Norwood is now challenging Watson for the Post 2 Seat At-Large on the Atlanta City Council, the seat she once held. She was first elected to the post in 2001, was re-elected in 2005 and then ran for mayor.

Watson scored a 93 for an “excellent” ranking by the Committee for a Better Atlanta while Norwood was ranked “well qualified” with a score of 86.

Aaron Watson (incumbent)
Website: www.aaronforatlanta.com
Occupation:  Atlanta City Councilmember, Post 2 At-Large, and corporate attorney with Barnes & Thornburg, LLP
Party Affiliation:  Democrat
Endorsements to date: Atlanta Board of Realtors, Buckhead Coalition PAC, Georgia Stonewall Democrats, Red Clay Democrats, North Georgia Labor Council, and Committee for Better Atlanta Score of 95/Excellent
Campaign budget: According to Sept. 30 filings with the Georgia Ethics Commission, he’s raised $182,206.29 and has $10,9074.99 cash on hand.

As the incumbent, why should LGBT people continue to support you being in office?

I have always voted with the LGBT community on issues of importance to them.

How do you feel about receiving a favorable rating from Georgia Equality rather than a full endorsement?

I appreciate the favorable rating from Georgia Equality.

Involvement with or within the LGBT community:

From my time serving on the Atlanta Board of Education to my current service on the Atlanta City Council, I have advocated for and supported the LGBT community. Before taking a position on matters of importance to the community, I enlist the counsel of LGBT champions such as Joan Garner or my Council colleague, Alex Wan. I have never taken a position contrary of the LGBT community’s interests.

What are the two most important challenges all residents in your city face in the next two years? What do you propose as solutions to these challenges?

When I sought the Post 2 At-Large seat in 2009, I stated the pressing issues facing our City were financial management, public safety and water. As we mark the last few months of my first term on Atlanta City Council, our executive and legislative bodies have worked in a collaborative manner on addressing all three issues – particularly around financial management and public safety.

Atlanta was the first major city nationwide to resolve its pension liabilities – a savings of nearly $20 million annually. Our operating expenditures have been reduced by approximately 16 percent and we have substantially increased operating cash reserves.

Not only are we a fiscally prudent city, we are also a safer city. Over 800 police officers have been hired since 2010, bringing the force to nearly 2,000 officers. Crime is at historically low rates; in fact we are at levels not seen since President Lyndon Johnson’s term in office. It is imperative that the City of Atlanta works in concert with our residents, local businesses and our public schools in tackling the perception of crime in our communities.

There is no doubt we have made tremendous strides in just one term, and there is more that must be done. As a citywide Council member, I feel there are three issues facing the City that we cannot afford to ignore.

1.    Transportation and Infrastructure

More than a year after the failed T-SPLOST referendum, the City of Atlanta must simultaneously tackle its aging transportation infrastructure and invest in alternative modes of transportation. It is imperative that we invest in making Atlanta a walkable, bicycle-friendly and transit-centric city for everyone – students, senior citizens, and our expanding workforce. Next year, the City will seek to purchase approximately $250 million in bonds to repair crumbling bridges, worn roads, broken sidewalks and other infrastructure needs. My office is researching the feasibility of implementing a parking levy that would bring in $40-60 million annually to the General Fund that can provide for an aggressive timeline to address the needs outlined in the Connect Atlanta plan.

2.    Education and Workforce Development

For Atlanta to retain its college graduates and attract high quality jobs we must improve the quality of K-12 education system. The City’s legislative and executive branches need improved collaboration, shared accountability and consistent communication with the Atlanta Board of Education and the administration of the Atlanta Public Schools.

Have you been contacted by any LGBT residents? What issues have they raised or discussed with you?
I serve in a citywide capacity as the Post 2 At-Large Council member and am paired with Council districts 5-8, the districts that encompass many of the popular LGBT-friendly commercial corridors. The issues I have discussed with LGBT Atlanta residents are ones everyday Atlantans from all across the City share with me. These include the need for more green space, strengthening our school system, guarding our tax dollars, and making Atlanta a safe and prosperous city.

Why should LGBT voters support your candidacy?
The Atlanta of the future is a safe city with a rich transportation network, development that supports sustainable lifestyles and economic and cultural diversity. I am a proven, collaborative leader who always strives to do what is best for the City. Atlanta continues to be a wonderful environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. I have been and will continue to be an advocate for the needs of our LGBT community – whether it be through a small act such as standing up to someone making an offhand slur or co-sponsoring and passing a City Council resolution in support of marriage equality. We must continue to do more to provide a safe environment for LGBT individuals of all ages and backgrounds.

