Diverse, growing city in DeKalb sees 4-way race for mayor

It’s a crowded contest for mayor in Doraville, where three current or former City Council members are challenging the incumbent for her post.

The Nov. 5 election will see Mayor Donna Pittman face off against Joseph Geierman, Tom Hart and M.D. Naser to be the leader of the historically industrial DeKalb County suburb.

The congested race — coupled with four competitive races for council seats — is a sign of the growth Doraville has seen over the past several years, and the potential the diverse city has moving forward.

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Pittman has been mayor for eight years, and Naser currently represents District 2 on the council. Geierman was elected to the City Council in 2017 and recently resigned to run for mayor. Hart was on City Council more than a decade ago and has previously attempted three failed bids for mayor.

“We have always been an industrial city,” Pittman said at a forum for the mayoral candidates last week. She celebrated recent development projects across the city, including Assembly, now being built at the shuttered General Motors plant. “The developments that are popping up over at General Motors, that is a catalyst for the rest of the city. …We are rebranding our city.”

Credit: J.D. Capelouto/jdcapelouto@ajc.com

Credit: J.D. Capelouto/jdcapelouto@ajc.com

Geierman and Hart were more critical of the current leadership, saying people around metro Atlanta have a negative view of Doraville, and the city should take more action to shed that negative stigma. Some say Doraville is viewed as less aggressive about development compared to neighboring cities like Chamblee and Brookhaven. Naser did not attend the forum.

“One of my top priorities is getting started on downtown Doraville,” Geierman said, alluding to several acres of city-owned land next to the Doraville MARTA station. “It’s almost criminal that we haven’t done anything with it in all this time.”

The area, located between New Peachtree Road and Buford Highway, is currently home to a number of city buildings including City Hall, the Municipal Court and the local library. Pittman said developing the area into a live-work-play district requires money — money the city doesn’t have right now.

» RELATED: ‘City within a city’ rises on site of shuttered GM plant

Hart, meanwhile, said the current city government has a spending problem and “has lost its way.” He said he wants to make City Hall more transparent and that the biggest problem facing Doraville are the lawsuits facing the city.

Since the 1990s, Doraville has acquired a reputation as a ticket-heavy city with speed traps around I-285 and a petty code enforcement division. Some motorists and Doraville homeowners filed a lawsuit last year accusing the city of funding itself on the backs of those snared in its municipal courts.

“You can forget about your hopes and dreams if you have a city that is bankrupt,” said Hart, a former chemist. He wants the city to settle the lawsuits as soon as possible. “We just make some bad decisions, and the city’s paying that price right now.”

» READ MORE: For city largely left out of development boom, new complex could signal change

Naser, who works in the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office and was elected to the City Council in 2015, is prioritizing public safety and fiscal responsibility in his campaign. On his website, he pledged to lower the residential garbage fee and criticized the tax deal that led to the ongoing redevelopment at the old GM plant.

“After almost four years on the Doraville City Council, I am unhappy with the way the city is being run,” Naser wrote on his site. “It is time for new leadership that can rally the community, treat our citizens and employees with dignity, and respect and make Doraville a better place to live.”

With an estimated population of about 10,500, Doraville straddles the Perimeter near the interchanges with Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, Buford Highway and I-85. Its MARTA station is located at the end of the Gold line.

The Buford Highway corridor contributes to its diverse population; more than half of the city’s residents identify as Hispanic, about 15% are Asian and 11% are black, according to the latest Census estimates.

Credit: ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

The city has several large-scale projects in the works that promise to bring new residents and businesses. At the former GM plant, developers say Assembly will become a mini-city with hundreds of residential units and office supporting 15,000 jobs. Mixed-used developments are also slated for the Village at Tilly Mill Crossing and the site of a former Kmart on Buford Highway.

Pittman hopes to continue this momentum into her third term, but said the city could benefit from better marketing.

“I disagree that our image is bad,” she said, which drew some laughs from people in the audience at the forum. “Our image is not tainted. We have a very good city. … Is it perfect? No. Could it use some improvement and much more marketing? Absolutely.”

Her opponents said the city needs to do more to attract developers and fill the empty storefronts.

“We are neglected in the region,” Geierman said. Developers “have this perception that it’s not some place they want to be. So even if they’re looking at Chamblee they aren’t looking at Doraville, which is really a travesty for us, and something that we need to change.”

Early voting is now underway at locations across DeKalb ahead of the Nov. 5 election. If no candidate gets 50% of the vote, it will go to a runoff in December.

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