November 19, 2019 - Atlanta - Ahead of the Democratic Presidential Debate, candidate for the Democratic nomination Tom Steyer held a roundtable discussion and luncheon in Atlanta to talk with local African American leaders.   
Photo: Bob Andres/robert.andres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/robert.andres@ajc.com

Georgia 2020: Steyer says he’s an outsider who can change Washington

Bishop Jerry Hutchins was one of the early arrivals for a Tuesday meeting with Democratic presidential hopeful Tom Steyer.

Hutchins admits he doesn’t know much about the billionaire activist, whose run for the White House has been eclipsed by a crowded field of better-known candidates including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders.

And that, perhaps, is part of the problem. 

Hutchins, senior pastor of Kingdom Now Church in Snellville, said he really hasn’t yet thrown his support behind one particular candidate.

“There are too many people talking,” he said. “I want a smaller group, then we can hear the message and focus on what a few are saying.”

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That’s why he came to hear Steyer, during a luncheon roundtable at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta downtown.

“I guess we’ll hear his heart today,” he said. “During the debates we don’t get to hear their hearts.”

November 19, 2019 - Ahead of the Democratic Presidential Debate, candidate for the Democratic nomination Tom Steyer held a roundtable discussion and luncheon in Atlanta to talk with local African American leaders. 
Photo: Bob Andres/robert.andres@ajc.com

Steyer flew into Atlanta ahead of the fifth Democratic debate, scheduled for Wednesday at the newly-opened Tyler Perry Studios, to meet with nearly a dozen African-American ministers and elected officials. Steyer is also scheduled to visit a black church Tuesday where he will meet with Democratic women.

Several polls show Biden holds a large lead among black voters in South Carolina, which holds the first southern primary on Feb. 29.

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In one, a University of North Florida survey, Steyer and Warren have 10 percent of the African American likely South Carolina voters who were polled.

During brief remarks before closing the meeting to the media, Steyer, a big Democratic donor, touted being an “outsider” in the world of politics.

Washington, he said, is broken and “not serving the people of the United States, purchased by corporations (and) working perfectly for them.”

Americans, he said, have a right to affordable health care, quality education, a living wage and clean air and water.

Climate change was foremost of the mind of the Rev. Gerald Durley, pastor emeritus at Providence Missionary Baptist Church and  chairman of Interfaith Power & Light, a nonprofit that mobilizes the faith community around climate change. 

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“Everybody has a constitutional right to clean air and clean water,” Durley said. 

Others in attendance included author Dennis Kimbro, a professor at Clark Atlanta University, Sen. Nikema Williams and Atlanta City Council member Michael Julian Bond.

November 19, 2019 - Atlanta - Tom Steyer (left) talks with Atlanta Councilman Michael Julian Bond before the roundtable got underway. Ahead of the Democratic Presidential Debate, candidate for the Democratic nomination Tom Steyer held a roundtable discussion and luncheon in Atlanta to talk with local African American leaders.  
Photo: Bob Andres/robert.andres@ajc.com

Bishop Ralph E. Lewis Sr. said Steyer told those gathered that he wants to overhaul the justice system to make it more balanced.

He said Steyer admitted it all goes back to racial bias in the system.

“He was a straight shooter, but they’re going to give you political answers.” 

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Later, in a follow-up phone call, Hutchins said Steyer addressed the issue of reparations and said “he’s all for it.”

Steyer also talked about climate change,  which he said disproportionately affected African Americans.

“He said the rights things, whether or not he will follow through and implement them, that’s another story,” said Hutchins. “I think he was sincere in what he said. I do think I heard his heart.”

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