On Nov. 2, City of Atlanta voters will have a chance to cast their vote for the next mayor of Atlanta. A total of 14 candidates with a range of backgrounds will appear on the ballot. Incumbent Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is not running for reelection.
To give the Tech and Atlanta community a chance to learn more about the candidates and their platforms, on Oct. 2, the Student Government Association (SGA) held a mayoral forum in collaboration with Committee for a Better Atlanta (CBA), WSB Radio and Word on the Street. The event was held in-person at the Kendeda Building and in a live-stream format, with four candidates attending: City Councilman Antonio Brown, City Councilman Andre Dickens, City Council President Felicia Moore and former Mayor Kasim Reed. The event began with a welcome video from Governor Brian Kemp and an introduction from SGA President Samuel Ellis.
“This year’s mayoral election is incredibly important, not just for the future of Atlanta, but also for the future of Georgia,” Kemp said. “It is my firm belief as governor that Georgia succeeds when Atlanta succeeds, and vice-versa.”
Ellis echoed these sentiments, explaining that partnerships with the community are essential to Tech’s mission and that working with the Atlanta mayor gives opportunities to make a positive difference.
“My ask for you today is simple,” Ellis said. “No matter who wins, serve with us. We want to work together as responsible community partners to build an Atlanta that is sustainable, livable and innovative for all of its residents.”
Following Ellis’ welcome, Nick Fernandez from CBA explained resources voters have to learn more about the candidates. CBA is a nonpartisan coalition of Atlanta businesses and civic organizations that uses five policy areas — public safety, economic development and recovery, affordable housing, transportation and sustainability and city leadership, to evaluate the candidates.
This evaluation includes detailed interviews and questionnaires CBA conducted with 58 candidates for the Atlanta mayor, city council president and city council elections. The results can be found at cbatl.org.
“As you prepare to head to the ballot, fill out your absentee ballot, we encourage you to go to our website, read each candidate’s profile, read each candidate’s questionnaire on those issues, read the interview questions we ask the candidates and educate yourself as you head to the polls,” Fernandez said.
Following this, the candidates had two minutes to introduce themselves.
“My platform speaks to what people want across this city. First and foremost, the safety of our city. No matter what your zip code or your income bracket, everyone wants to feel safe and that is a major part of my platform,” Moore said.
Moore also mentioned her platform centers around delivering city services that residents pay for, as well as prioritizing the tenants of transparency, ethics and accountability. Dickens introduced himself next.
“I believe that right now, this election is about the future and the soul of the city of Atlanta. Are we going to move forward in a way that makes sure that this city is run well, like a world class organization, but that it’s run well for everyone?” Dickens said.
Dickens specifically mentioned his platform includes balanced economic growth, affordable housing and running an ethical and effective government.
Kasim Reed followed.
“I had the high honor of serving as the 59th mayor of the city of Atlanta. I’m running for mayor because I have seen a series of things and events that I haven’t seen in my lifetime as mayor,” Reed said.
Reed mentioned increased crime in Atlanta, a decrease in the size of the Atlanta Police Department from its size during his previous administration and increased annexation movements as reasons for his campaign.
Finally, Brown introduced himself, explaining how growing up in poverty impacted his decision to run for mayor and mentioned various legislation he passed while working on the city council. “I’m running for mayor to create a socio-economic shift in the economic class system in Atlanta, where we move folks living in poverty to the working middle class, and together we can create this inclusive and thriving ecosystem,” Brown said.
Following their introductions, the candidates discussed increased cost of living in Atlanta, cityhood movements in Buckhead, how they would work with Governor Kemp, whether COVID-19 vaccines are a personal choice or civic duty and if faith-based organizations should play a role in improving communities.
At the end of the forum, members of the audience were able to submit questions for the candidates to answer.
“Many GT students don’t believe that an increased police presence makes them feel safer, especially when it comes to mental health crises. What are some alternate options for making people in Atlanta feel safer?” one question read.
As crime, safety and policing were central to the forum and differences between the candidate’s platforms, the candidates had various answers to the question.
“It’s not about the number of officers that you put on the streets of Atlanta that’s going to make Atlanta safer. The reality is, is if you don’t begin to address the root cause of the problems that’s contributing to the crime that we see transpiring in this city, then you’re never going to solve the problem, you’re going to continue to bandaid it and never truly address the root of it,” Brown said, who vouched for a 24-hour non-emergency response unit to address certain situations, specifically mental health and substance abuse issues.
Dickens had a different focus.
“We are short of officers and we have to get more officers back up so that we can actually have a force that’s stable, and that the morale of those officers are in place so they can do the community engagement that we all so desperately want in this 21st century, but we have to make sure that we get to the root cause of crime,” Dickens said, who mentioned a combination of youth programs, training police officers in crime de-escalation and conflict resolution and a non-emergency force to address behavioral issues.
“I think that folks that say, ‘Well more police don’t matter,’ haven’t run a major American city, because more police do matter,” Reed said.
“… There are a range of issues, but building the police force, and making sure that Atlanta is as safe as it possibly can be, in every neighborhood, is job one in this election.”
Reed also mentioned programs such as a baby bond and having a care team to respond to mental health emergencies.
Moore was last to answer.
“We have to have officers. We have to make sure that we provide programs and alternatives that people can use as an option. Now if you don’t want to take the option, and you don’t want to take the help and you want to commit the crime, then you’re going to be held accountable for the crimes you commit, and then we will have to incarcerate you, but we do need to make sure that we provide every option in every way that people can find their way,” Moore said, who mentioned job readiness training and having trained responders for behavioral and mental health emergencies.
Between more serious questions, the candidates were asked several short casual questions.
Dickens, Moore and Reed agreed if they could meet any president, they would meet Barack Obama, while Brown chose Bill Clinton.
For their favorite places in Atlanta to hang out, Brown mentioned Atlantic Station and vegetarian restaurants.
Moore chose local parks, Dickens named restaurants along Cascade Road and the BeltLine and Reed mentioned Piedmont Park and the restaurant Slutty Vegan.
To watch a recording of the entire forum and learn more about the candidates, visit SGA’s YouTube page.