Atlanta mayoral candidates greet voters at largest forum to date

The inside of Atlanta City Hall. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

The inside of Atlanta City Hall. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Atlanta residents interacted with mayoral hopefuls Tuesday night at their largest forum to date, as 12 of the 14 candidates mingled with voters at Friendship Baptist Church.

The forum was aired virtually via live stream, and it attracted more than 160 attendees in person. The candidates spent most of the time addressing affordable housing.

Only candidates Kirsten Elise Dunn and Nolan English did not attend the event. Dunn scheduled a Wednesday press conference to officially announce her candidacy.

City Councilman Antonio Brown, Councilman Andre Dickens, Sharon Gay, Mark Hammad, Kenny Hill, Rebecca King, Council President Felicia Moore, former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Walter Reeves, Roosevelt Searles III, Richard Wright and Glenn Wrightson attended the first forum held since they qualified for the race last week.

Several journalists grilled the candidates vying to replace Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms for nearly three hours. Among the questions: how they would address crime and affordable housing. But the candidates were also asked about their stances on police accountability, defunding the police, critical race theory, confederate monuments, and even if they watched the superhero film Black Panther.

Reeves and Wrightson were the only candidates who said they didn’t watch that movie.

Atlanta: Mayoral candidates Councilman Antonio Brown (left), Councilman Andre Dickens, attorney Sharon Gay, Mark Hammad, Kenny Hill, local businesswoman Rebecca King, Council President Felicia Moore, former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Walter Reeves, Roosevelt Searles III, local businessman Richard Wright and Glenn Wrightson take part in a mayoral debate hosted at Friendship Baptist Church on Tuesday, August 24, 2021, in Atlanta. “Wilborn Nobles /”

Credit: Wilborn Nobles

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Credit: Wilborn Nobles

All 12 candidates said they would use the mayor’s office to provide housing assistance and solutions for homelessness. But Reeves and Wrightson said they wouldn’t commit to adding 20,000 affordable housing units over the next four years.

Brown said he will make sure developers operate in the interest of residents. Dickens said developers will either support or house residents rather than displace them, and he promised “to develop on the south side of town.” Gay said she will create plans to incentivize new housing projects wherever it’s needed in Atlanta.

Hammad said he will require developers to hire local employees. Hill said Atlanta needs to use its 470 parcels of spare land to develop more affordable housing. King said families shouldn’t be displaced if their home appraisal values increase, and she urged residents to move beyond affordable housing.

Moore promised to work with the Atlanta Housing Authority and private partners to improve housing affordability. Reed said he would work with developers and nonprofit organizations to create more housing on the 855 acres of real estate owned by the city. He also promised to create an office of anti-displacement to assist homeowners “on the verge of foreclosure.”

But Searles criticized the candidates who held office, saying they “try to figure out all the different ways not to get something done.” Searles said Atlanta needs to push companies to increase wages to ensure employees can afford residency in the city.

Wright promised to work with banks to modify home loan applications. He also said the city reserves could keep longtime residents in their homes. Wrightson said Atlanta should provide a “safety net.” He also urged the city to improve its schools to address income inequality.

“Gentrification is OK,” Wrightson said, eliciting murmurs from the crowd.

Entitled “A Conversation with the Candidates,” the forum was hosted by Friendship Baptist Church Atlanta, the NAACP Atlanta Branch, and the National Pan-Hellenic Council of Greater Atlanta.