Antonio Brown: Councilman, mayoral candidate wants to ‘reimagine Atlanta’

10/08/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Atlanta mayoral candidate Antonio Brown at his residence in Atlanta, Friday, October 8, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer/ Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
10/08/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Atlanta mayoral candidate Antonio Brown at his residence in Atlanta, Friday, October 8, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer/ Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

36-year-old says federal fraud charges are bogus

Antonio Brown is 36 years old, one of the youngest members of the Atlanta City Council. He’s charismatic and sharply dressed, an eloquent and passionate speaker.

His reputation is that of a reformer; he joined activists on the streets during last summer’s protests against police killings and systemic racism. He’s fond of saying that Atlanta is, in fact, neither a Black Mecca nor Wakanda, the utopian African nation that’s home to Marvel’s Black Panther — but that it could be.

He’s running to be the city’s next mayor.

“We are literally standing on the precipice of Atlanta becoming this great international city we speak about, or Atlanta becoming a city we don’t recognize anymore,” Brown said in a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “And the decision on that, I believe, lies in this election.”

ExploreComplete coverage of the Atlanta mayor's race

The field for the Nov. 2 mayoral election is crowded, with 14 announced candidates. In a recent poll of likely voters conducted by the AJC and the University of Georgia, Brown came in at about 3.5% — the lowest among what are considered to be the contests’ five leading candidates.

But the poll also showed more than 40% of likely voters still undecided, theoretically leaving room for Brown, Andre Dickens or Sharon Gay to make up ground on frontrunners Kasim Reed and Felicia Moore, and find their way into a runoff.

Brown — who, if elected, would become Atlanta’s first openly LGBTQ mayor — says he’s fighting to “create an inclusive ecosystem where no Atlantan is ever left behind again.” He believes everyday residents struggling to make end’s meet, like many of those from his council district on the western side of downtown, relate to him and believe in his platform of “reimagining Atlanta.”

But Brown admits that fundraising has been tough.

And there’s also the indictment for voters to consider.

Caption
10/08/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Atlanta mayoral candidate Antonio Brown at his residence in Atlanta, Friday, October 8, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer/ Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

10/08/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Atlanta mayoral candidate Antonio Brown at his residence in Atlanta, Friday, October 8, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer/ Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
10/08/2021 — Atlanta, Georgia — Atlanta mayoral candidate Antonio Brown at his residence in Atlanta, Friday, October 8, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer/ Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

A federal grand jury indicted Brown in July 2020, charging him with wire fraud, mail fraud, bank fraud and making false statements on a bank loan application. He’s accused of falsely claiming his identity had been stolen after taking out thousands of dollars in loans and opening several credit cards to make personal purchases, including luxury cars.

Brown is also accused of lying about his income and assets when applying for a $75,000 loan for his shoe and clothing company, LVL XIII Brands — which was at one time available at high-end retailers and promoted by pop singer Jason Derulo, but is now largely defunct.

Brown said he had to “let it go to the wayside” after he was elected to City Council in a 2019 special election, which was held following the death of longtime councilman Ivory Lee Young Jr.

Brown has pleaded not guilty to the charges in the indictment, which predate his time on council.

He has declined to comment on specifics of the case, which will likely go to trial sometime next year. But he’s not been shy about proclaiming his innocence or criticizing the “one-sided” grand jury process.

“They often crucify you and try to ruin you in the court of public opinion even before a case is tried,” Brown said. “You’re often times treated like a villain before you’re allowed to have your day in court to prove your innocence.”

Under city law, any elected official convicted of a felony must vacate their seat immediately. Brown said at a recent mayoral form hosted by the AJC that his upcoming trial wouldn’t be a distraction if he becomes mayor.

“I can ensure the residents of the city of Atlanta that, not only am I innocent, but I have not allowed what has occurred in my personal life to impact my ability to lead while being on the Atlanta City Council and focusing on the needs of our residents,” Brown said.

ExploreTranscript sheds light on investigation into Atlanta councilman's fraud charges

Julian Bene, a former Invest Atlanta board member and avid observer of city politics, said he supported Brown in his original council race because of his progressive stances. He said Brown has lived up to those promises by advocating for underrepresented and economically disadvantaged residents, and through his votes on things like criminal justice reform and the city’s controversial proposal for new police and fire training facility.

Brown was one of just four councilmembers to vote in opposition to the training facility last month, and has said he’d rescind the lease agreement if elected mayor.

“He’s not your standard nod squadder,” Bene said, referencing other officials who he thinks uncritically approve whatever the city administration puts before them.

Bene said Brown’s pending indictment certainly raises concerns.

Others, though, are less worried about Brown’s legal issues.

Sherri Bellille, a mother of four who has lived in Vine City for more than two decades, called him “somebody that everyday people can identify with.” Brown won her over by leading neighborhood clean-ups and showing a willingness to listen to parents about issues that affect their kids and their community.

She believes Brown would also help keep legacy residents in gentrifying neighborhoods in their homes.

“He’s with the people,” Bellille said. “He’s visible, you can find him. He picks up. He answers.”

Brown grew up in poverty in Houston, Texas, his parents in and out of prison. He didn’t finish high school or go to college; he worked in New York for a time before moving to Atlanta in 2013 to launch his fashion line.

He thinks his experience — and his platform, which includes workforce development, affordable housing and other attempts to tackle inequity — are what’s needed to lead Atlanta forward.

“I can tell that a lot of folks don’t feel heard in this city,” Brown said. “And that they don’t believe that the issues that are very meaningful to them, that they care the most about, are being addressed.”


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

We want to hear from you:

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 atlantamayorsrace@ajc.com.

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

Tuesday: Atlanta City Councilman Andre Dickens

Wednesday: Attorney Sharon Gay

Thursday: Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore

Friday: Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed

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