Atlanta mayoral candidates pitch their green dreams during virtual forum

People stop and take a selfie at the scenic overview after the public opening of Atlanta's largest planned greenspace, the Westside Park, Friday, August 20, 2021. All of the candidates vying to become mayor vow to invest into Atlanta's greenspaces. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

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People stop and take a selfie at the scenic overview after the public opening of Atlanta's largest planned greenspace, the Westside Park, Friday, August 20, 2021. All of the candidates vying to become mayor vow to invest into Atlanta's greenspaces. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Atlanta’s mayoral candidates verbally flexed their green thumbs during Wednesday’s virtual forum, which focused on greenspace.

WSB-TV’s Jocelyn Dorsey grilled 10 candidates for nearly two hours to gauge their approaches to sustaining the city’s natural spaces and recreation systems.

Atlanta city council members who are running for mayor — Antonio Brown, Andre Dickens and Felicia Moore — were absent due to a second day of the council meeting to vote on the new police training center. Candidate Glenn Wrightson also did not participate.

Dorsey said the absent candidates will respond to the forum questions at a later date.

Kirsten Elise Dunn, Nolan English, Sharon Gay, Mark Hammad, Kenny Hill, Rebecca King, former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Walter Reeves, Roosevelt Searles III, and Richard Wright each emphasized that greenspace contributes to a thriving city.

Dorsey also asked about park safety in the context of the homicides of Jakari Dillard at the Anderson Park pool and Katherine Janness in Piedmont Park.

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Atlanta, Wednesday, September 8, 2021 -- From left to right, WSB-TV's Jocelyn Dorsey moderated a virtual mayoral forum featuring Rebecca King, Nolan English, Kirsten Elise Dunn, former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Mark Hammad, Sharon Gay, Richard Wright, Kenny Hill, Walter Reeves, and Roosevelt Searles III. (Screenshot)

Atlanta, Wednesday, September 8, 2021 -- From left to right, WSB-TV's Jocelyn Dorsey moderated a virtual mayoral forum featuring Rebecca King, Nolan English, Kirsten Elise Dunn, former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Mark Hammad, Sharon Gay, Richard Wright, Kenny Hill, Walter Reeves, and Roosevelt Searles III. (Screenshot)

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Atlanta, Wednesday, September 8, 2021 -- From left to right, WSB-TV's Jocelyn Dorsey moderated a virtual mayoral forum featuring Rebecca King, Nolan English, Kirsten Elise Dunn, former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Mark Hammad, Sharon Gay, Richard Wright, Kenny Hill, Walter Reeves, and Roosevelt Searles III. (Screenshot)

Dunn said Atlanta should focus on “self policing” practices, such as the neighborhood watch programs, rather than “depending 100% on the police.” English promised to recruit retired soldiers instead of “just adding 750 new officers,” which is a proposal made by Reed’s campaign.

Gay wants to coordinate with law enforcement to restore security measures using “21st century smart policing techniques.”

Dorsey also asked the candidates how they will improve greenspaces without displacing residents.

Dunn promised to give residents resources to foster mixed-income neighborhoods that prevent displacement. English said he would review homestead exemption programs and “freeze” certain property taxes. He also wants to set aside funds to revitalize dilapidated communities. Gay promised collaboration with the housing and infrastructure agencies to expand the housing supply that affects housing costs.

Hammad wants to invest amenities and services into neighborhoods to address displacement. He also wants to mimic the Westside Future Fund that tries to keep longtime residents in the community. Hill agreed, but he said residents deserve the same leverage as developers.

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Reed wants to expand the Westside Future Fund that he “conceived” during his previous administration. He also said Atlanta needs a grant initiative to support longtime residents, as well as “an anti-displacement office.”

“We should set up a fund that’s powered by this growth and development to help people with these challenges on an ongoing basis,” Reed said, adding that private sector funds can offset rising property taxes.

But Searles disagreed and said officials need to speak with the displaced and homeless to develop solutions.

“It was great that Kasim created this stuff, but real people are not receiving the assistance,” Searles said.

King wants to work with neighborhood planning units and hire a City Hall liaison to the public and private sectors to prevent displacement. She also wants to focus on getting residents into “a different line of work” to increase their income. Reeves promised to increase wages. Wright wants to bring the city, developers, and residents to the same table by creating the offices of infrastructure and sustainability.

The forum was sponsored by the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, The Conservation Fund, EarthShare of Georgia, EcoAction, Georgia Audubon, Georgia Conservancy, Greening Youth Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Park Pride, Piedmont Park Conservancy, Trees Atlanta, The Trust for Public Land, and West Atlanta Watershed Alliance.

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