A Profile on Athens Mayor Nancy Denson

On Feb. 4, Mayor Denson appears before the Athens Rotary Club to give her annual State of the City address. She is excited to stand before her peers, colleagues, and opponents to report encouraging statistics about the city she loves.

Walk into her office the next week, and you’ll see the different folders with papers she has to go through before past Tuesday’s meeting arrives. She also shows me the folder of the data she presented in her State of the City address.

“Athens has an unemployment rate of 4.9% the lowest in the state.” she says. “The city is finally getting back to where we were before the recession, but there is still much room for improvement.”

Mayor Denson cites the poverty rate being 38% in Athens as a reason for her concerns.

“We offer a lot of ways to help those in need, many of which isn’t seen in others places in North East Georgia,” Mayor Denson. “Yet, it is not a problem that can be fixed fast.”

According to Online Athens, Athens also saw an 8.5 percent increase in sales tax revenue totaling approximately $900,000. Mayor Denson is also quick to point out that the business proposals coming through her office also totaled well over a million dollars.

“One of the reasons why I ran for mayor in 2010 was because of what I was hearing on my radio,” she says. “Athens once had the highest unemployment rate in the state and was constantly deemed business unfriendly.”

One of the ways Mayor Denson has chosen to change the views of Athens is by starting an Economic Development campaign when she first took office in 2010.

“When I first came into office, I appointed 29 people to a task force to examine the businesses in Athens to see what needed to be improved,” Mayor Denson continued. “It took them nine months to present me with a document that I then appointed a committee of five commissioners to begin to examine along with myself.”

Mayor Denson recalls how Athens has changed since the start of the campaign.

“Since beginning this campaign, I have had people come up to me and comment how Athens has changed,” Mayor Denson said. “I had a builder come up to me while I was at lunch with a friend of mine and say, “Mayor Denson, you are doing a great job for businesses. The departments are much easier to work with,”” Mayor Denson recalled. “I told him that I hadn’t done anything, and he replied that just by starting the philosophy, things were getting better.”

Being the mayor also means Mayor Denson is involved in key negotiations with businesses planning on coming to Athens. A job she describes as no easy task.

This was seen in 2012 in talks between Oconee and Athens-Clarke counties began to see who would gain a new Caterpillar Plant desiring to open in one of the two counties.

“I always have said if I didn’t get an ulcer from that, I never would get one.” Mayor Denson laughs.” She paints the day very clearly.

“I was on the phone with the company and Oconee County,” Mayor Denson recalls. “Their negotiator said that they wanted Athens to bring more to the table then what we were.”

What she describes happening next is nothing but “a gut feeling” taking over.

“I told the negotiator that Athens had offered all that it could,” she continued. “All sides were astonished, and my team was as well. I knew it could cost us the company, but I was hoping not.”

A few days later, Mayor Denson received the call that the Caterpillar Plant would be coming to Athens.

“It’s a very secretive process,” Mayor Denson remembers. “We couldn’t tell anyone what was going on until it was said, done, and over with. When the community received word of what had happened, Athens was all smiles.”

As they should be, an Online Athens article from 2012 stated that the plant would bring 4,200 jobs, $2.4 billion to Athens.

“It was amazing,” Mayor Denson said. “It still is and comes up a lot.”

When Denson talks about the 2014 campaign, she is not hesitant to admit it was full of nasty politics that was not there in her 2010 run for mayor.

“It was just two people running opposed to their being five of us last time,” Denson said. “There were a lot of personal attacks.”

Some of those attacks came from the mention of the Caterpillar project. According to Flagpole.com, in an article complied before the election, writer Blake Aued says that Mayor Denson eventually winning the mayoral race against opponent Tim Denson would be no surprise.

He states, “Yet the conventional wisdom in political circles is that Nancy is unbeatable, that all she has to do is stand up and say “Caterpillar” and bulldoze the opposition.”

Mayor Denson has a different opinion about her winning the mayoral race.

“It was much more exciting since it was a validation not only for myself, but that this was the right thing for community,” Denson said. “It was very intense.”

Mayor Denson’s life is now revolving around the possibility of her daughter Georgia District 59 Representative Margaret Kaiser running for Mayor of Atlanta in 2017.

“She is about 95% sure she is going to run,” Mayor Denson said. “I couldn’t be happier for her. She is someone Atlanta needs.”

Mayor Denson smiles as she talks about the possibility of having another mayor in the family.

“She is willing to listen to all sides of an issue and is willing to put her money where her mouth is,” she continued. “Atlanta would be lucky to have her.”

When Mayor Denson is not behind her desk, she enjoys many leisurely actives such as watching Law and Order.

“I believe I have seen every Law and Order there is,” she laughs. “That’s why it is ok when I fall asleep watching it, because I am sure I have seen the episode before some time or another.”

She also enjoys spending time with her friends and family. Nine years ago, her husband, Bob, died suddenly.

“When I won the Mayoral Election in 2010,” she said. “I looked up to God and said, “I hope you didn’t take Bob away from me for this.” I hadn’t ran for mayor before because it had been something I would have never did if he was still here, but later on he became very active in Margaret’s campaign for Representative. I missed having him helping out in my election.”

Despite the day drawing to a close and the sun beginning to set, Mayor Denson decides to stay in her office before going to an engagement later that night. She laughs and says that some days she forgets what her house looks like in the daylight.

“Being mayor is a tough job, but I love it.” Mayor Denson said.

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