Dunwoody’s Jewish mayor-elect Lynn Deutsch never thought she’d be the one campaigning for public office.
“I always foresaw a career behind the scenes,” she said. “But I consider myself much more of a policy maker than a politician. I’m much more interested in policy research and communications.”
The Temple Emanu-El member first stepped into community involvement when her oldest son was in kindergarten. The school’s principal appointed her to a committee made up of representatives from all the schools in Dunwoody.
“That was my first foray into it, and the activism with the school system came later as I peeled back the onion,” Deutsch said.
When Chestnut Elementary School didn’t have an art teacher, Deutsch found herself horrified and wanting to change that.
“There were multiple elementary schools in DeKalb that didn’t have art teachers,” she said. “The PTA started raising money to fund one, but that’s wrong on so many levels, because every elementary school child should have art and music and P.E. The principal shouldn’t have to choose.
“There are a lot of elementary schools where the parents might not have the means to raise money and pay an art teacher,” she added.
She began advocating for students, talking to school boards and fighting for education. In the process, Deutsch discovered some of the challenges facing DeKalb County Schools. She served in a variety of leadership roles at Chestnut, Dunwoody Elementary School and Peachtree and Dunwoody high schools.
She was named to the Master Teacher & Academic Coach Implementation Committee as a parent representative by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue.
When Dunwoody became a city in 2008, her background in city planning — a field in which she earned a master’s degree from Georgia Tech — pushed her to become even more involved.
“I was appointed to the first planning commission after cityhood, and then ran for city council,” she said. “In the first couple of years, there was a missing voice, which was from mothers with younger children. The incumbent for that seat wasn’t going to run again, so it was a huge decision for me.”
While her campaign for mayor this year retained that same grassroots approach she took in her first city council run, Deutsch said that the scale was the biggest change.
“This year there was no reason for people to come to the ballot, except for municipal elections,” she said. “That means we had total responsibility for getting people out to vote, so we knocked on about 7,000 doors, … and had almost two dozen meet and greets.”
As for what in her platform really appealed to voters, she explained that her perspective of opportunities seemed to resonate with those with whom she met.
“We have opportunities, for example, in Dunwoody Village,” she said. “One of the knocks against Dunwoody is that there’s no here, no local gathering space, and the village can be that spot. I can’t tell you exactly what it’s going to look like, but I know we need to make it happen.”
As for the overall state of Dunwoody, Deutsch explained that she felt it was strong, but an eye toward the future would be vital.
“Dunwoody is in really good shape,” she said, “but I ran, in part because I’m concerned about where we’ll be in 10 years, when compared to the cities around us. Our economic well-being is dependent on Perimeter Center. How do we make sure that the businesses that are there stay there?”
Another area in need of work was DeKalb County Schools, according to Deutsch.
“One of our biggest challenges is a school system we have no direct control over,” she said. “I intend to bring all the mayors and leaders of DeKalb County together to see if we can come up with a plan to influence the school system to do a better job.”
She pointed to the overcrowding in schools as one major issue, but said it is likely a symptom of a bigger problem.
“There has been a long period of mismanagement and some corruption,” she said.
DeKalb County has seen five superintendents in less than 12 years, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and current superintendent R. Stephen Green tendered his resignation in May, which will take effect in June 2020.
“It’s really about not just top leadership, but also how does a school system develop mid-level leadership who can turn the ship around?” Deutsch asked. “It has operated in isolation for decades and it does impact the health of the entire county. They need to get their house in order.”
Taking over for Denis Shortal, who has been in the post since 2015 and did not run for reelection, Deutsch is the first woman to be elected mayor of the young city of Dunwoody, and explained that representation is important. She defeated fellow councilmember Terry Nall by over 20 percent.
“There have been a lot of young women and girls who have been excited, because I think role models and mentors are important,” she said. “In addition, we have three women on the city council this year, which is the most since it was founded. Women are really politically interested right now, and local government effects your day-to-day life more than any other form.”
As for the support she received during the campaign, Deutsch was nothing but grateful.
“Campaigning is hard, and every night I would come up with a plan and say, ‘this is what I’m doing tomorrow,” she said. “If I woke up in the morning and felt like I didn’t want to do this, I thought about all my volunteers and I couldn’t let them down. They really propelled me to get up, get going, and get this done.”