Caesh asked Dickens if he ever played basketball at the old Run N Shoot gym. Even with a mask on, you could see Dickens smile. “All the time.”
“I thought I knew you,” Caesh said. The two men reminisced before Dickens launched into campaign mode, telling Caesh about his candidacy.
Dickens’ deep Atlanta roots — a graduate of Mays High School, Georgia Tech and Georgia State University — could help his chances in the Nov. 2 election.
“We’re surging at the right time,” said Dickens, 47. “With TV commercials and knocking on doors and making phone calls, (voters) are loving the information that they’re getting about me, because it’s a real connection to them.”
Dickens, a Collier Heights resident, is one of 14 candidates in the race. A recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll found Dickens had 5% of support among likely voters, well behind former Mayor Kasim Reed and City Council President Felicia Moore, who both polled at over 20%.
About 41% were still undecided.
A two-term at-large city councilman, Dickens has faced long odds before.
In 2013, he ran for council against a three-term incumbent — endorsed by Reed — who was mired in controversy after being disbarred on ethics violations. Dickens was backed by former Mayor Shirley Franklin and ran unopposed in 2017.
Franklin endorsed Dickens’ mayoral bid last week.
“I am going to vote for Andre Dickens because I think he is the best qualified candidate,” Franklin told WSB radio. “He’s got public sector experience, he’s got private sector experience and he’s got non-profit experience. He’s an engineer and he’s a deacon. He’s honest, he’s hardworking but he is also very innovative.
“I think he is the right person for this time and moving forward.”
Being mayor has been a decades-long dream for Dickens, entrenched after meeting then-Mayor Andrew Young while attending a summer program, Dickens’ mother Sylvia Dickens said.
“I told Andre, ‘He’s mayor,’ and he said ‘I want to be mayor one day,’” Sylvia Dickens said. “He says he was 16 then, but he was 12.”
Sylvia Dickens said her son’s honesty is needed in a mayor — while in college, he wrote her a letter to tell her his grades slipped.
“I would have never known it, but he wanted me to know,” Sylvia Dickens said. “That’s the kind of person he is.”
Striking a similar line as President Joe Biden during his race last year, Dickens says this year’s election is for the “soul of Atlanta.”
“Who are we and are we going to grow and go forward in a way that’s for peace, productivity and prosperity for everyone?” Dickens said during a recent press conference. “Or are we going to go backwards into despair, destruction and corruption?”
Dickens has criticized Reed’s administration for the federal corruption investigation of City Hall. The probe ensnared several members of Reed’s team, including bribery convictions against his chief procurement officer and a deputy chief of staff. Reed’s chief financial officer is currently under indictment for fraud and weapons charges.
Reed says there has been no evidence of systemic corruption during his administration, nor any directly linked to him.
Ro Lawson, an Inman Park resident and Dickens’ friend of 20 years, said the councilman’s integrity is the main reason he has her support.
“This is a man who is not having $100,000 parties, but is employing veterans and youth with $100,000 jobs,” she said, comparing Reed’s campaign kickoff to a training program Dickens created to help low-wage workers find jobs.
Raised by a strict mother who worked for the phone company, Dickens is the youngest of two children. His stepfather, an airplane mechanic, adopted Dickens when he was 7. The two would take things apart and put them back together, fostering Dickens’ interest in engineering.
Dickens is a deacon at New Horizon Baptist Church, the church he grew up attending, and has a 16-year-old daughter who splits her time between Dickens and his ex-wife.
Dickens is the chief development officer for TechBridge, a nonprofit that offers technology and workforce training to organizations. He co-founded the company’s career program in 2018 to teach people skills needed to land IT jobs.
Previously, Dickens worked at Georgia Tech and as an engineer for oil and plastic companies.
Dickens co-founded a furniture company with his sister in 2002 that crumbled during the housing crisis and left him $1 million in debt. He filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2010. He also faced tax liens in the years leading up to his bankruptcy, debts that he said are long settled.
“When the economy tanked we were trying to hold on to these furniture locations,” he said. “People weren’t buying furniture anymore, they were trying to pay their mortgage.”
During his time on the City Council, Dickens said he is most proud of sponsoring the legislation that created the city’s transportation department, starting the conversation to increase minimum wage for city employees to $15 and passing policies aimed at increasing Atlanta’s affordable housing — such as requiring new rental properties along the Beltline to set aside at least 10% of the units for affordable housing.
Atlanta’s next mayor will have to stem a recent uptick in crime. Dickens said he plans to focus on bolstering Atlanta’s police force, implementing more community policing initiatives and arresting violent gang leaders.
Dickens has been outraised throughout the campaign. He reported raising $1 million this election cycle — of which he loaned himself $25,000 — and having almost $200,000 on hand as of Sept. 30. Reed is leading in campaign contributions, having raised $2.8 million with $912,000 on hand. Moore reported having $460,000 left in her campaign account after having raised about $1.1 million this cycle.
But Dickens said he’s going to get in front of as many voters as he can in the coming weeks.
“I’m going to be on TV every day trying to make sure that you hear my message, are able to talk to me at meet-and-greets in the community every single night, being very, very visible, and having a listening ear,” he said. “I’m smart enough to listen, but strong enough to lead.”
Profiling the candidates:
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will publish deep profiles of the five major Atlanta mayoral candidates as part of the newspaper’s comprehensive coverage of the 2021 Race for City Hall. Those candidates garnered at least 1% support in a recent University of Georgia School of Public & International Affairs poll commissioned by the AJC. There are 14 candidates on the ballot. You can learn more about each of them by going to ajc.com and clicking on our page dedicated to coverage of the race for Atlanta mayor
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If you have tips to share, questions for the candidates or if you want to tell us how you think we are doing in covering the race for mayor, please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To view all of the AJC’s coverage of the 2021 Atlanta elections, go to https://www.ajc.com/news/atlanta-mayors-race-2021/
Schedule of Profiles:
Monday: Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown
Today: Atlanta City Councilman Andre Dickens
Wednesday: Attorney Sharon Gay
Thursday: Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore
Friday: Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed