Most of College Park’s mayoral candidates agree about one thing: It’s time for a change.
Predictably, incumbent Jack Patterson Longino isn’t among them. But after Longino won re-election four years ago by 36 votes, the five candidates running against him want to ensure that his sixth term is his last.
Longino isn’t the only longtime mayor facing competition Tuesday on the south side of Fulton County. In Palmetto, John Clark Boddie (who would be entering his 31st year in office) has two challengers, and Hapeville Mayor Alan Hallman (seeking his fifth term) has one opponent.
Longino, 66, came under fire in 2016 for canceling an arts festival because organizers campaigned for his 2015 opponent. He said this week that no other candidate would be able to step in and do the job as well as him. College Park is a complex city — it runs the Georgia International Convention Center, just opened a new arena and has tax agreements with Atlanta regarding Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport — and the mayor said the learning curve for a new candidate would be too steep.
“If you’ve got a CEO doing a really good job at a company, would you change that CEO?” he asked. “Sometimes when directions change, things don’t move as fast.”
College Park’s finances are good, he said, and its taxes are low. The Airport City project, which would build a mixed-use development on land that once held houses, couldn’t be in better hands than his own, Longino said.
The mayor also touted his relationships with business executives like those at Chick-fil-A, which is based in the city. He said his ethics are “top shelf.”
“Why would you choose another mayor?” he asked.
His opponents have some ideas.
John Ernest Duke, 52, challenged the notion that no one else was ready to step into the role. Duke, who was an opponent of the city’s decision to build an arena, said he waited to pursue his run for office until he was fully literate in College Park’s budget and finances.
“I’m running because I finally figured out how the city works,” said Duke, a flood plain analyst for an engineering firm. “The city’s just not reaching its potential.”
Duke’s priorities lie in infrastructure, and in building more sidewalks and trails, as well as bus shelters in the city. He wants to lead the way in the climate crisis, and pledged to transition all city vehicles to electric over 10 years. Duke also said he would like residents to have more opportunities for job training, particularly for careers like airplane mechanics and others that would benefit from College Park’s proximity to the airport. That would help move people out of poverty, he said.
Duke supports the massive Airport City project — but said he wishes it had been College Park’s focus instead of the arena.
For Kaseem Ladipo, the city’s 35% poverty rate is a driving factor.
Ladipo, 43, said his priorities are improving residents’ upward mobility by increasing the city’s low home ownership rate.
College Park needs a bold vision for economic development, Ladipo said, and plans that will move residents and the city forward.
Though the mayor doesn’t have any purview over the public school system, Ladipo said he thinks it’s important to work toward better schools to help combat poverty. He also wants to improve workforce development as a way to close economic gaps.
If elected mayor, Ladipo said, he would get citizen support for his projects through the creation of advisory committees. He would also work to ensure that College Park differentiated itself from its neighbors.
“At the end of the day, people want to trust their leaders,” said Ladipo, a consultant and former nonprofit executive. “I’m all about change that makes sense, not just change for the sake of change.”
Former College Park police chief Ronald (Ron) Fears said he resigned from his job to run for a council seat in 2017 because he believed elected officials were voting in their own interests, not residents’. Now as a mayoral candidate, Fears said he wants to represent balanced growth, eliminate political interference in the day-to-day management of the city, reduce infighting and improve morale.
“The city doesn’t have the confidence in this mayor and council anymore,” he said.
Fears, 66, said he’s in a unique position to make improvements because he used to be a high-level city employee.
“I’m going to use my experience to make the city better,” he said.
Additionally, Fears said he would want to add more officers to the department, and would encourage them to be more visible. He also wants to increase camera surveillance in the city. Fears said the city should do a better job of using its money to help residents, and said he hopes to rebuild trust with residents.
Bianca Motley Broom, a mediator and former Fulton County magistrate judge, said it’s time to modernize the city.
“We’re approaching 21st century problems with 20th century solutions,” she said.
Motley Broom, 42, said all of the city’s spending should be reviewed, and efficiencies prioritized. Motley Broom also said she wants to urge residents to get involved with the school system and wants College Park to be more business friendly — especially for small businesses. She’d like citizen engagement for issues like the Airport City development.
She’d like to see more art and cultural programs, and wants to improve the poverty rate through increased job training that will increase residents’ stability.
Pamela Gay, a 48-year-old state employee and the wife of sitting councilman Roderick Gay, says on her website that she will reduce the city’s bond debt, improve Main Street, fight crime and give the city a new image. Gay also said she wanted to build a community center in the city.
But at least one of her campaign promises has raised eyebrows — Gay says she would eliminate utility bills for city residents.
Her campaign promise, along with her relationship with Councilman Roderick Gay, has drawn concern from a number of residents.
Pamela Gay wouldn’t grant the AJC an interview, saying in an email that her “schedule has been really hectic.” Although the mayor only casts votes to break ties, residents have expressed concern that the Gays could form a voting bloc if they get just one other councilperson on the four-member legislative body on their side.
Pamela Gay address that issue on her website by saying a voting bloc already exists.
“…A consolidation of power in the form of governing and voting has existed and is obvious under the current Mayor and Council,” she wrote. “…Even though there appears to be an alignment with similar views, I promise that the spirit of bloc voting will never supersede the best interests of the citizens.”
In Palmetto, John Clark Boddie was first elected in 1986, and has been mayor ever since — except for 2008-11. He was police chief in the city for eight years prior to winning his first mayoral race, and retired from Fulton County as a chief deputy marshal.
In the years of his leadership, Boddie said, the city has grown. Now, it’s poised to increase its tax base, allowing for more new housing and commercial development.
Boddie, 67, said the city will finally have the money to support a recreation program, and electric rates will be stabilized by new corporate clients. He wants to expand the fire department and revitalize downtown.
Michael Arnold, a councilman in the city who resigned to run for mayor, said a new recreation program is his priority. So is more transparency in the city-run electric utility and a back-up water system, so residents don’t have boil advisories every time Atlanta has a failure.
Arnold, 68, also said he wants to concentrate new development so traffic doesn’t get out of hand. He’s a retiree from the Owens Corning plant.
A Clark Atlanta University professor, Torrance Stephens said he’s running for mayor because he wants to improve the quality of life in the city — including by renovating Main Street and providing more recreation options. He also wants clarity in utility bills, and wants to improve communication with residents and secure the water supply. Stephens, 56, said he’d like to see a moratorium on new warehouses while he figures out how to keep tractor-trailers off residential streets.
Hapeville Mayor Alan Hallman said he wants to stay in office because he thinks things are going well in the city, and he’d like to see the completion of some projects he’s spearheaded, including a new Porsche repair facility that will be a model for the company.
“It’s a great town, and I just want to make it better,” said Hallman, 57, and founder of Crown Safety Systems.
Hallman’s opponent, 66-year-old Rod Mack, said he’d like to be a voice for the voiceless in the city. Mack, a member of the city’s board of appeals, said he’s opposed to any tax increases. He wants to see more health screenings and financial literacy classes for seniors, as well as a better celebration of the Martin Luther King Day holiday.
“It’s time to make a change,” he said. “I’m trying to be that change. I’m just trying to show a new vision to this city.”
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