Profile Story
Profile Story

Profile Story


May 3, 2022

By Melanie Velasquez

Mara Zúñiga sits for portrait on Wednesday, April 13, 2022. She is a candidate for the mayoral election on May 24, 2022. (Photo/Melanie Velasquez;

Athens, GA—-Mara Zúñiga, a business owner and mother, sits at an aging picnic table under the swaying trees and calm breeze, with highlighted curly brown, curly hair glistening under passing sunlight. Her eyebrows furrow, making her dark eyes glisten as she speaks with ardor on the issues she believes need to be addressed.

As one of six candidates running for mayor in Athens, Zuniga has staked her platform on fighting poverty and crime. She wants to reform the Athens-Clarke County Government and reconsider projects like the government-sanctioned encampment for the homeless population. She additionally wants to provide improved safety for Athens citizens through funding of police. 

Zúñiga was born in Managua, Nicaragua, in 1966. Zuniga, along with her six other siblings and her parents, immigrated to the United States, where they settled in Brooklyn, New York. Zúñiga’s parents grew up in poverty, which is an issue that is close to Zúñiga.

Tents and trash in what is called Cooterville, a homeless camp, on Wednesday, April 13, 2022. The spray paint on the tent says “We Drink”. (Photo/Melanie Velasquez;

According to Welfare Info, 34.39% of Athens-Clarke County residents reported incomes below the poverty line in 2021. The website also mentions that Athens-Clarke County has a higher average percentage of residents living below poverty when compared to the rest of Georgia. 

Zúñiga said she had higher hopes for the $2.5 million government-sanctioned encampment that recently opened this year. 

“I was hoping that a solution would have driven it from a tent to a brick-and-mortar place,” said Zúñiga.

The encampment is being used to act as a transitional location so that residents in the encampment can receive more support. 

“I think we have a lot of talent in Athens, that maybe are stuck in a situation that all they need is that one person that will take them through the whole nine yards,” said Zúñiga. 

She said she wants to motivate workers in Athens to go talk to those living in poverty to inspire them to do more. She did not provide any additional details on how else to help those in poverty.

Mara Zúñiga’s mayoral campaign sign in Athens, Georgia on April 20, 2022. The mayoral race will take place on May 24. (Photo/Melanie Velasquez;

Zúñiga is an avid supporter of funding the police and believes that crime has increased in conjunction with the lack of officers on the force. She said she wants to increase police funding.

“I mean, because these are children we’re talking about and families, not just crime accidents on the streets, there’s actual violence going on, the assaults are up,” Zuniga said. 

According to the Athens-Clarke County police department’s transparency website, the vacancy for sworn officers for the ACCPD is 49 out of 256. The kidnapping alone in Athens-Clarke County has nearly doubled since 2017 to 2021, from 20 to 37. In addition, thus far in 2022, there has been a reported 9 kidnappings, 139 aggravated assaults and 212 entering autos.

District 5 Commissioner, Tim Denson, said that police defunding has not happened in the past three years, but has actually increased.  

According to the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government website on financial reports, the public safety expenses, which includes police funding, had increased 2.7% from 2020 to 2021. 

Denson said he believes that a mayor should have a vision and to be able to implement their ideas. In addition, Denson said that anyone in public office should be transparent and forward with what their plans are. 

“I’d be extremely surprised if she actually won enough votes to be able to take the mayorship,” Denson said. Denson said that his biggest concern with Mara Zúñiga is that he has not heard any “substance” from her. He said he has heard a lot of catchphrases and generic generalities. 

The mayoral election in Athens-Clarke County will take place on May 24.




Why I wrote this Story

I wrote the story because Mara Zúñiga is a latina who is immigrant-born who is running for mayor in Athens-Clarke County. She is very passionate about poverty which interested me and made me want to learn more while also writing about it. She has openly spoken out against policies and plans, which enabled me to gather information easily. The whole process was enlightening and I got to know Zúñiga on a much deeper level than I have ever had with any source.