Crime takes a backseat as candidates spar at latest Atlanta mayoral debate

Credit: Courtesy/

Credit: Courtesy/

Tensions between Atlanta’s leading mayoral candidates reached a new high at the latest debate Tuesday night, as the issue of crime took a backseat while the hopefuls sparred over their backgrounds and character.

It was yet another sign that the race is entering the final stretch before Election Day on Nov. 2, with residents already heading to the polls for early voting.

Candidates continued to take shots at former Mayor Kasim Reed over the federal investigation into his administration. Councilman Andre Dickens, Council President Felicia Moore and attorney Sharon Gay all targeted Reed during the portion of the debate where candidates could question one another, prompting Reed to hit back.

The Atlanta Press Club Loudermilk-Young Debate Series event, held at the Georgia Public Broadcasting studios, also featured Councilman Antonio Brown, businesswoman Rebecca King and local accountant Richard Wright, who all polled in the top half of the 14-person mayoral field.

“You headed the most corrupt administration in Atlanta history. ... Why should Atlanta voters believe that you are singing a different tune?” Moore asked Reed.

“I’m not singing a different tune at all,” Reed responded. “What I’m offering voters is a clear choice. The bottom line is I never dishonored my office and I kept my word to the people of Atlanta.

“You’re attempting to smear my name despite the fact that I’m not under investigation.”

Reed, who has polled at the top of the field alongside Moore and boasts the largest amount of campaign cash, said earlier in the debate that he would take steps to support ethics and transparency in his next administration by bolstering training and requiring lobbyist registrations.

But the former mayor also went on the offensive against Moore, bringing up a 2009 City Council vote to increase property taxes, and past votes against public safety budgets and police body cameras.

Moore defended those votes by saying she disagreed with the deals or budgets presented by the Reed administration. She said the council’s move to hike taxes at the end of the Great Recession was a “courageous” step that was necessary for the financial health of the city.

The former mayor also took shots at Moore for “repeatedly” voting against legislation that was necessary to create the Atlanta Beltline. Moore said that her vote wasn’t against the Beltline itself but the specifics of the tax allocation district, the funding source for the project.



Similar to Moore’s question, Dickens asked Reed how voters can trust he has made any change.

“Andre, you’re the Wile E. Coyote of this,” Reed responded. “I understand and accept responsibility for the things that happened in my administration, the actions that were taken. But if you look at the individuals, their behavior did not relate to systemic corruption of your government.”

Reed then brought up Dickens’ 2011 bankruptcy filing, holding up a copy of his bankruptcy petition. That led to a testy back-and-forth between the two, as moderator Rickey Bevington tried to interject and move on to the next question.

“You should see how he lived his life while he’s talking about mine,” Reed said.

Dickens, who previously owned a furniture store, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2011 when the company failed during the housing crisis, leaving him over $1 million in debt. Dickens told reporters after the debate that Reed’s Wile E. Coyote remark equated to name-calling, and defended the bankruptcy as a legal process.

Gay, an attorney for Dentons, got in on the action, asking Reed about the amount of money the city has spent dealing with the corruption investigation. Reed hit back by bringing up the fact that Gay’s firm represented his campaign for over seven years. She later told reporters that she never worked for Reed’s campaign because she is in a different division at Dentons.

After the debate, Reed said the back-and-forth between the candidates — which comes amid an uptick in negative campaign advertising — is just “inside baseball.”

“I don’t think the tension is high at all,” Reed told reporters. “We’re 21 days from an election. I think this feels about how it ought to feel.”

The full debate is available on the Atlanta Press Club’s Facebook page.