Fletcher mayor Preston Blakely MPA ’19 comes from a line of changemakers.
His parents, Jonathan and Namurah Blakely, started Quality Janitorial Group in 1990. Now, 32 years later, their impact can be felt across the region. The small business has allowed thousands of families to provide the financial resources needed to support their families.
His maternal grandmother, Oralene Simmons, paved the way for students at Mars Hill College as its first black student on campus in the early 1960s. She also is credited with being very active in her community and starting the popular Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast in Asheville. Mars Hill University recognized her impact by awarding her in May with an honorary doctorate degree.
Blakely’s late paternal grandmother, Patricia Blakely, was the first black woman to drive a bus for the city of Asheville. She literally went from having to sit on the back of the bus during her younger years to later driving the bus for Asheville residents.
So, it was only natural that 27-year-old Blakely’s destiny was to become a leader as well. Blakely is the youngest serving mayor in North Carolina.
“I want to give a lot of young folk who grew up here a reason to come back to Fletcher and raise their families,” Blakely said.
Fletcher, a municipality in Henderson County, is growing and experiencing changes synonymous with those happening throughout Western North Carolina. There is rapid residential growth with new communities, as well as commercial growth with restaurants and other new businesses.
“Fletcher has always been known as a bedroom-type community to Asheville where a lot of people work,” Blakely said. “We are starting to move away from that identity with our growth of new businesses coming. It is an exciting time to be in Fletcher.”
Blakely’s political career happened fast. Before assuming the role of mayor in 2021, he successfully ran against an incumbent for a Fletcher Town Council position in 2019. That was just months after receiving his master’s degree in public affairs from Western Carolina University that same year.
“I was on track to be an administrator, like a town manager or county manager, but after a few months of impatient job searching I decided to work with my family business,” Blakely said.
While looking for a job that fit his new graduate degree, someone brought the idea to him he should run for council. Before making a decision, Blakely did his research to find out what the elected position entailed. After some careful thought, he decided to run.
“As a lifelong resident of Fletcher and being a young Black man, I thought I had a lot to give to the citizens by becoming a part of town council,” he said.
It was a grassroots campaign that included knocking on doors, making phone calls, postcards and speaking at events. His hard work did not go unnoticed. Blakely was the top vote getter in the primary and then focused his energies on the November race. He won that race with approximately 70% of the vote.
He served as a town council member until former mayor Rod Whiteside decided that he was not going to run for reelection. Blakely ran for mayor, and again won.
“That was the best birthday present that I have ever received,” the University of North Carolina at Greensboro double major said during an interview from his Fletcher apartment. His birthday was just a few days before Election Day.
Blakely said he was lucky to have his family business because it provides him the flexibility needed to fulfill appointments as Fletcher’s mayor. When asked how his community and WCU could further support him in his career as mayor, Blakely gave a response that was not surprising.
“Instead of asking what they can do for me, I want to ask them what can I do for them? Fletcher and WCU have helped me to get this point and I want to just give back,” he said.