Public safety issue dominates Atlanta’s first mayoral forum

210608-Atlanta-Felicia Moore, from left, Andre Dickens, Sharon Gay, Antonio Brown and Walter Reeves participate in a forum for AtlantaMayor candidates sponsored by the Committee for a Better Atlanta on Tuesday morning, June 8, 2021 in Atlanta.  Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
210608-Atlanta-Felicia Moore, from left, Andre Dickens, Sharon Gay, Antonio Brown and Walter Reeves participate in a forum for AtlantaMayor candidates sponsored by the Committee for a Better Atlanta on Tuesday morning, June 8, 2021 in Atlanta. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

The first forum for Atlanta’s mayoral candidates was dominated by the issue that has consumed the city all year — crime and public safety.

The Committee for a Better Atlanta also hosted forums on Tuesday featuring candidates running for city council and council president. But the main event featured five people vying to replace Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and become the city’s 61st mayor in January.

The candidates were asked about issues other than crime, such as income inequality and their relationships with business and government leaders. But it was their ideas about addressing the city’s ongoing wave of violence that weaved through most of the topics.

Three council members are running for the city’s top job — council president Felicia Moore, along with councilmembers Antonio Brown and Andre Dickens. They were joined on stage by Dentons attorney Sharon Gay and Walter Reeves, who described himself as a “legal scholar” with “blue-collar street cred.”

Candidates had 30 seconds to respond to questions.

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“The primary issue in this city is to make sure that everyone feels safe no matter what income bracket or what neighborhood,” Moore said.

The candidates never mentioned Bottoms by name, but they all tried to distinguish themselves from the mayor — who has been roundly criticized for her administration’s response to crime. Bottoms announced in May that she will not seek a second term.

Moore touted her seniority in City Hall and said she would bring more transparent leadership to Atlanta. She said children need “a safety net” through the city’s recreation centers and school system to steer them away from crime.

Brown attributed crime to the generational poverty in parts of Atlanta and promised to expand and support workforce development programs. Dickens promoted his leadership experience in technology career programs and said he “actually created jobs” that addressed the income inequality contributing to crime.

Gay said Atlanta is in a “public safety emergency,” which she attributed to “a sharp decline in city services,” and promised to address crime in part by forming bonds with faith communities and philanthropists, along with neighborhood and business leaders.

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“The most solemn duty of a mayor is to keep the city safe and we are failing in that role right now,” Gay said.

The candidates agreed the Buckhead cityhood movement would likely end if the new mayor effectively addresses crime. Brown promised to hire a public safety commissioner and create a Department of Public Safety and Wellness to respond to nonemergency calls. He also wants to form community policing units.

Gay mentioned her new public safety advisor and her “four point plan” to address crime. She didn’t have time to mention them all, but features of her plan include improvements to police morale and training, use of the city detention center to house Fulton County inmates, and a crackdown on businesses that facilitate crime.

Moore promised more support for police, including more officers. Dickens promised to retain 2,000 officers.

“We can’t have a prosperous Atlanta, and an equitable Atlanta, until we have a safe Atlanta,” Dickens said.

Reeves provided no specific plan but said he would use his “special skill for building teams” to find the right people to address crime. He also promised a $15 minimum wage for airport workers, and to avoid “gambling interests” that he says corrupt society.

A spokesperson for the committee said two other candidates have filed paperwork to join the mayor’s race, but the organization could not find contact information for the campaigns to invite them to the forum.

Atlantans will vote on November 2 for mayor, council president, and all city council seats.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter J.D. Capelouto contributed to this article.

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