Hayes, James C. 1946—
James C. Hayes 1946—
Mayor of Fairbanks; Alaska
The state of Alaska seems a rather unlikely place to find an African American in high office. In Fairbanks, for instance, blacks—many of whom are stationed at local military bases—make up only 12 percent of the population. This has not proven an obstacle, however, for James C. Hayes, the popular and upbeat mayor of Fairbanks. A lifelong resident of Alaska, Hayes is the first black mayor ever elected in that state. He ran unopposed for mayor of Alaska’s second-largest city in 1992, and found support from residents of all races and creeds. His victory, to quote an Ebony contributor, “helps debunk the myth that white voters won’t support black politicians.”
Reporters have been hard pressed to find critics of Hayes or his policies. The mayor is a Democrat, but a conservative one who is reluctant to raise taxes or expand city bureaucracy. He is known as a mediator and expert negotiator, and—in a state that knows well the value of tourist dollars—is actively involved in promoting his city. Fairbanks Daily News-Miner correspondent Eric Troyer wrote of Hayes, “When asked to describe him, people usually pepper him with praise, even former opponents.” For his part, Hayes commented in Ebony, “In Fairbanks, people tend to accept you as you are. They just want to hear your platform and hear what you believe in, and then see you go out and work really hard. That’s been the key to my success.”
Although Jim Hayes considers Fairbanks his “hometown,” he was actually born in Sacramento, California. He spent the first nine years of his life there, but in 1955 his parents divorced and the family split up. Hayes and his mother packed their bags and came north to Fairbanks with a Baptist minister and his family. Hayes’s mother became a domestic worker in the city, and Hayes helped pay the bills by shining shoes at a downtown barbershop. He also delivered newspapers and worked odd jobs.
Hayes described himself in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner as a “terror” as a child, the kind of boy who pulled chairs out from under his friends and played pranks of all sorts. He and his mother both attended the First Church of God in Christ every Sunday and closely followed the tenets of the Christian faith. Religion still
At a Glance…
Born May 25 , 1946, in Sacramento, CA; son of Juanita Hayes Metoyer; married Chris Parham (an executive secretary), 1974; children: LaNene Hayes-Pruitt, James Jr. Education: University of Alaska, B.A., 1970. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Church of God in Christ.
Joy Elementary School, Fairbanks, AK, teacher, 1970–71 ; President’s Council on Youth and Job Opportunity, Juneau, AK, bureau director, 1971; Office of the Governor, Manpower Planning Division, Juneau, deputy director, 1971–72; Office of Consumer Protection, Fairbanks, associate attorney-investigator, 1972–90,1991 —, investigator, 1990–91, Mayor of Fairbanks, 1992—. Member of Fairbanks North Star Borough School Board and Fairbanks City Council, 1987–92. Assistant pastor, Lily of the Valley Church of God in Christ.
Selected awards: Named “Outstanding Young Man of America” by national Jaycees, 1982.
Addresses: Home —313 Droz Dr., Fairbanks, AK 99701. Office— 410 Cushman St., Fairbanks, AK 99701–4683.
plays an important role in Hayes’s life. He married a fellow First Church of God parishioner, Chris Parham, whose father today is pastor of the Lily Church of God in Christ. As young newlyweds the couple committed themselves to Christ, and Hayes has since served as an assistant pastor and youth leader of the Lily Church. He has been an ordained elder in the Church of God in Christ denomination since 1984. Despite the other demands of his busy schedule, he preaches at least once a month at a Sunday morning service.
In high school Hayes played varsity basketball and helped his Lathrop High School team win the 1964 state championship. After graduating in 1965, he enrolled at the University of Alaska, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1970 with a major in education and a minor in sociology and psychology. While waiting for a teaching position to open up, Hayes worked in the state correctional system as an inmate counselor and correctional officer. He began teaching elementary school in September of 1970.
Hayes welcomed the challenge of teaching fifth grade, especially since his classroom would include students with behavior problems and learning disabilities. He used this firsthand knowledge of children’s special needs in his next job, as director of the Alaska bureau of the President’s Council on Youth and Job Opportunity. Appointed to his post in 1971, Hayes set about creating programs and instituting governmental changes that would benefit poor youth across Alaska. His task was to coordinate federal programs with state and local agencies and to provide advice and literature to job and training programs in the private sector. The job took Hayes to Alaska’s capital city of Juneau and also to Washington, DC, where he met the congressmen who were responsible for the program. The President’s Council on Youth and Job Opportunity was disbanded as a result of budget cuts later in 1971. In retrospect, Hayes recalled in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, the program was “top-heavy.… The money really didn’t get down to the kids.”
When his duties with the federal program ended, Hayes received a new appointment, this time from then-Alaska governor Bill Egan. Hayes was named deputy director of the governor’s Manpower Planning Division, an office that oversaw state manpower resources and coordinated liaisons among federal, state, and local agencies, their personnel, and their vendors. Part of Hayes’s responsibility in this position was to prepare the department’s annual budget, a task that would aid him later in his role as a municipal politician.
The job was rewarding, but the young Hayes found himself longing to return to Fairbanks, where he had family and a young fiancee. In 1972 he accepted a position with the Attorney General’s Office for Consumer Protection that took him back to Fairbanks as an attorney’s assistant and fraud investigator. He has been working with that office ever since.
