Here is what you need to know about Paul Young, the newly-elected Mayor of Memphis

BY Ben Ebuka Oji October 17, 2023 10:57 PM EDT
Paul Young
Paul Young. Credit: Patrick Lantrip/The Daily Memphian file

Paul Young is a lifelong Memphian and a member of the Democratic Party who is deeply committed to improving the lives of his fellow citizens. He was elected recently as the 65th Mayor of Memphis, the 27th largest city in the United States, in his first bid for political office.

In the keenly contested election held on October 5, 2023, Mr. Young emerged victorious with 23,552 (27.7%) of the total 85,022 votes cast. He won the non-partisan race, defeating 16 other contenders, including frontrunners Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner, former mayor Willie Herenton, and Van Turner, a Shelby County Commissioner and local NAACP chapter president.

With this victory, Paul Young will assume office on January 1, 2024, as the Mayor of Memphis, Tennessee.

Hailing from the Oakhaven community in Memphis, Paul Young said that he could never have fathomed becoming the mayor at any point in his life. However, his mother, Pastor Dianne Young, had always believed in his potential.

“She told me, ‘You’re going to be in politics, and I just saw it in my dream, and God gave me this vision,’” Young said. “I was like, ‘Mom, what are you talking about?’”

As the current President of the Downtown Memphis Commission prepares himself to assume his first elected office, he acknowledges that he has been diligently preparing for this moment for a considerable period of time.

“The mayor is actually the chief CEO of a 6,000-employee corporation,” Young said. “So certainly, there’s politics that go along with it, but there’s governance…which I have been executing successfully for the past 20 years.”

Family and Education

Paul Young is one of the four children of Bishop William and Pastor Dianne Young, esteemed members of the Healing Center Full Gospel Baptist Church. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, as well as a Master of City and Regional Planning and a Master of Science in Business Administration from the University of Memphis.

Pre-Election Career

Young’s upcoming foray into elected political office will mark his debut in this realm. However, it is worth noting that the esteemed administrator, who completed his education at East High School and obtained two master’s degrees from the University of Memphis, possesses a wealth of experience in the field of public administration.

Aged 43, spent over a decade in urban planning, government affairs, and real estate finance. Throughout his career, he successfully spearheaded various initiatives and programs that have profoundly impacted the community. Notable achievements include his involvement in regional planning for green spaces and transportation, implementation of sustainability programs, development of affordable housing projects, and the introduction of legislative initiatives.

What sets Paul apart is his diverse background. He has worked in both the private and non-profit sectors and in government, providing him with a unique perspective and a versatile skill set. As a leader, he is solution-oriented, employing effective communication and consensus-building techniques to achieve positive outcomes.

Currently, Paul Young serves as the President and CEO of the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC). In this role, he is responsible for driving the City of Memphis Downtown’s position as the economic, cultural, and governmental hub.

He was recently the Director of the City of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development (HCD) – the department responsible for coordinating community and economic development projects and initiatives throughout Memphis.

Previously, Paul Young was the Director of Legislative Affairs in the Mayor’s Office of Shelby County Government (TN). In this capacity, he was responsible for advocating the county’s interests on the federal, state, and local levels by communicating the strategic priorities and policy direction of the Shelby County Government to the Tennessee Congressional and State Legislative delegations and local regional entities.

Additionally, he served as the Administrator for the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Sustainability, tasked with the implementation and oversight of a strategic framework for action on green initiatives in the City of Memphis and Shelby County.

Political Plans for Memphis

Barely a day after the Mayoral election, Paul Young has outlined a series of action plans for the City of Memphis, which has a population of 633,104 individuals as per the United States Census Bureau’s 2020 report. He aims to address several key issues, including crime reduction, job creation, economic development, environmental awareness, and the restoration of trust between the Memphis police and the city’s residents. Additionally, he intends to prioritize investments in the city’s youths.

Youth Initiatives

During his address to the media, he emphasized the significance of ensuring accountability for those youth who engage in criminal activities. However, he also stressed the importance of identifying the individuals likely to become involved in criminal behavior in the future and providing them with opportunities to improve their circumstances. He firmly believes that the youths require additional avenues for engagement. 

He suggests activating community centers and parks and supporting non-profit organizations working towards this cause, enabling them to expand their services to a larger number of young individuals.

“I firmly believe that our young people just need more opportunities to be engaged,” Young said. “They’re looking for things to do, activating our community centers, our parks, supporting our non-profits that are already doing the work so they can scale up and provide more services to more young people. There are churches on every corner; what resources can they provide?”

Crime and Policing

Paul Young will assume his duties during a tumultuous period for the second most populous city in Tennessee, which is still grappling with a series of heinous and widely publicized crimes, including the unfortunate demise of Tyre Nichols at the hands of the Memphis police.

“We want to reduce the indications of chaos,” Young said. “We want to see more done to stop these car break-ins.”

 “When we know they’ve been truant from school, we know they’ve been getting suspended, let’s find programs that are located in their ZIP codes. Let’s work with their churches. Let’s work with the community groups to make sure that we are getting those children enrolled in some programs. That’s going to change their trajectory,” Young said.

He emphasized the significance of fostering an improved culture of MPD as a foremost objective for his administration and to tackle the distrust prevailing between the community and the Memphis Police Department.

“We also have to figure out where we’re going to be more efficient with the time of the officers we have so that they’re spending more time on the street and less time processing paperwork.”

 “We have some major issues that we want to address within MPD, the culture or subculture that led to the tragic incident of Tyre Nichols. We want to make sure that that’s rooted out, but we also want to make sure that there is transparency, that there’s a restoration of trust and faith from the public and we want to make sure that the person at the top is leading that charge,” he said.

Economic Development

He has made a commitment to fostering job creation and promoting economic growth in Memphis. He expressed his determination to facilitate a transformative process that will lead Memphis from despair to hope, from poverty to prosperity, from pain to healing, and from stagnation to thriving.

“I want to make sure that together, we go through a transformation — a transformation that’s gonna take us from hopelessness to hopeful, from poverty to prosperity, from hurt to healed, from stalled to thriving,” he said.

Environmental Awareness

In addition to the concerns of crime and the Memphis Police Department (MPD), the issue of blight persists, seemingly without a foreseeable resolution, as repeatedly expressed by the residents. However, the mayor-elect has affirmed that tackling this problem will be among his foremost objectives.

“Our neighborhoods are not attractive,” Young asserted. “We need to make sure that they’re being cleaned up, that we are addressing blight in a very aggressive way.”