From Atlantic Station’s skyscrapers to the abandoned bungalows near English Avenue, the city council district once led by the late Ivory Lee Young encompasses two Atlantas – one marked by crime and blight; the other by reinvestment and gentrification.
On Tuesday, voters will decide who will lead City Council District 3 until the expiration of Young’s term in 2021.
The outcome of this contest will ripple far beyond an area often cited as an example of how rapid redevelopment does little to raise the fortunes of existing residents.
It may alter the balance of power at City Hall, giving Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms a crucial vote to help execute her agenda or an opponent that strengthens an already emboldened city council.
And the two candidates in the runoff – Bryon Amos and Antonio Brown – mirror the stark differences in the district they are vying to represent.
Amos, 46, is a veteran political candidate who once ran for Young’s seat and recently resigned from the Atlanta Public School Board. Brown, 34, has never run for office.
Amos’ campaign finance disclosures read a like a who’s who of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport vendors and other individuals closely tied to Bottoms, including airport concessionaire Wassim Hojeij and Bottoms’ mentor Alvin Kendall, an attorney.
The city’s contracting process is the subject of a sprawling federal investigation that has resulted in five guilty pleas and two indictments.
Brown’s disclosures reveal financial support from a variety of sources both inside and outside Atlanta – from truck drivers and barbers to executives and lawyers.
“I coming into this from an independent perspective,” Brown said at a candidate forum on April 5. “I don’t have ties to any political interest groups within our city. We need someone that can operate independently of the mayor, not the mayor’s best friend.”
Amos told the crowd gathered that evening that his financial disclosures reflect the friends with whom he has spent years building relationships. He then criticized Brown for having out-of-town donors.
At a press conference Monday, Amos acknowledged he was friends with Bottoms, but said that didn’t mean he would automatically be her political ally.
The race comes as Atlanta’s Westside is in a period of revitalization, including the Beltline’s Westside expansion.
Last month, the SunTrust Foundation gave $5 million to the Westside Future Fund, a nonprofit created to help revitalize the area, for affordable housing efforts. The much-needed gift would assist the roughly 800 households which earn less than $20,000 per year.
More than half the homes in Atlanta’s Westside, which includes the historically black Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods, are vacant and sit in an area with a 27 percent poverty rate, according to City of Atlanta population statistics. By comparison, the city has a poverty rate of 22 percent.
By contrast, District 3’s wealthier parts, which includes Atlantic Station, sit in a six-digit income area with booming real estate developments.
At-Large District 2 Councilman Matt Westmoreland said the race signifies an important conversation about how to create affordable housing and control gentrification.
“We now see what happens when historically black neighborhoods get out of reach for folks who’ve called them home,” Westmoreland said, referring to the Edgewood, Kirkwood and Old Fourth Ward neighborhoods as examples. “It’s at the forefront of my mind and needs to be on the mind of whoever takes the seat.”
Westmoreland was among many that endorsed Amos at a press conference Monday.
But with the vast disparities in the district, only a few people are making the decisions for the area.
Early voter turnout for the runoff has been low. Only 156 people have voted in a district comprised of more than 40,000 people. Last month, 1,529 voters cast ballots in the March 14 race, which included 10 candidates.
While turnout is low, Amos may already have an advantage over Brown.
“Going into the runoff, the advantage is with the one who finished [with the most votes],” University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock said. “The runner up has a lot of ground to make up.”
Bullock said generally the candidate who had the lead going into the runoff, wins 70 percent of the time. Amos had 358 votes while Brown had 295.
Ivory Young, a four-term councilman, was widely considered a strong ally of Bottoms. He died at 56 late last year following a battle with cancer.
Last fall, Young took a leave of absence to undergo stem cell treatment and the vacancy on council illustrated the fragile nature of Bottoms’ support among the city’s legislators.
At the time, Bottoms was trying to whip up votes to give a developer $2 billion in incentives for the Gulch redevelopment project — the most significant initiative so far of her administration.
The $5 billion project will transform 40-acres of weedy parking lots and railroad tracks stretching from Mercedes-Benz Stadium to the Five Points MARTA station in downtown Atlanta.
Bottoms had to postpone three votes on the project because she lacked support on the council.
She went so far as to seek a legal opinion about whether Young could vote via conference call as he recovered from treatment.
In the end, Young never voted on the incentive package. The council eventually approved it.
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