Atlanta’s lesser-known candidates want to shake up race for mayor

The Atlanta Regional Mayoral Forum, moderated by Bill Bolling, is centered around Atlanta's housing challenges and takes place in two parts Wednesday, Oct 6, 2021.  The second group of candidates, shown here, include Kirsten Dunn, Nolan English, Mark Hammad, Kenny Hill, Rebecca King,  Roosevelt Searles III, Richard Wright. Candidates in the first set of questions include Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown, councilman Andre Dickens, attorney Sharon Gay, council president Felicia Moore and former mayor Kasim Reed. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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The Atlanta Regional Mayoral Forum, moderated by Bill Bolling, is centered around Atlanta's housing challenges and takes place in two parts Wednesday, Oct 6, 2021. The second group of candidates, shown here, include Kirsten Dunn, Nolan English, Mark Hammad, Kenny Hill, Rebecca King, Roosevelt Searles III, Richard Wright. Candidates in the first set of questions include Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown, councilman Andre Dickens, attorney Sharon Gay, council president Felicia Moore and former mayor Kasim Reed. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Most Atlanta residents by now recognize the five leading candidates vying to be the city’s 61st mayor. But voters will also see nine other candidates, including two write-ins, on the ballot next month.

These 11 candidates lack the same level of name recognition compared to City Councilmen Antonio Brown and Andre Dickens, or Council President Felicia Moore and former mayor Kasim Reed. The 11 candidates also lack funding, whereas attorney Sharon Gay personally loaned her campaign more than $700,000.

The Atlanta-Journal-Constitution reached out to the lesser-known candidates to gauge their work on the campaign trail. These candidates hope to shake up the race, as 40% of likely voters in the AJC poll reported indecisiveness over who should replace Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

ExploreExclusive AJC poll: Mayor’s race a toss-up as election nears

However, getting an opportunity to run this city is no small task.

“Everybody can’t be the mayor of the city and shouldn’t be the mayor of the city,” said Jabari Simama, a former city councilman who now works as a government consultant.

“The idea that you could have low name recognition and your contributions … could be limited or nonexistent, and then you can start at the top running one of the most important cities the world, is presumptuous at best,” Simama said.

Most of the nonpartisan candidates have social media accounts or websites for their campaigns. They range from ages 24 to 69.

They all say that most voters have lost faith in the leading candidates, given how no one has even polled at 25%. Some of them echoed Bottoms’ criticism of elections as “popularity contests.”

ExploreHow we are covering the race for Atlanta City Hall

“It’s not the common person’s game anymore,” Bottoms told The Washington Post.

Fred Hicks, a strategist who ran mayoral campaigns for Peter Aman and former council president Ceasar Mitchell, among others, said the lesser-known candidates would’ve had a better shot running for council seats.

Hicks said mayoral candidates have to spend on advertising and field operations, for starters, and may still be unsuccessful. Aman, a former chief operating officer in Reed’s administration, spent more than $1 million of his own money in his 2017 mayoral campaign.

“Running for mayor of Atlanta requires a lot of resources. You have to put at least a million dollars into it to compete,” Hicks said. “People might resonate with them, but you have to have money to compete.”

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Kenny Hill, from front right, Mark Hammad and Nolan English participate in the Atlanta Regional Mayoral Forum, moderated by Bill Bolling, and centered around Atlanta's housing challenges and takes place in two parts Wednesday, Oct 6, 2021. Candidates in the first set of questions include Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown, councilman Andre Dickens, attorney Sharon Gay, council president Felicia Moore and former mayor Kasim Reed. The second group of candidates include Kirsten Dunn, Nolan English, Mark Hammad, Kenny Hill, Rebecca King, Roosevelt Searles III, Richard Wright. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Kenny Hill, from front right, Mark Hammad and Nolan English participate in the Atlanta Regional Mayoral Forum, moderated by Bill Bolling, and centered around Atlanta's housing challenges and takes place in two parts Wednesday, Oct 6, 2021.  Candidates in the first set of questions include Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown, councilman Andre Dickens, attorney Sharon Gay, council president Felicia Moore and former mayor Kasim Reed. The second group of candidates include Kirsten Dunn, Nolan English, Mark Hammad, Kenny Hill, Rebecca King, Roosevelt Searles III, Richard Wright.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

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Kenny Hill, from front right, Mark Hammad and Nolan English participate in the Atlanta Regional Mayoral Forum, moderated by Bill Bolling, and centered around Atlanta's housing challenges and takes place in two parts Wednesday, Oct 6, 2021. Candidates in the first set of questions include Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown, councilman Andre Dickens, attorney Sharon Gay, council president Felicia Moore and former mayor Kasim Reed. The second group of candidates include Kirsten Dunn, Nolan English, Mark Hammad, Kenny Hill, Rebecca King, Roosevelt Searles III, Richard Wright. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Many of these people are first-time candidates.

