Former Duluth Mayor Harris Officially Passes the Gavel

With the ceremonial passing of the mayoral gavel, Duluth bids a fond farewell to Mayor Nancy Harris. The gavel, a symbol of her leadership, holds a unique history, adorned with chew marks from Duluth’s first dog Mayor, Shiner. Its base bears the engraved words “Presented in Recognition of Mayor Nancy Harris’s 16 Years of Exemplary Service to the City of Duluth. May this Gavel Serve as a Symbol of Appreciation for Your Leadership, Echoing Your Legacy in the Hearts of Our Community.” As we honor her impactful legacy, we also welcome newly elected Mayor Greg Whitlock and Councilmember Shenee Johnson Holloway and re-elected Councilmember Manfred Graeder, who will usher in a new era for our vibrant community, alongside Councilmember Jamin Harkness, Councilmember Marline Thomas, and Councilmember Lamar Doss.

The Legacy Left by Mayor Nancy Harris

As Mayor Nancy Harris concludes her 16-year tenure in Duluth, the City of Duluth wants to share gratitude for a leader who not only helped shape the city’s physical landscape but also nurtured a strong sense of community and creativity. As a lifelong resident of Duluth, Mayor Harris witnessed significant changes and growth in her beloved city, and her impact resonates in every corner.

When Mayor Harris first entered office in 2007, she set out with a vision centered on preservation, a promise that would guide her through four terms of unwavering dedication to Duluth’s quality growth. Under her leadership, the city experienced transformative construction projects, including Parsons Alley, Sugarloaf Marketplace, District at Duluth, George Rogers Ave, Willbrooke Pocket Park, Courtyard by Marriott, Rogers Bridge Park with the new Pedestrian Bridge, the Davenport Intersection, and the new astroturf Activity Lawn, among others. These developments reshaped Duluth and preserved its historic charm while embracing progress.

Mayor Harris, an avid lover of the arts, championed creativity, fostering a vibrant artistic scene in Duluth. Under Nancy’s guidance, the city became home to various public art installations like “The Phoenix,” “Melody Lane,” “Dream Big,” “Ascension,” “Meet me on Main,” and “The Shape of Time & Water,” adding a touch of inspiration to the community’s visual landscape. She is also the mastermind behind the colorful crickets that you have spotted around Duluth.

However, Mayor Harris’ impact extended far beyond physical development. Her enthusiastic connection with the community set her apart as a leader who genuinely cared. She was often found engaging with the community at local events, fostering the love of art through the establishment of the Duluth Fine Arts League (DFAL), supporting local businesses by being front and center at countless groundbreakings, ribbon cuttings and grand openings, mentoring our youth through the Student L.E.A.D. program, and keeping the public informed through regular public meetings like the annual “Be Duluth Show” and the quarterly civic meeting “Connect Duluth”.

Mayor Harris’ creative spirit is unmatched! Over the years, she found many unique ways to connect with her constituents. From the unforgettable “Carpool Karaoke,” where she harmonized with CBS Sports Broadcaster Brad Nessler, local musicians Banks & Shane, and Owner/Operator of EOP Presents, Eddie Owen, to the hilariously informative “Undercover Mayor” series, where Harris offered residents a behind-the-scenes peek into the city’s workings. And let us not forget that Harris was the first to introduce us to DeeDee, Duluth’s beloved “Chicken of Tomorrow” mascot!

Duluth’s appreciation for Mayor Harris’ leadership extends beyond its borders. Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson expresses her admiration, stating, “I find it both an honor and a privilege to pay tribute to a remarkable leader whose influence has left an indelible mark on not only my personal and professional journey but an entire city and future generations.” She emphasizes Mayor Harris’ transparency, inclusivity, and unwavering commitment to excellence.

Owner/Operator of Eddie Owen Presents at the Red Clay Music Foundry, Eddie Owen, is often heard referring to our little corner of the world as “Undeniably Beautiful Downtown Duluth” and he attributes much of that to Nancy’s leadership. “In 2011, the Duluth Downtown Development Authority (DDA) approached me about the Main Street theatre. While my initial impression was that it needed a lot of love, meeting Mayor Nancy Harris, Ms. Katheryn Willis, and Chris McGahee convinced me they had a vision for the city’s growth. Nancy’s leadership, especially evident in the Town Green infrastructure, inspired my involvement,” said Owen.

