The fight for every vote in the Atlanta mayor’s race was apparent Tuesday night as the two candidates seeking to run City Hall engaged in some of the most spirited and sharp exchanges during this runoff campaign.
Felicia Moore and Andre Dickens agree on many issues, such as hiring more police, putting more money into Atlanta’s affordable housing bond, and working with Peoplestown residents to resolve the homeowners’ years-long legal conflict with the city.
But the rarely seen disagreements between them were on display during The Atlanta Press Club Loudermilk-Young Debate Series event, which was held in partnership with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The debate comes two weeks before the Nov. 30 runoff, and included questions to candidates from the AJC’s J.D. Capelouto and WSB-TV anchor Dave Huddleston. The event aired on GPB-TV, GPB.org, and AJC.com.
Dickens, a city councilman, went on the offensive against council president Moore by bringing up her past votes against the Beltline, police body cameras, and seven police budgets. He also said she failed to release her taxes, had support from a “racist individual,” and said her “secret super PAC” darkened his skin in an attack ad.
“You constantly voted no against so many countless things. How can the citizens of Atlanta trust that you’ll be an effective leader to move the city forward when you constantly don’t find a way to say yes but you always say no?” Dickens asked his opponent.
Moore responded by saying she has denounced her association with the man who made racist remarks on social media and she denied any association to what Dickens described as “divisive antics” to damage his candidacy.
She said she released her taxes to the public and she added she only votes no on the council “when it’s the right thing to do.” She called the body cameras package “the most shady deal” that’s ever occurred in City Hall during her time as an elected official.
During another round of questions, Moore called Dickens “an opportunist” for jumping into the race after Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms dropped out in May. She also said Dickens contributed to the poor morale in the Atlanta Police Department for his June 2020 vote to withhold $73 million in police funding.
Dickens then pivoted back to her votes against the budgets.
“Quite frankly, Ms. Moore, the only person that has voted to defund the police on this stage is you when you voted seven times against the police budget while you were a city councilperson. I never voted to defund the police,” Dickens said, adding that he voted for police raises in the past.
Moore wants to provide incentives to hire at least 200 officers within her first 100 days. Dickens wants to grow the force by 250 officers in his first year. Both of them said they want to expand youth engagement programs and job opportunities for teenagers.
She said she wants to revive neighborhood watch programs and officer-friendly programs at schools. She promised to create a new unit of unarmed first responders and “no-questions-asked” homeless shelters. She also promised to work with the courts to prevent the release of repeat violent offenders, and she wants to open the city detention center to alleviate overcrowding at Fulton’s jail.
Dickens said he wants to expand Atlanta’s safety camera network and streetlights. He vowed to create task forces to combat gun trafficking and homelessness. He also wants to create a Department of Labor to help residents obtain employment and job training.
He also said during the debate that he plans to ask several people to resign on day one if elected and he’s planning to “aggressively” hire new talent. “I know who to keep and I know who not to keep.” Moore said she’s also planning to make several replacements over time at City Hall if she’s elected.
On the issue of housing, both candidates said they will provide protections for long-term residents to stall gentrification and prevent displacement if elected.
For property owned by legacy residents, Moore wants to either extend the exemption the city has for those residents or freeze the assessed value of those properties. Dickens wants to create community benefits agreements and freeze taxes for long-term residents. He’s also mentioned creating an anti-displacement office at City Hall.
Moore said she wants to start building affordable units in her first year in office. Dickens said he wants to build or preserve 20,000 affordable housing units in eight years “by aggressively building” on the city’s 800 acres of vacant land.
The early voting period begins Wednesday and ends Nov. 24 in Fulton and DeKalb. Fulton early voting runs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. DeKalb’s early voting hours are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays during that span; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Nov. 20; and noon to 5 p.m. on Nov. 21.