Our exclusive interview with new Memphis Mayor Paul Young

Mayor Paul Young is the new mayor of Memphis, Tenn. as of Jan. 1, 2024. As the former CEO of the Downtown Memphis Commission, Paul Young plans to enact positive change in the Memphis community.
Mayor Paul Young is the new mayor of Memphis, Tenn. as of Jan. 1, 2024. As the former CEO of the Downtown Memphis Commission, Paul Young plans to enact positive change in the Memphis community.
Brennan Seltzer

The 2023 Memphis Mayoral election had 17 candidates and over 85,000 voters, but only one winner: Paul Young. 

On October 5, 2023, Young came out on top of the crowded field with 27.6% of the vote while runner-up Floyd Bonner had 22.5%. On the trail, he focused on bringing jobs and a stronger economy to Memphis. He also hopes to fund the arts, youth programs and rebuild blighted neighborhoods. 

Young was the president and CEO of the Downtown Memphis Commission, which according to their website,drives Downtown’s role as the economic, cultural, and governmental core of our city and county.” Young has led the restoration of abandoned buildings around Memphis and currently manages 44 projects that work to beautify the city. 

On January 1, 2024, Young succeeded former Mayor Jim Strickland, and was sworn into office as the mayor of Memphis. 

We sat down with Young to find out how he plans to tackle crime and engage the youth of Memphis. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

A lot of St Mary’s girls have said that they don’t want to come back to Memphis after graduation because of things like crime, so what do you want to do to address that? 

Crime is the number one thing that I talk about nowadays, and when we talk about crime at a high level there’s a two-prong approach. One, we have to be non-tolerant. We have to be hard, [and] we have to make sure that we are getting the criminals off the streets. We need to support our police officers, and make sure that they have the 21st-century technology that they need to actually capture the individuals. Number two, we must intervene and prevent. There are people that we know are heading down the wrong road based on their trajectory doing this crime after this crime… We need to get counseling services. We need to figure out what it is that is sending them down this road and change their path. 

You mentioned technology for the police, is that something you already have or is that something you’re hoping to get?

No, that’s something we already have, and we can expand it. But when I talk about technology it’s like drones. So instead of having to do a high-speed chase… We can use drone technology to identify where they’re going and capture them when they stop… We also can protect our community with cameras that have artificial intelligence. It can read license plate numbers, [and] it can identify vehicles…  I’m a firm believer that it is a very small percentage of our population that is creating the chaos that is harming our community.

You have spoken about youth intervention, can you paint me an idea of what these youth programs would look like?

Our schools invest in kids from 7 [a.m.] to 3 [p.m.]. I want to find ways that we can invest in kids from 3 [p.m.] to 7[p.m.]. So those are after-school programs. Those are nonprofits like STREETS Ministries and the Boys and Girls Club, these enrichment programs where the arts are available for young people, where they can go and learn instruments or be in choirs or all of these things that matter because it enriches their lives. One thing that’s always discouraged me is that we leave out the young people.

Memphis’s new mayor, Paul Young, officially began his new position on Jan. 1, 2024 after winning 27.6% of the vote, securing his new title. Paul Young was formerly the president and CEO of the Downtown Memphis Commission, a non-profit development agency, that works to improve the city of Memphis.
(Brennan Seltzer)

Is there any way that we as teens can get involved in local government? 

Right now, we already have a youth city council, but I think we have to find ways to deepen our engagement with young people… I would love to find ways [to] more deeply engage young people [and] to have your voice at the table when decisions are made… We just have to meet young people where they are because what tends to happen is that politicians speak to voters. I’m speaking to the community, I’m speaking to the residents, I’m speaking to the voters and young people who historically aren’t the voting base. 

What do you have to say to the future voters of Memphis?

One, that our perception of our city has to change. The feel and the energy of our city has to change… I want the voters to know [that] our talk, our narrative, our dialogue drives the reality that we’re seeing in our city…. There’s this perception in other parts of the city.. [that] if you go downtown you’re going to get hurt, so you don’t go. What happens when you don’t go downtown? [What happens] is that the thing you perceive actually becomes true. If more people are downtown and more pedestrians are walking the streets, [then] it’s safer. 

 How do you make this a city that people want to live in?

Think about a city that you really like that you really enjoy… like Chattanooga. [They] would love to have our riverfront. They would love to have a bridge that connects over the Mississippi River and connects Tennessee and Arkansas. The way that you change the narrative for a city is you expose people to the great amenities… But it also happens through tackling challenges like crime… When you drive around some of our communities you see too much visible blight. You see too many businesses gone. You see too many buildings that are falling in. As a city, what we can do is make sure that those properties are put in the hands of property owners that are willing to put dollars into them.

As mayor, Paul Young has plans to tackle crime, the perception of Memphis and engage youth in conversations about the city.
(Brennan Seltzer)

You mentioned Arkansas. Do you have any partnerships with Arkansas for tourism?

Arkansas is a really important partner. One thing that we’re really hanging our hat on as a community is ecotourism. Ecotourism is tourism when you expose people to your natural assets, so the Mississippi River [and] walking trails. Because Arkansas has that floodplain they are working to build a park… and it’s going to be really really nice… Obviously they have the casino over there which draws a lot of people from Downtown Memphis… So our economies are tied together.

 Do you have an estimate for when Memphis will become similar to Chattanooga?

I mean it’s hard to put a timeline because things happen so quickly… These are long-term plans of investment, but you will see indications of progress over the next three to five years. 

In your victory speech you mentioned that you would get your kids a dog if you won. Did you get the dog?

We got the dog. She is on social media. Her name is Calli, and we got her from the Memphis Animal Shelter. She is a joy. She was very shy and timid at first but then she began to open up.


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  • AnonymousJan 29, 2024 at 3:48 pm

    Thanks for sharing.