by Mark Hayes
“There is a cloud of corruption hanging over city hall”, a jab thrown squarely at two opponents by City Councilman Andre Dickens. It was the first bit of shade thrown in the first quarter of the forum, and the audience responded with some audible “whoas”. The statement came as the five candidates vying to take over as the 61st Mayor of Atlanta took their message to Upper Westside Atlanta.
The event was held at The Works, and moderated by WABE’s Lisa Rayam. Only 5 of the 12 candidates who have declared to run for the city’s top elected official participated. Antonio Brown, Andre Dickens, Felicia Moore, Sharon Gay and Kasim Reed participated in the forum.
Violent crime raging out of control seemed to be the hot topic again getting a lot of spirited responses from all the candidates, all the varying ideas on how to keep the city safe. But the heavyweight blow of the night was issued by Councilman Dickens who simply stated “We can’t have a mayor trying to fight crime in the city of Atlanta when they’re facing Federal investigation” said Dickens. A veiled shot at former Mayor Reed and Councilman Antonio Brown, who is already under a Federal fraud indictment. Both have said they are innocent.
Former Mayor Reed did not directly refute Dickens, but repeatedly stated that his administration had left the city at its safest levels in more than forty years. And that he’s got the experience to make the city safe again, and calming the fears in communities like Buckhead. None of the candidates agreed with Buckhead creating its own city and seceding.
Felicia Moore, current City Council President said she’d be at “every roll call for the first one hundred days, in order to address the low morale plaguing the Atlanta Police Department right now. Moore also piled on when it came to echoing the “cloud of corruption” hanging over the city and that her administration would be laser focused on running the city in an ethical and accountable fashion. Moore, also touching on the Buckead secession chatter, says “Buckhead wants a divorce, and we all know with divorce comes alimony.”
Sharon Gray, an Attorney by trade, and also one of the top fund-raisers in the race to date said “We need to be clear about the kind of policing we want to have in our city” and those who cannot adhere to that vision, “will have to do something else.” But Gay also said Atlanta can’t rely on leadership from the past, and that “smarter strategies” are needed to deal with the changing nature of our society. She included adding resources for social services and mental health to relieve the pressure on officers on the street.
Controversial votes to withhold more than $70 Million dollars in funding from Atlanta Police by Councilman Dickens and Brown was asked, and both said they do not support defunding the police. Dickens stated, “I support reimagining policing in Atlanta” stated Dickens.
Councilman Antonio Brown believes the key to addressing the current rash of violent crime is addressing the root cause. He says that “generational poverty is the root cause of crime in the city” and said resources needed to be dedicated to expand community policing and recreational programs. He also advocated for a city funded initiative to help bridge the wealth gap and help with job training that leads to sustainable careers.
Right out of the gate, and throughout the forum Former Mayor Kasim Reed wanted to make clear just how much he accomplished during his tenure as Atlanta’s 59th Mayor. Reminding the audience that he left a $200 Million dollar surplus, $5 Billion dollars in construction projects and that he has key relationships with members of the Biden administration to help make sure Atlanta gets its fare share, especially when it comes to infrastructure and transportation projects.