Atlanta’s mayoral candidates make their cases at AJC forum

(ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

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(ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s community conversation Monday led five candidates vying to become Atlanta’s 61st mayor through some of the toughest issues facing the city — crime, affordable housing, coronavirus, Buckhead cityhood and if The Atlanta Way still works for everyone.

City councilmembers Antonio Brown and Andre Dickens, along with attorney Sharon Gay, Council President Felicia Moore and former mayor Kasim Reed sparred for 90 minutes during the live streamed event.

Although 14 candidates are running for mayor, the AJC invited the five who received at least 1% support in the AJC’s poll of 842 likely voters. About 41% of poll respondents said they were still undecided on who they will support.

The poll, released last month, showed a statistical tie between Reed and Moore — with 23.5% and 20.4% of the vote, respectively. None of the other three candidates polled over 6%.

No matter the question, Reed often found a way to reiterate that he would be tough on reducing crime. And it’s no wonder why: About 44% of respondents to the AJC poll said it was their biggest concern.

The former two-term mayor said he wasn’t planning on running until he received hundreds of phone calls asking him to seek the seat again and make the city safer.

“The mayor that we need right now is someone who will be day-one ready to select a (police) chief,” he said.

Moore said she wants to ensure officers feel comfortable reporting malfeasance from other cops as a way of “taking down this blue wall of silence.” Like other candidates, she supports incentivizing retired officers to come back to the force.

Brown said being tough on crime isn’t enough.

“I believe that what we see in crime, whether violent crime or other crime, is a symptom of the generational poverty that has gone unaddressed in this city for decades,” Brown said.

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The idea of public safety is crucial in the call for Buckhead to separate from Atlanta and become its own city. Though there have only been reports commissioned by each side of the argument, it is certain that Atlanta would lose significant tax revenue if Buckhead left.

Candidates agreed they would listen to the concerns of Buckhead if they became mayor.

“I would ask that you give us 200 days, maybe, to turn around crime, to clean up corruption, to improve the delivery of city services, and make the government something you feel confident being a part of,” Gay said.

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Candidates were also asked to consider the situation with the city’s mostly empty jail and the county’s over-crowded jail.

Brown was the only among the five who wants to close the city jail. But Dickens said “it’s a human rights situation” to not have more space when COVID-19 is still sickening people.

In addition to public safety, ethics has been a through-line this cycle. Reed and Brown are still dealing with the courts.

Reed appears to be under a federal grand jury investigation for alleged wire fraud, according to previous AJC reporting, as part of feds investigating Atlanta City Hall for years. Brown has been indicted for a separate charge for matters that allegedly occurred before he was elected.

“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 affect my ability to lead,” Brown said when asked if his looming trial would be a distraction.

When asked differentiate themselves from their opponents, Gay the attorney made a clear point. “I know my way around the inside of city government, but I’m an outsider,” she said, later adding: “I’m not tied to the processes of the past or the mistakes of the past.”

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Candidates were also asked about The Atlanta Way, which typically refers to the advantageous relationship between the Black and white political and business classes in the city.

Dickens said he was sad to attend a ribbon-cutting along Donald Lee Hollowell Drive on the Westside catered by a barbecue joint from Lawrenceville, saying there are four barbecue restaurants on that road.

“We always seem to find ourselves supporting outside groups,” he said.

Here are video excerpts from the forum

How would your governing be different from the other candidates?

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Race to City Hall: Mayor candidates discuss how their policies will be unique

What does the Atlanta Way mean to you, and is it relevant to Atlanta today?

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Race to City Hall: Mayor candidates discuss the 'Atlanta Way'

Closing statements by each candidate

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Race for City Hall: Atlanta Mayor candidates state their cases

ExploreAJC's complete coverage of the Race for Atlanta City Hall

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