Atlanta mayoral candidates court youth vote at latest forum

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The candidates addressed the proposed regional police center and officer incentives

Atlanta residents put mayoral candidates in the hot seat at the Young Democrats of Atlanta forum last week, where they asked the contenders about everything from public safety to their preference between “flats or drums.”

Attorney Sharon Gay didn’t get the reference until an attendee said “chicken wings, honey,” eliciting laughs from the 90-plus crowd at Manuel’s Tavern. Attendees gasped when City Councilman Antonio Brown said he’s vegetarian, and again when he opted against naming his favorite OutKast album or song.

The candidates were trying to appeal to the growing youth vote. Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said young voters “turned Georgia blue” in last year’s presidential and congressional elections. Gay said 20% of voters in the city’s 2017 elections were under 40, and 40% of the voters were under 40 in the January runoff for Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats.

Chase Stell, moderator and president of the Young Democrats of Atlanta, sought the candidates’ solutions for addressing crime — and whether it involves building a regional Atlanta Public Safety Training Center across the old Atlanta Prison Farm.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Residents asked about the future of Atlanta’s detention center and police incentives, but one woman in the crowd took it upon herself to shout an expletive cursing the police.

Council President Felicia Moore promised to hire more officers and “use the bully pulpit of the mayor’s office” to help courts track violent, repeat offenders. She also wants to support the city’s code enforcement officers to crack down on criminal activity at businesses.

Brown said he wants to create a citywide community policing unit and a non-emergency unit. He also wants to bolster support for the Pre-Arrest Diversion program and the At-Promise Youth and Community Centers.

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Reed pointed out that his prior administration built Atlanta’s first promise center, and he said the Atlanta Police Foundation could help recruit officers from the nation’s southeast to expand the police force.

But Gay called crime “more brazen” than what past leaders experienced. She promised to collaborate with neighboring counties and the state to get the right people, tools and training to improve public safety and social services. She said the city should jail “slumlords” and others with excessive code violations.

“If we don’t have a city jail we may not have any place to put those folks when we need to teach them a lesson,” Gay said.

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Councilman Andre Dickens said his officers will live in the communities they serve. He will also hire 400 officers from Black colleges and universities in the first two years and arrest “gang leaders that are preying on our children” to commit crime. He also wants to go after illegal guns in partnership with federal officials.

First-time candidate and Atlantic Station resident Richard Wright pitched a gun buyback program and more support for minority businesses. Wright and Dickens also said officers deserve more bonuses and pay raises.

Dickens, Gay, Moore and Wright voiced support for the proposed regional public safety facility. Brown and Reed said they support the idea of a new training facility, but not the proposed location. Critics of the proposal deride it as a “cop city” contributing to deforestation and police militarization.

On Thursday, Moore declined to say how she would vote on the facility. The council president only votes in the the event of a tie.

At Wednesday’s forum, Dickens, Gay, Moore and Reed reiterated that the Atlanta City Detention Center can be used to address overcrowding at the Fulton County jail. But Brown said he would close the city center.

“We can matriculate folks out of Fulton County jail into an equitable center that could provide them jobs and wraparound services and support,” Brown said.

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