'I was a girl with a dream,' she says. A chat with Warner Robins' mayor-elect
GPB's Leah Fleming talks with new Warner Robins mayor-elect LaRhonda Patrick, the first woman and Black person ever elected to the office.
Leah Fleming: It’s GPB. I’m Leah Fleming. In Atlanta it is business as usual to see a Black woman running the city. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is not even the first Black woman to hold the post.
But in other parts of the state, there IS history being made.
In McDonough, just south of Atlanta the city of about 30,000 people has just elected Sandra Vincent to be mayor. She will become the first woman and African American to hold the job there.
And in Middle Georgia’s Houston County, voters have just elected LaRhonda Patrick to be the next mayor of Warner Robins. When she takes office she will become the city’s first African American, first (elected) woman and youngest mayor in the 11th largest city in the state — with just over 80,000 people, just under 50% of the population is white.
Joining us now to talk is Mayor-elect LaRhonda Patrick. Good morning.
LaRhonda Patrick: Good morning.
Leah Fleming: You have never held office before, so what made you even think that you could do this?
LaRhonda Patrick: I just knew that I wanted to see the people back on the agenda in our city. So I just, after some encouragement from other people who had served at the city level before in elected offices or different boards and commissions, I decided, "Hey, let's — let's give it a try."
Leah Fleming: So you're a lawyer by training. You are the Fort Valley city attorney. What drew you into law?
LaRhonda Patrick: Well, when I was in the eighth grade, I realized I loved proving my point. I wasn't big on arguing with people, and I didn't always have to be right. But I loved persuading people to believe what I believed. So when I was in eighth grade, I said, "You know what? I want to be an attorney." And I kept that. I kept that drive until I walked across that stage with my juris doctor.
Leah Fleming: This is a moment that is seen by so many people as a stunning victory in what is really a ruby red part of Georgia. You grew up in Warner Robins. What do you make of this moment of history for your community?
LaRhonda Patrick: It's very empowering to know that despite what you just described — despite that, we all came together and we voted on a nonpartisan candidate because that's what I am.
Leah Fleming: Mayor Randy Toms, the incumbent, lost by less than 400 votes, so it was a close election. How are you planning to draw in his supporters?
LaRhonda Patrick: Well, the only way I can do that is by proving that I can do what I said in being transparent, in actually bringing about change that they can see with their visual eye. And that's the only way I can do it.
Leah Fleming: Certainly, this is a nonpartisan election that you were in. But you know, honestly, especially having lived in Macon myself, I know that this is a big moment to have a Black woman that will lead Warner Robins. That's just not something that I thought I would ever see in Georgia. So I want you to, you know, if you could, just reflect on that moment. I mean, I know this country has seen the vice president now. Kamala Harris, the first woman and first woman of color, first Black woman. you know, first sorority girl, kind of ,take the office of the vice presidency of the United States. So there are — there are obviously it's some sort of a shift change, there. But this is a big moment. I think for you as a black woman. Can you — can you talk about that?
LaRhonda Patrick: When I decided to run for this office, I did it because I thought I could win and I knew I had the qualifications, I knew I had what it took. But actually, having people believe it with me, that was the challenge because of my physical appearance. That's something that I can't ever change. I can't ever hide. As soon as people lay eyes on me, they will already judge something. As a first — as the first woman to ever run for the office, let alone the first my — first minority to now have won the office. So knowing that I receive support from so many that were, you know, Republicans, so many that were Democrats, so many that were male, so many that were opposites from me. And they put their faith in a girl and I say a girl who looks like this. I say "a girl" because I was a girl with a dream. And I kept pushing forward to my goal, but to know that they put their faith in someone that looks opposite from them. And they've judged me because of my content. They judge me because of my qualifications and because of my passion. That just warms my spirit to know that in 2021, in Middle Georgia, in the South. Someone can win based on what we've been working for for decades. So I feel amazing to know that this is really happening, and I'm — it's still very surreal to me. I'm still absorbing that I, LaRhonda Patrick, am the mayor-elect in Warner Robins, Georgia. And because you're from Macon, you know what that means.
Leah Fleming: LaRhonda Patrick is the mayor-elect of Warner Robins. She will be sworn into office on Jan. 1 and thank you so much, Mrs. Mayor-elect, for your time. We appreciate it.
LaRhonda Patrick: Thank you so much for having me. It's — it's a joy.
Leah Fleming: Thank you. This is GPB.
The audio and earlier versions of this story state that Patrick is the first woman to hold the office of mayor of Warner Robins. But Henrietta McIntyre served as interim mayor from 1993 to 1994, making Patrick the first to be elected to the office but the second to serve.