Nolan English, a 47-year-old pastor who lives in Cascade Heights, said he “reluctantly, yet prayerfully” entered the race because Bottoms ended her reelection bid.

“Seeing all these career politicians grandstanding and jockeying for the position with no real solutions for Atlanta’s problems motivated me,” English said. “These folks are too busy fighting over Atlanta rather than fighting for Atlanta.”

Mark Hammad, a 38-year-old construction litigation consultant who lives in Buckhead and worked for the infrastructure firm HNTB, said he’s investing in ads and participation in forums, debates, and news interviews. He also spends the weekends meeting voters and posting signs.

Hammad said his priorities are crime, city services, and addressing homelessness. He promised to keep repeat violent offenders in jail by providing prosecutors more resources to issue indictments.

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Roosevelt Searles III, from left, and Richard Wright participate in the Atlanta Regional Mayoral Forum, moderated by Bill Bolling, and centered around Atlanta's housing challenges and takes place in two parts Wednesday, Oct 6, 2021. Candidates in the first set of questions include Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown, councilman Andre Dickens, attorney Sharon Gay, council president Felicia Moore and former mayor Kasim Reed. The second group of candidates include Kirsten Dunn, Nolan English, Mark Hammad, Kenny Hill, Rebecca King, Roosevelt Searles III, Richard Wright. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Roosevelt Searles III, from left, and Richard Wright participate in the Atlanta Regional Mayoral Forum, moderated by Bill Bolling, and centered around Atlanta's housing challenges and takes place in two parts Wednesday, Oct 6, 2021.  Candidates in the first set of questions include Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown, councilman Andre Dickens, attorney Sharon Gay, council president Felicia Moore and former mayor Kasim Reed. The second group of candidates include Kirsten Dunn, Nolan English, Mark Hammad, Kenny Hill, Rebecca King, Roosevelt Searles III, Richard Wright.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

caption arrowCaption
Roosevelt Searles III, from left, and Richard Wright participate in the Atlanta Regional Mayoral Forum, moderated by Bill Bolling, and centered around Atlanta's housing challenges and takes place in two parts Wednesday, Oct 6, 2021. Candidates in the first set of questions include Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown, councilman Andre Dickens, attorney Sharon Gay, council president Felicia Moore and former mayor Kasim Reed. The second group of candidates include Kirsten Dunn, Nolan English, Mark Hammad, Kenny Hill, Rebecca King, Roosevelt Searles III, Richard Wright. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Richard N. Wright, 44, called the election “a numbers game,” saying he needs 24,000 votes to make the run off. The accountant said he’s made two media buys that will run until Nov. 2: a radio ad on V103 Hot 107.9 and several other stations, and a TV ad that will run on MSNBC, CNN, BET and others.

He also said he’s sending text message blasts to 150,000 residents, in addition to making phone calls and door-to-door canvassing with his team.

Wright said his accounting experience will help him establish a sound fiscal strategy in city government to erase “Atlanta’s brand as a city that misuses taxpayer dollars.”

“If we keep voting in the same people, we are going to keep getting the same results,” he said.

Three of these candidates once sought office in 2017.

ExploreSend us your thoughts about Atlanta city elections and our coverage

Kenny Hill, who ran against Councilwoman Andrea Boone in the last election, said he’s focused on reaching the undecided voters with a message that “Corruption, Career Politicians and Crime go hand in hand.”

“My candidacy offers Atlanta a choice for servant leadership, free of political entanglements or personal agendas,” said Hill, a 30-year retiree from Home Depot.

Hill is the co-founder of the Launch Pad Foundation, which provides homeless single mothers and their families transitional housing and wrap around services. He said this experience is resonating with voters during forums, canvassing and phone banking.

Rebecca King, a 51-year-old Buckhead resident and CEO of an insurance documentation firm, previously ran against Councilman Howard Shook.

King’s campaign spokesman stressed that she’s focusing on canvassing and participation in as many forums as possible. At previous forums, she promised to expand the Pre Arrest Diversion program to 24/7 service.