Given that LGBT residents make up nearly 11 percent of Georgia’s 5th Congressional District (encompassing Atlanta), and the fact that there are roughly 180,000 LGBT residents in the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta Metropolitan Statistical Area, please explain how you would work with the Atlanta mayor in order to ensure this diversity is reflected in the leadership roles of your municipality’s non-elected workforce.

Atlanta is blessed to have a number of prominent LGBT business leaders who encourage and promote diversity at all levels, including the public sector. This City has a broad sensitivity to and understanding of the need for inclusion. Recently, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed named Robin Shahar, the City’s Chief Counsel, as his advisor on LGBT issues. I am committed to working with Ms. Shahar, our HR Commissioner, and the various department heads to ensure the City continues to practice inclusionary hiring and to attract and retain a committed, competent workforce. Lastly, the City Code currently contains a number of provisions in support of LGBT employees, including domestic partner support for health insurance and pension benefits.

If elected, in what ways would you serve an advocate for the LGBT community through interactions with other governmental bodies, such as the state legislature, the U.S. Congress, and the federal government, particularly on issues sensitive to the LGBT population, including marriage equality, military service, accurate counting in the U.S. Census, and health-care?
The City of Atlanta has a strong partnership with the federal government and the state, thanks to the leadership of Mayor Kasim Reed. While this will continue to serve us well, we must recognize that Georgia is undoubtedly a conservative state. Recent polling shows across the state, Democrats and Republicans oppose marriage equality and other pro-LGBT issues. However, the City’s legislative and executive branches have undoubtedly been friendly to the LGBT community.

If re-elected, in what ways would you advocate support for people living with HIV/AIDS?
Atlanta has great resources to assist individuals living with HIV/AIDS. In addition to encouraging the continuation of the federal program, The Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA), I would be supportive of collaborative opportunities that could expand services and resources provided by several nonprofit groups in the city.  Through the years, my family and I have volunteered and personally supported programs focused on serving people with HIV/AIDS and will continue to do so.

If re-elected, in what ways would you advocate for increased support, housing and services for transgender individuals?
I would explore opportunities and other federal funding sources to encourage expansion and inclusion of necessary services. I would also welcome a conversation with key leaders in the LGBT community to share their ideas and recommendations on how the City might be a better advocate for those in need of special services.

Would you appoint openly-LGBT individuals to local boards and commissions?
Atlanta’s growing diversity is one its significant characteristics that attracts thousands of people here yearly. I believe our government should reflect the citizens its serves. I recently shared an appointment with my council colleague Alex Wan to Charle Frew, executive director of the Jerusalem House to the City’s Human Rights Commission. I would welcome recommendations from members of the LGBT community for future board appointments. 

Do you support a policy of dealing with transgender sex workers that include supporting organizations working with the population to provide housing, substance abuse treatment, job training and assistance, and HIV prevention? Specifically, how would you deal with the “banishment” law proposed?
The City needs to balance the need for humane treatment of sex workers with the safety concerns of particular neighborhoods where prostitution is rampant. I do support working with community organizations to provide supportive services rather than banishing sex workers from specific zones.  And I believe that the criminal focus needs to be on those who are purchasing sex services illegally. Currently, the City is addressing this issue through the Working Group to Reduce Prostitution (WGRP), and I look forward to a balanced solution.

 

 

Mary Norwood

Website: www.marynorwood.com
Occupation: Norwood resigned from the Fulton County Registrations and Elections Board to run in this race.
Party affiliation: Independent
Campaign budget: As of Sept. 30, Norwood had raised $113,785 and has $82,346.20 cash on hand, according to the Georgia Ethics Commission.
Endorsements to date: Judge Marvin Arrington (retired); Atlanta Fire and Rescue – IAFF Local 134; Atlanta Police – IBPO Local 623; Atlanta Progressive News; Buckhead View; Log Cabin Republicans, PACE Atlanta Union. Norwood also scored an 86 by the Committee for a Better Atlanta for a “well qualified” ranking.

How do you feel about receiving a favorable rating from Georgia Equality rather than a full endorsement?
The LGBTQ community and I have a history that goes back many, many years. I have always supported the community, and am proud to say they have responded in kind.  In 2010 Georgia Voice named me Best Georgia Politician and Best Straight Ally. I was honored to receive both awards and to be in the Top 3 Honorees for Best Straight Ally in 2013 – in the august company of Congressman John Lewis and Laura Gentle.  I am pleased to receive a favorable endorsement and will continue to be a supporter and advocate for equality, inclusion, acceptance and advancement.  

What has been your involvement with the LGBT community?
In preparation for our recent Atlanta Pride Pride parade, I went over pictures, speeches, press releases, and archival news footage of past events, and I was delighted to see I have been an active participant in Pride for over twenty years. My involvement with the LGBT community began many years ago before I was an elected official through many volunteer activities, beginning with the Atlanta Opera in the early 1990s.  

