5 takeaways from a week of mayoral debates

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Atlanta mayoral runoff candidates Felicia Moore and Andre Dickens answer questions from AJC reporters. Video by Ryon Horne and Tyson Horne

Last week saw Atlanta’s mayoral candidates go head-to-head nearly every day at a series of debates and forums, and gave us the closest look yet at Andre Dickens’ and Felicia Moore’s arguments going into the final stretch of the election.

With about a week to go until Election Day, here are five things we learned from this week’s seemingly nonstop string of debates.

1. On the attack: Both candidates sharpened their points of attack last week, seeking to more clearly differentiate themselves to the public. Dickens argued that he knows how to get things done, while calling out Moore for her repeated “no” votes on multiple city budgets and Beltline-related ordinances.

ExploreDickens, Moore slam each other’s record during Atlanta mayoral runoff debate

“Executives know how to get to yes,” Dickens said at a Wednesday debate.

Moore responded that she was voting against “shady” deals and budgets, saying leaders should have the courage to say no when it’s necessary. Moore has criticized Dickens’ judgment for voting to withhold police funding, and questioned whether he was an “opportunist” for only seeking the job of mayor after Bottoms stepped down.

2. City Hall shake-up: At Tuesday’s debate, both candidates said they plan to make changes to the top leadership at City Hall, if elected. Dickens said he’s going to seek resignations from several top officials right away, while Moore said she would make changes over time. Cabinet turnover isn’t unusual when a new mayor is inaugurated, but Mayor Bottoms said in May that she regretted not seeking resignations from former mayor Kasim Reed’s team sooner in her term. It seems that the next mayor is heeding that advice.

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City Council President Felicia Moore talks with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (Tyson Horne/tyson.horne@ajc.com)

Credit: Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com

City Council President Felicia Moore talks with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (Tyson Horne/tyson.horne@ajc.com)
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City Council President Felicia Moore talks with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (Tyson Horne/tyson.horne@ajc.com)

Credit: Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com

Credit: Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com

3. Experience matters: Speaking of attacks, the candidates’ leadership experiences have become major talking points during the last week. During Tuesday’s Atlanta Press Club debate, Moore criticized Dickens for trying to seek the office of mayor, saying it “takes more than just a couple pieces of legislation.”

A 24-year council veteran, Moore called herself “a student of city government” with an education in public administration prior to her work with leaders on the regional, state, and federal level. “I’ve provided even counsel to Mr. Dickens and other council members as it relates to the roles and operations of city government,” she said.

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Councilman Andre Dickens talks with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (Tyson Horne/tyson.horne@ajc.com)

Credit: Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com

Councilman Andre Dickens talks with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (Tyson Horne/tyson.horne@ajc.com)
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Councilman Andre Dickens talks with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (Tyson Horne/tyson.horne@ajc.com)

Credit: Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com

Credit: Tyson Horne / tyson.horne@ajc.com

Dickens, who has served on council for eight years, acknowledged Moore’s longstanding positions in City Hall, but said she needs to improve her “ability to implement and actually lead.”

“In over 24 years, I would imagine that you would have to have a body of work that everybody in the city would know a lot about, so I will say that because she doesn’t have that body of work that means there’s some deficiencies in how she goes about delivering results. … She’s mentioned she’s a student. Now it’s time to be the principal,” Dickens said.

4. Defunding the police: Each candidate last week tried to paint their opponent as an antagonist to the police. Moore pointed out that Dickens voted in favor of last year’s budget proposal to withhold $73 million in police funding, but Dickens called out Moore for previous votes against seven budgets in the past that increased police funding. Both candidates have voted for police raises in the past. The “defund the police” argument is often used by Republicans to try to hurt Democrats, so it’s interesting to see two Democrats go at it over the same issue.

ExploreDickens, Moore split over key public safety issues ahead of mayoral runoff

5. The Reed factor: Asked at a Wednesday debate if either candidate would accept an endorsement from former Mayor Kasim Reed, both candidates said no. Reed finished third in the general election, locking him out of a runoff, after criticizing both Moore and Dickens throughout the election.

Moore said she hasn’t thought about a possible Reed endorsement because they “have had a long history at City Hall. We have battled most viciously for eight years and then again on the campaign trail.”

Dickens said he respects Reed but doesn’t “see the need” to have his endorsement.

“I respect his voters though, and all of his supporters!” Dickens said, prompting laughs from the crowd.