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Rebecca King participates in the Atlanta Regional Mayoral Forum, moderated by Bill Bolling, and centered around Atlanta's housing challenges and takes place in two parts Wednesday, Oct 6, 2021. Candidates in the first set of questions include Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown, councilman Andre Dickens, attorney Sharon Gay, council president Felicia Moore and former mayor Kasim Reed. The second group of candidates include Kirsten Dunn, Nolan English, Mark Hammad, Kenny Hill, Rebecca King, Roosevelt Searles III, Richard Wright. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Rebecca King participates in the Atlanta Regional Mayoral Forum, moderated by Bill Bolling, and centered around Atlanta's housing challenges and takes place in two parts Wednesday, Oct 6, 2021.  Candidates in the first set of questions include Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown, councilman Andre Dickens, attorney Sharon Gay, council president Felicia Moore and former mayor Kasim Reed. The second group of candidates include Kirsten Dunn, Nolan English, Mark Hammad, Kenny Hill, Rebecca King, Roosevelt Searles III, Richard Wright.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

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Rebecca King participates in the Atlanta Regional Mayoral Forum, moderated by Bill Bolling, and centered around Atlanta's housing challenges and takes place in two parts Wednesday, Oct 6, 2021. Candidates in the first set of questions include Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown, councilman Andre Dickens, attorney Sharon Gay, council president Felicia Moore and former mayor Kasim Reed. The second group of candidates include Kirsten Dunn, Nolan English, Mark Hammad, Kenny Hill, Rebecca King, Roosevelt Searles III, Richard Wright. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Glenn S. Wrightson, 69, also ran for mayor in 2017, when he received 100 votes.

Wrightson said he’s using yard signs and business cards to gain exposure, but he’s planning to send an info mailer to residents as well. He’s also considering the use of his personal savings to launch TV ads.

Wrightson said he wants to reboot city operations to improve policies concerning public safety and zoning, among other services. He also wants to transition the city’s motor fleet to electric vehicles, and enact restrictions on plastic grocery bags and gas-powered leaf blowers.

Two of these candidates have been incarcerated.

Kirsten Elise Dunn, a 39-year-old real estate investor and serial entrepreneur, served five years in prison for a 2002 fraud conviction. She’s recently experienced turmoil on the campaign trail after a former spokeswoman accused her of failing to pay her team.

Dunn told the AJC she parted ways with half her staff due to disagreements on how to run her campaign. She said she released them based on their contract’s probationary period.

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Kirsten Dunn participates in the Atlanta Regional Mayoral Forum, moderated by Bill Bolling, and centered around Atlanta's housing challenges and takes place in two parts Wednesday, Oct 6, 2021. Candidates in the first set of questions include Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown, councilman Andre Dickens, attorney Sharon Gay, council president Felicia Moore and former mayor Kasim Reed. The second group of candidates include Kirsten Dunn, Nolan English, Mark Hammad, Kenny Hill, Rebecca King, Roosevelt Searles III, Richard Wright. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Kirsten Dunn participates in the Atlanta Regional Mayoral Forum, moderated by Bill Bolling, and centered around Atlanta's housing challenges and takes place in two parts Wednesday, Oct 6, 2021.  Candidates in the first set of questions include Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown, councilman Andre Dickens, attorney Sharon Gay, council president Felicia Moore and former mayor Kasim Reed. The second group of candidates include Kirsten Dunn, Nolan English, Mark Hammad, Kenny Hill, Rebecca King, Roosevelt Searles III, Richard Wright.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

caption arrowCaption
Kirsten Dunn participates in the Atlanta Regional Mayoral Forum, moderated by Bill Bolling, and centered around Atlanta's housing challenges and takes place in two parts Wednesday, Oct 6, 2021. Candidates in the first set of questions include Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown, councilman Andre Dickens, attorney Sharon Gay, council president Felicia Moore and former mayor Kasim Reed. The second group of candidates include Kirsten Dunn, Nolan English, Mark Hammad, Kenny Hill, Rebecca King, Roosevelt Searles III, Richard Wright. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

If elected, Dunn promised to support small businesses while tackling crime with community-focused work, such as the Cease Fire Initiative. She said she holds nightly Zoom meetings and traditional canvassing to meet residents.

Roosevelt Searles III is a 24-year-old who was previously homeless, and was put behind bars for 60 days after driving on a suspended license when he was 18 years old. He said “this experience taught me so much and started my journey to fighting for The People right’s and protections.”

He said he often interacts with the homeless community in front of City Hall. Calling himself “The People’s Mayor,” he is proposing a “100 day” crime plan that includes the legalization of cannabis in the city limits to increasing city revenue by $1 billion dollars within the first year, and $3 billion each year after.

He also wants to use 750 acres of land for city-run rent to own housing for the homeless, who would also receive free healthcare from a city-run hospital.

ExploreMore stories about the Atlanta Mayor's Race

Some candidates have shared little to nothing in terms of concrete policies, such as Athens native and candidate Walter Reeves. Reeves, not to be confused with Atlanta’s gardening expert, did not respond for comment.

Write-in candidates are Henry Anderson and Brandon Adkins. Anderson did not respond for comment.

Adkins, a 25-year-old restaurant manager who lives in southwest Atlanta, said he’s canvassing high school seniors and college students because the prevalence of voters ages 18-29 has increased. He wants to improve public safety and education.

Early voting in starts on Oct. 12. Election day is Nov. 2.

AJC reporters J.D. Capelouto and Anjali Huynh contributed to this report.

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