the legacy for my family,” Sartor said.