Over the years, I have supported and participated in events for Project Open Hand, AID Atlanta (the AIDS Walk), Georgia Equality,  Atlanta Pride (in the Pride parade annually since 2001),  Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus, and the Human Rights Campaign (attending the HRC Dinner).
As an elected member of City Council, I consistently worked for inclusion of the gay community. This wasn’t hard as the LGBT community has been very vocal throughout the years; eager to take a stand and fight for their rights. I have been just as vocal in my support during my tenure on City Council. I have given my support of the LGBT community much thought – and I am proud of my work on issues important to the LGBT community, including my early stand on marriage equality.  

Why should LGBT voters support your candidacy?
We’ve been a team for many years and I feel that I’ve earned the support and respect of the LGBT community, just as they’ve earned mine. I am an ardent supporter of gay rights, marriage equality, acceptance and inclusion. I always have been. I will continue to be, whether I am elected or not. Together the LGBT community and I share a common belief: human rights, equality, and social justice are not fodder for discussion or debate, but the inalienable right of every man, woman and child.

If elected, in what ways would you advocate support for people living with HIV/AIDS?
I will continue my support in guarding the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS from discrimination against housing, education, medical care, and job security.  Progress has been made, no doubt in direct response to the drive to educate the population on HIV/AIDS, and the success rate of new medications.  

I know there are a vast number of urban support groups, foundations, not-for-profits, and private entities that support the HIV community. Outside the city limits, in the rural communities and socially cloistered small towns across our state, I’m not so sure the resources are present. I would love to be proven wrong. Additional funding for community outreach programs that address HIV/AIDS would be beneficial and I would fully support such a program. 

What are the two most important challenges all residents in Atlanta face in the next two years? What do you propose as solutions to these challenges?
Atlanta has two major challenges facing us as we continue to grow and thrive in the 21st century.  I am most concerned with safety; personal safety, safety in our homes, our communities, and in our schools. Our mayor has recently announced that crime statistics are down, and while I applaud him for this accomplishment, I have yet to see evidence of it on our streets. Crimes against individuals; gay bashing, hate crimes, drive-byes, car-jackings, robberies, and personal assaults continue to make the news.  

By working closely with our public safety personnel, continuing an open communication with community and neighborhood watches, examining and re-evaluating police response and presence, and encouraging an open forum between residents, city xcuncil, and the mayor, we can stop crime, change perceptions, and make Atlanta an international presence.

As an international presence, Atlanta must keep pace with the times, and that brings me to our second biggest challenge: preservation, renovation, development, and environmental accountability. This is huge. We have been blessed with a remarkably green, vibrant city and we need to continue to cherish our green space. This requires planning, strategy, conservation, and commitment from our citizens and our city leaders. We’ve made great strides with the Beltline, yet more has to be done. Our infrastructure is woefully outdated and needs a serious overhaul.  Overdevelopment in our region has wrought devastating traffic issues. But time is on our side.  We have the natural resources, we need leadership with foresight to guide us into compatible eco-friendly, financially stable, socially responsible space.

Have you been contacted by LGBT residents? What issues have they raised or discussed with you?

I served on city council for eight years. Of course I’ve been contact by LGBT citizens. I’m proud to say that when an issue arose and no easy answers were available, I was the sounding board, voice of reason, and sympathetic ear for many of our citizens. The issues brought before me were as varied as the incident of police harassment at the Eagle, to unlawful incidents of public lewdness, to housing, job security, and a permit to demonstrate for equality. In each and every case I was eager to help and worked to find a solution to the problem. 

Given that LGBT residents make up nearly 11 percent of Georgia’s 5th Congressional District (encompassing Atlanta), and the fact that there are roughly 180,000 LGBT residents in the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta Metropolitan Statistical Area, please explain how you would work with the Atlanta mayor in order to ensure this diversity is reflected in the leadership roles of your municipality’s non-elected workforce.

I would welcome a more diverse population at City Hall as a true representation of the makeup of our city.  We have seen some progress, albeit painfully slow, but progress nonetheless in matters of LBGT acceptance, visibility, and involvement in our city.  Our mayor has softened his position on gay rights, but there’s no denying we have a long road to travel until true equality reigns.  As our city slowly advances in matters of social acceptance, legal equality, and inclusion, we need strong voice and guidance from the LGBT community to consistently monitor, advise, and protest when we stray.  My advocacy is an open book and I will strive to be inclusive.  I have an open door policy.  I am eager to hear how we can improve and will take the action needed to guarantee a true representation of all our citizens.