Principal at Duluth High School, Dr. Eric Davidson, describes Mayor Harris as a true friend and leader, highlighting her motivation to improve the experience of Duluth residents and her role in developing the Duluth Student L.E.A.D program. “Mayor Harris’ visionary leadership has transformed Duluth into a vibrant model for a live-work-play city. This dedication ensures the continuity of the positive changes Mayor Harris has implemented. Her collaboration with Duluth High School, including the Duluth Student L.E.A.D program, reflects her commitment to developing leadership skills in students for the mutual benefit of the city and school. Duluth High School is forever grateful for Mayor Harris’ efforts to improve our city, and we’ve seen a direct correlation between her work and the enhanced experience our students have at school. Thank you, Nancy, for your friendship and all you’ve done for the students of Duluth High School.”

Nick Masino, President and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber, commends Mayor Harris’ visionary leadership, acknowledging the transformative growth achieved under her guidance. “The City of Duluth has undergone transformative growth within the last 16 years thanks to Mayor Harris’ bold and visionary leadership. Creative redevelopments like Parsons Alley, the District, and Courtyard by Marriott are the types of smart economic development initiatives that make Duluth and Gwinnett a world-class place for business and residents. The commitment of Mayor Harris to creating an inclusive and vibrant sense of belonging within the community will be her legacy for years to come. The Gwinnett Chamber applauds her achievements and appreciates her dedication and service to Duluth and the Greater Gwinnett region.”

Randy Meacham, Managing Director of the Gwinnett Municipal Association, shared his perspective on Mayor Harris’ impactful service to the Gwinnett Municipal Association (GwMA). He expressed gratitude for the collaborative and visionary approach Mayor Harris brought to the association during her roles as an executive board member, Vice President, and President. Mayor Harris played a crucial role in fostering unity among Gwinnett Cities during a challenging period, showcasing her as a peacemaker and facilitator. “I so appreciate what Nancy has done for our association, our cities and for me personally. We are going to miss her but are so thankful that she has left her mark on GwMA forever.” Meacham fondly recalled a planning session with Mayor Harris in Norcross, where her keen eye for community development shone through as she envisioned ideas for Duluth’s revival and growth. As Duluth bids farewell to Mayor Harris, her mark on the Gwinnett Municipal Association remains an enduring testament to her collaborative spirit and visionary leadership.

City Manager James Riker reflects on Mayor Harris’ leadership style, emphasizing her clear goals that provided the staff with the freedom to be creative. He applauds Mayor Harris’ embrace of creativity, citing her influence on various initiatives. “Mayor Harris’ leadership is characterized by clarity and well-defined goals. She not only embraces but actively encourages innovation, resulting in initiatives like the revitalization of Taylor Park, the architectural charm of Parsons Alley, and the historically influenced design of the new Duluth library. Her commitment to fostering a creative environment has allowed our staff the freedom to innovate in all departments.”

Incoming mayor Greg Whitlock speaks to Mayor Harris’s leadership style, describing her as a servant leader who addresses tough issues with a clear vision.I have worked with Nancy as Mayor for 16 years. She has proven herself as a servant leader through addressing tough issues, creating a vision, collaborating with Council, and including the community. Her visions and fun personality can be seen throughout the City, which prospers more today because of her.”

As Duluth bids farewell to Mayor Nancy Harris, the echoes of her leadership will continue to resonate in the city’s vibrant developments, artistic expressions, community engagement, and a legacy of inclusive and visionary governance.

Looking Ahead

The City of Duluth is excited to welcome Mayor Greg Whitlock as he steps into the role following the retirement of Mayor Nancy Harris. With over 20 years of residence in Duluth and a proven track record of service on the City Council, Mayor Whitlock brings a deep commitment to the community and a wealth of experience. His passion for Duluth’s future, coupled with his active engagement in civic, faith, and business realms, positions him well to lead the city into its next chapter of growth.

Additionally, the City of Duluth is proud to introduce the newly elected Councilmember for Post 5, Shenee Johnson Holloway. A dedicated long-time resident of Duluth, Councilmember Johnson Holloway has demonstrated her commitment to community building through her extensive involvement in various roles, including serving on the City of Duluth Planning Commission and the City of Duluth Board of Ethics. With a background in education and a strong focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, Councilwoman Johnson Holloway is poised to contribute fresh perspectives and positive change to our city. Duluth eagerly anticipates the collaborative efforts and innovative leadership that Mayor Whitlock and Councilwoman Johnson-Holloway will bring to enhance the quality of life for all residents.