Alumnus seeks seat on Atlanta city council

Tech has always touted its position as a producer of global leaders and innovators, both in terms of technology, finances, and politics. Soon, though, it might also be able to claim another of its alumni as a leader on a much more local scale.

A few months ago, Weslee Knapp, IE ’98, announced that his candidacy for the position of City Councilman At Large.

This is an unmistakably important occasion for Tech, as, historically, Tech’s role in local government has had a very limited range. Tech undeniably holds an important position in Atlanta’s education, technology and businesses, but when it comes to the city itself, Tech’s history hasn’t been quite as influential.

“The Georgia Tech influence in our city has largely been from the financial and business sector, and not from the government one,” said Knapp.

“Tech grads have run for district [positions] before, but there’s not been one that ran for an at-large chair in more than a decade.”

“At-large” meaning that the position represents the city as a whole, instead of just one of the 12 districts that make it up.

Knapp is currently a partner in the realty firm Keller-Knapp, which he started with a Delta Chi fraternity brother in 2002. While at Tech, Knapp was a President’s Scholar, and co-founded Tech’s Mock Trial team.

When asked how one moves from IE to realty to politics, Knapp points to the problem-solving skills Tech’s programs imbue in its students. He says that the analytical skills Tech students learn in the course of their studies—particularly in the fields of math and science—allow Tech graduates to have much more expansive possibilities after graduation, rather than only preparing them for careers in a single field.

Knapp has been politically active for a while now, particularly with the city’s youth. He is on the Honorary Board of the Special Olympics, and is involved in a handful of children’s programs and fundraisers.

There are many ties between Tech and the city of Atlanta, and Knapp’s campaign brings these ties into sharp relief.

“It really is a unique opportunity for [Tech], particularly when three of the largest issues we face are budget constraints, crime, and economic opportunities, all of which tie back to Tech and Tech students,” said Knapp

Foremost on Knapp’s agenda is addressing Atlanta’s spiking crime rate, which he believes causes and is caused by several of the other issues facing the city. “Crime is greater, now, as the results of the economy and the [lack of] youth programs in the city.

“Crime is also taking away from Tech, and every other school in the Atlanta university system. Companies come to Atlanta because of the youth and the college grads that come out of places like Georgia Tech. They are going to move to Atlanta to hire talented young people to help run their company. If your city’s crime rate increases, kids will stop coming to your university…crime really could threaten [our whole university system].”

In addition to how crime drives away potential students, Knapp also worries about how it will affect the job prospects of students approaching graduation. If the city has a reputation for being an unsafe place to live and work, why would companies want to set up shop here?

“We have to make Atlanta a place where people want to do business, and, unfortunately, that’s not the case for a lot of companies right now,” said Knapp.

Knapp plans to address rising crime rates on three different fronts, the first of which is, as he puts it, “putting the swagger back in the police force.” Knapp said, “The first thing is paying police what they’re due, and coming up with a mechanism for that. They’ve been promised pay increases for the last eight years, and have received exactly one.”

Education and after-school programs are other areas where Knapp believes a little extra effort could go a long way. He says, “If you’ve got a bunch of 16, 17 year old kids sitting around a room doing nothing all day instead of out playing basketball, eventually, they’re probably going to end up doing something stupid.”

The third way he believes crime could be challenged is starting up a citizens-on-patrol program, where retired police assist current officers with day to day tasks like traffic and paperwork, freeing up more officers for patrolling the streets. Knapp points to other cities, like Los Angeles, where similar programs have been markedly successful in reducing crime rates.

Knapp also wants to give Tech a bit more autonomy over its own affairs and cut through some of the red tape that prevents speedy growth.

“Just from an efficiency standpoint, everything Tech does on its campus still has to go through the city. Hopefully, one thing we can do is expedite that, so everything that takes place on Tech’s campus can happen more quickly,” said Knapp.

One of Knapp’s goals for the election itself is to see more participation across the board, but in the college-age demographic in particular.

He also offers a bit of information to chew on to students who don’t feel that municipal elections are worth voting in: “There was an election in 2005 in district 6 [Tech’s district], that was decided by just three votes. If you don’t believe you have a choice, just think what a few more Tech students could have done.”