If elected, in what ways would you serve an advocate for the LGBT community of your municipality through interactions with other governmental bodies, such as the state legislature, the U.S. Congress, and the federal government, particularly on issues sensitive to the LGBT population, including marriage equality, military service, accurate counting in the U.S. Census, and health-care?

• On Marriage Equality:
Marriage equality will happen. It won’t happen fast enough to make us all happy, but progress is being made. As more and more states bow to the will of the people, and increasingly the general population is overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality, Georgia, too, will see the benefits, the rightfulness, and the common sense of marriage equality.  Until that day, I am determined to make my pro-equality stance known to all. City Council has little interaction with the US Congress and the federal government, but I know we lead by example. By maintaining a consistent message of equality, my voice will rise up with others in public service. We all need to scrutinize new and old legislation that threatens marriage equality and stand together to protest.  At each turn in the road, we need to promise our efforts will lead us toward equality and inclusion and away from prejudice and separation.

• On Military Service:
Thankfully, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been repealed, and the predictions of military unrest and mutiny at the service of gay servicemen and women have proven as foolish and misguided as we knew they were.  As our gay military members serve with distinction and honor, we must be every vigilant that they have the support and backing of our elected officials.  Military benefits (health, survival, burial, pension, VA) for gay partners must be guarded, and again, those of us in elected positions are relying on the LGBT community to keep us ever aware of cracks in the armor.  

• On US Census:
Akin with marriage equality, this brings up the issue of what makes a family. In the spirit of inclusion, gay families – identified as husband and wife– can and must be able to identify themselves in honest terms. In an attempt to capture an honest reflection of our country’s true constitution, gay and/or lesbian or transgendered must be an allowed, but not required, answer on the census form. Our LGBT citizens must be counted, for the unvarnished truth of numbers will garner results. 

• On Health Care:
I am eager to see what the Affordable Care Act does for our nation’s health care. For the first time, insurance companies will not be able to discriminate against individuals with pre-existing conditions, a fact that will have tremendous impact on those living, surviving, and thriving with HIV. 
Public assistance is available for the uninsured through public and private entities, but constant scrutiny is required to make sure quality affordable care is made available with no restrictions; i.e., sexual identity or race.  
   
If elected, in what ways would you advocate for increased support, housing and services for transgender individuals?
Again, progress is being made in the inclusion and acceptance of our transgendered community.  Each time a brave family, individual, or couple come forward and tell their story, I know it reverberates through our national conscious. Just as we’ve made progress toward equality, we will continue to grow, learn, and embrace the struggles of our transgendered citizens.  Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), it is unlawful for an employer or the owner of housing accommodation to discriminate against a person because of their gender, gender identity or gender expression. Are the laws always followed?  I doubt it.  Support groups are readily available for gays and lesbians, yet too many times we hear stories from transgendered men and women who don’t know where to turn in times of struggle. 

I would like to see a commitment from all gay and lesbian organizations in Atlanta; private, public, and not-for-profit; to serve our transgendered brothers and sisters through direct medical aid, referrals, evaluations, and monetary support.  Legal aid must also be available to guarantee equal rights are honored, as well as social workers to help in transitioning this new life into society.

Would you appoint openly-LGBT individuals to local boards and commissions?
Of course I would support openly LGBT individuals on local boards and commissions. Naturally, I look for experience, job competence, qualifications, and education first. Being openly LGBT is neither a hindrance nor help; it is simply a facet of who you are, and probably not the most interesting facet at that. I respond to people; not labels.

Do you support a policy of dealing with transgender sex workers that include supporting organizations working with the population to provide housing, substance abuse treatment, job training and assistance, and HIV prevention? Specifically, how would you deal with the”banishment” law proposed?
I do support a policy of working with transgendered sex workers to help get them off the streets, off drugs, and educated as to the ever present dangers of working the streets and HIV. I think the first line of support will come from our police officers who deal with the transgendered sex workers on a daily basis. Instead of jail time and banishment to another part of Atlanta or another county entirely, intervention by a social worker should be the first step in assistance. A social worker evaluation and recommendation should be required before the street worker is incarcerated, and if at all possible, intervention by means of a halfway house, drug and/or alcohol rehab facility should follow. A follow up evaluation should follow to recommend further treatment, job training, or release. The programs are in place; we have to make them easy to access and viable.

I can see no possible good coming out of the banishment law. Moving sex workers to another part of the city will do absolutely nothing to help either the city or the worker. This seems to be an out-of-sight-out-of-mind mentality that will only prove self-generating and destructive.  Until we are ready to face the issue head-on and arrive at a mutually beneficial solution – through social workers, social aid programs, education, and intervention – we will be moving in circles with no end in sight.

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