Hayes’s principal task at the attorney general’s office was settling disputes between businesses and consumers who felt they had been defrauded. He became known as a man who could sometimes negotiate settlements through face-to-face interviews, without involving attorneys or the courts. When that avenue failed, he took part in thorough investigations of complaints and helped the lawyers in his office prepare their court cases. He also conducted the daily investigation of consumer complaints and “tips” relating to automobile repairs, door-to-door solicitations, telephone solicitations, mail-order schemes, and unordered merchandise. On many occasions he was called on to testify in court about investigations he had conducted and report his conclusions.
The demands of his full-time job notwithstanding, Hayes plunged into politics in 1973, when he ran for a seat on the Fairbanks North Star borough board of education. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner surmised that Hayes was probably the first black to serve the community in that capacity. After serving one term with the school board, Hayes moved on to city politics. He was elected to the Fairbanks City Council in 1987 for a three-year term and then re-elected in 1990. There he established himself as a dedicated public servant who rarely missed a council meeting and who did his homework, carefully studying the issues under consideration by the city government. Hayes noted in the News-Miner, “I decided when I ran for council, I didn’t want it to be said, ‘He’s nice, but what does he know?’ I decided if I did it I would do the work. I’m putting some fat on my head.”
While with the Fairbanks City Council, Hayes established himself as a fiscal conservative and a “law-and-order” advocate who co-sponsored a resolution calling for the recriminalization of marijuana in Fairbanks. He took part in debates about imposing a citywide sales tax in order to reverse deficit spending and negotiated contracts with the various unions that provided the municipal labor force. All of his political activity was conducted as a second job, after full days put in at the Consumer Protection Division—not to mention the demands of his church and youth group activities.
It was just such a double workload that opened the mayor’s office to Hayes in 1992. Fairbanks mayor Wayne Nelson decided not to seek another term in office that year, citing the position’s excessive demands. In August of 1992, Hayes announced his decision to seek the office. He was the only candidate to file a formal declaration of intent at the Fairbanks City Hall by the election deadline—he had no opponents in either party.
In fact, when the November elections arrived, he won by a huge landslide against an opponent who only mounted a write-in campaign. Hayes and his family were thrilled to be given such a vote of confidence by the citizens of Fairbanks. Observing that the people who spoke out were offering support rather than voicing complaints, Hayes concluded in the News-Miner, “I think the time’s right. I think the wind is changing. I just want to be the spark plug to bring it all together.”
Described as “impeccably honest” and a man who might be “too nice” to withstand the inevitable criticism levied at a city mayor, Hayes assumed leadership of an overwhelmingly white city. In interviews with the local press and the national media, the affable mayor has maintained that, while prejudice does exist in Alaska, it is not as severe as elsewhere in America. In fact, he has said, the state provides plenty of opportunities for minorities in business and education. Hayes commented in the News-Miner, “I tell my kids, ‘You’re crazy to leave this state. Get a good education, put God first in your life and you can do anything in this state.”’
Alaska is not always a friendly environment for people of any race, though, and Hayes is quick to admit it. Summertime temperatures can climb into the 90s, but it is the winter weather that has made the state notorious. Fairbanks can receive as much as 150 inches of snow per year, and temperatures can drop well below zero for days at a time. In fact, one of Hayes’s most pressing problems as the city’s chief executive is finding enough funds in the treasury to provide prompt and efficient snow removal. The mayor prefers not to dwell on wintertime extremes, however. As a major tourist venue with “picture-postcard landscapes,” to quote an Ebony reporter, the city has a reputation for accessibility and congeniality.
Hayes, who lives in a comfortable home with his wife and college-age son, feels that his life has taken the direction that God wanted it to take. From his earliest years in the pulpit urging people to communicate and to work out their problems amicably, he has developed a philosophy of mediation and conciliation on both a personal and professional level. “That’s why I think that it’s been a plan that’s been set for me,” he told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. “The maker has made my path for me.”
Nor has that path necessarily ended at the Fairbanks mayor’s office. Hayes has plans that may take him back to Juneau as a state politician—or perhaps even to Washington and the halls of Congress. “If I can get what I want from Juneau for our city from the people that are down there, I don’t need to be there,” he said. On the other hand, he quickly added, “If [being down there is] in this plan that the Lord has laid out for me, so be it.”
On one point mayor Hayes is absolutely adamant: He never wants to leave Fairbanks permanently. He and his wife, who works for the Fairbanks Municipal Utilities Authority, are so tied to the region that they have purchased burial plots in a local cemetery. Hayes noted in Ebony that the city is a wonderful place to live and a rewarding community to serve. “For anyone who has a desire to raise a family, get involved in the community and contribute something,” he concluded, “this is the place.”
Ebony, October 1993, pp. 64–66.
Essence, October 1994, p. 114–15.
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, March 25,1989; August 23, 1992; September 28, 1992; December 28, 1992; September 26, 1993.
Additional information for this profile was supplied by the city clerk, City of Fairbanks, and by James C. Hayes.
—Anne Janette Johnson
"Hayes, James C. 1946—." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 23, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hayes-james-c-1946
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