WILLIAMSPORT – Five years ago, politics could not have been farther from Derek Slaughter’s mind. He was a girls basketball coach, husband and a father. He could not have predicted that years later he would be sitting in the mayor’s seat as the first minority to hold the city’s highest office.
It was former Councilwoman J. Marlene Whaley who first inspired Slaughter to run for City Council. Elected to council in 1999, Whaley was the city’s first African American council member and became the first female elected council president in 2008.
Whaley passed away in 2016, at age 81. Slaughter, a Williamsport native, served two years on city council before deciding to run for mayor.
She was an inspiration for many other minority community members to run for office, Slaughter said during an interview with On the PULSE.
“I know, today, if she were here, she would be very happy,” Slaughter said. “I owe her a debt of gratitude.”
When he started his campaign, Slaughter said he did not realize he could be the city’s first black mayor, but it’s exciting nonetheless, and a responsibility he takes seriously as others look to him now for their own inspiration.
“If I can inspire youth to get involved, or anyone to get involved, minority or otherwise, in the political process, then I’m up to that challenge,” Slaughter said.
As a basketball coach for Williamsport Area School District, Slaughter’s foray into politics took a turn when basketball hoops started coming down in the city.
In 2014, former Mayor Gabriel J. Campana made the controversial decision to take down the basketball hoops at Memorial Park, replacing them with a pickleball court.
“They were trying to make a direct correlation between crime and basketball players. Of course, I was a basketball player and a coach, and I’m not a criminal,” Slaughter said.
The issue spring-boarded him into politics, and after motivation from Whaley, he took the leap, always emphasizing his desire to take the city in a positive direction.
Instead of taking away activities for the youth, more programs and options for engagement should be added, Slaughter said.
Slaughter is also the first Democratic mayor since Jessie Bloom who held the office from 1988 to 1992. While Slaughter emphasized that he does not see himself only as a mayor for Democrats, he added that it’s humbling.
“I realize it’s been 30 years or so since we had a Democrat in the mayor’s seat, but I’m the mayor for everyone,” he said. “I take this role seriously. It’s very humbly at the same time to be elected as a Democrat.”
City business – infrastructure, streets, parks – shouldn’t hold a party distinction, Slaughter said. “I see it as just doing what’s best for your community.”