Derek Duke, a candidate for City Council in District 5, says he wants to help protect and build on the quality of life that has made Statesboro his chosen hometown for 40 years.
Duke, 73, who flew combat missions as an Air Force pilot during the Vietnam War, went on to a 40-year career as an airline pilot. He also remained in the Air Force Reserve, being called up to other missions before retiring as a lieutenant colonel in the 1990s. After working for several airlines, he retired as a Delta Air Lines senior captain in 2013.
“My wife is from Statesboro originally, and at a time when we were a lot younger with young children, I chose Statesboro because of the quality of life, frankly, pure and simple,” Duke said in an interview this week. “Being an airline pilot and a military officer in the reserves … my life I knew would at times have turbulence in it for me, being called away, and I wanted the stability and security that Statesboro offered.”
Monday he became the first of three candidates to sign up during the qualifying window, which closed at noon Wednesday, for the May 22 special election. Don Armel and Konrad Godfrey qualified Tuesday and will be introduced in stories next week. The special city election, only in District 5, coincides with the county and state primaries but will use a separate ballot. The winner will fill the unexpired term of former council member Travis Chance through 2019.
Duke said that preserving Statesboro’s stability and other qualities he has counted on, especially in terms of public safety, is a key reason why he is running.
“I’m very open about that,” he said. “I want to do the best I can to maintain the quality of life that I can with a community that’s rapidly growing, a lot of change is happening.”
Duke’s 150 combat missions in Vietnam were National Security Agency surveillance flights, top secret at the time, he said. He was chief pilot of a group of planes used for these, through three major battles.
In later years as a reservist, he was the Air Force Academy’s representative in Statesboro’s congressional district, recruiting top high school students for the academy. He also flew during the 1983 Grenada invasion and 1989–90 Panama invasion with his reserve unit, and was called up to active duty for Desert Storm, the 1991 counter-invasion of Kuwait and Iraq.
A military honor graduate of Georgia Tech, Duke served out his ROTC scholarship commitment during his service in Vietnam. He attained his Master of Business Administration from Southern Illinois University.
His wife, Pat Harvey Duke, is a retired public school teacher. They have been married almost 50 years and have two adult sons, who attended Bulloch County public schools and Georgia Southern University, and five grandchildren.
Derek and Pat Duke attend Statesboro Primitive Baptist Church, where they have been members since the 1970s.
On a campaign flier, a focus on crime prevention in high-risk areas and exercising “fiscal responsibility to avoid property tax increases” were the first two planks Duke identified.
“We’ve all been concerned about the crime,” he said in the interview, and added that he was pleased by the rapid apprehension of a suspect after the recent homicide at the Baymont Inn.
“I’m a big backer of our public service folks, law enforcement and public service, our church community, the fabric of our society and trying to just do what makes the community stronger that we have here to enjoy,” Duke said. “I’ve enjoyed living here for 40 years, tremendously.”
City Council in 2017 approved a one-mill tax increase to boost starting pay for Statesboro Police Department officers and for other public safety spending. So tension can exist between public safety initiatives and limiting taxes, as Duke acknowledged when asked.
“There are some challenging issues there and I join with those who’ve worked to control that,” Duke said. “I’m a taxpayer like everyone else here.”
Duke is currently serving in his eighth year on the Bulloch County Planning and Zoning Commission, an unpaid board appointed by the elected county commissioners.
“That’s something I really enjoy because I get to know people from around the county with challenging issues and help sometimes with opposing sides and viewpoints and try to help resolve those issues,” he said.
He said the county attorney told him there is no inherent conflict in serving on the county zoning board and City Council. But Duke said he has also talked to county Board of Commissioners Chairman Roy Thompson about this and is “waiting to see how the election goes” before deciding whether to leave the county zoning board.
“There are people urging me to promote the continuing closer relationship between the county and city in governmental affairs,” Duke also said.
Other platform issues he identified include supporting economic development with retail growth and industrial recruitment, revitalizing downtown and other areas in conjunction with the Blue Mile initiative, improving traffic flow in high-density areas and exploring the feasibility of public transportation.
Listening to people is one of his assets, he said.
“One of the blessings that I’ve had working with an international airline and having flown in virtually every country in the world, I’ve worked with anyone regardless of race, color, creed, and I find a way to make things happen the right way if at all possible,” Duke said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.