Dickens picking up the endorsements of Franklin and Woolard led Willis to hold his own press conference to denounce the two women. He said of Woolard: “She doesn’t know me because she quit on the job long before she had a chance to know me. She quit two years into her job as president of the city council. She decided to give up on the city she loves. I’m not willing to do that.” Woolard resigned her post in an unsuccessful bid for Congress.
Total budget: $200-250,000. As of Sept. 30, Willis had raised $87,910 and has $45,089.24 cash on hand, according to the state ethics commission.
Endorsements to date: Mayor Kasim Reed, AFSCME Union, Rev. Walter Kimbro, Rosel Fann
As the incumbent, why should LGBT people continue to support you being in office? Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender voters should support because I have a track record of supporting the LGBT community; not with just words, but with action. Most recently, I voted in support of Councilmember Alex Wan’s legislation supporting same sex marriages and have always advocated for equal benefits for same sex couples. I was also the author of legislation creating the Citizens Review Board which protects all residents, but particularly LGBT residents, from being mistreated or discriminated against by law enforcement.
If you review my record on LGBT issues, you will see a record of someone who believes in equity for all of our citizens no matter their sexual orientation. So there is no guesswork as to what side of the issue I will be on when it comes to the LGBT community!
You did receive a favorable rating from Georgia Equality which then decided to take that back and fully endorse your challenger. What was your reaction to that news? I was disappointed with the news, but respect their decision. The fact remains that I have always supported Georgia Equality and the LGBT community. As an incumbent whose support for the LGBT community has never wavered, I would have hoped that I had earned a conversation with Georgia Equality prior to their decision. Unfortunately, there was no attempt to understand how or why that happened. No matter who they lend support, if re-elected I will always advocate for equal rights, equal treatment, and equal access for all citizens, no matter their sexual orientation, race, or religious affiliation.
Many allegations of corruption have been labeled against you and you were recently disbarred. What do you say to voters upset with these developments and could in turn vote for someone else? I take serious issue with any allegations of corruption. Any such claims are false and a gross misrepresentation of my challenges. There were mistakes made that have been contrary to rules of registering a nonprofit in Georgia and my failure to respond to an official complaint. My disbarment is directly tied to my failure to respond while going through a very difficult time in my personal life.
Further more, I ask voters to judge me by my work on council, not my missteps away from council. I have a 12-year record on council to be judged. Look at how I voted in support of marriage equality. Look at how I stood with community’s to fight against unwanted developments like the proposed big box along the Eastside of the Beltline or Family Dollar in SW Atlanta.
Judge me by how I worked shoulder to shoulder with Mayor Reed to increase our city’s reserves from $7 million to over $126 million, or how I worked with this mayor to increase our police force to 2000 officers for the first time.
Typically when I have the opportunity to explain the circumstances behind my mistakes along with my record on council, I retain and often gain supporters.
What has been your involvement with the LGBT community? My office has been and will continue to be an ally of the LGBT community. I have marched in the Gay Pride Parade, sponsored and hosted annual welcome receptions for gay pride weekend, and have been an ardent supporter of those issues that are important to Georgia Equality over the course of my three terms.
I have worked with Councilmember Alex Wan, his predecessor and others to promote and support all legislation calling for equal treatment of our city’s LGBT residents and employees.
I have long recognized the great contributions the LGBT community makes to our city. To that end, I will continue to support and advocate for those issues that impact the LGBT community’s quality of life.
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? One of the most important challenges facing our city faces is turning around our education system. While that does not fall directly under the purview of the city, our school system has an enormous effect on our local economy, crime, and overall quality of life. I think in the next term, it is important that the city strengthen its relationship with Atlanta Public Schools and partner with APS on programs that keep our children mentally and physically active in a productive way. We have already taken steps by re-opening all of our recreational facilities, but we need to find ways to attract more children to them and expand our programming.
Under the city’s purview, the two biggest challenges facing our residents are public Safety and economic development.
Improving public safety is also a major challenge for the city, which is why I joined the mayor in his efforts to increase the city’s police force to 2,000 officers, which is the largest level in our city’s history. Our efforts, along with my council colleagues have led to an 18 percent decrease in violent crime and the lowest murder rate in nearly 50 years.
Our police for is also more involved on the community level with the Community Oriented Police (C.O.P.S) unit. We’ve also hired two police LGBT liaisons to focus on issues specific their needs. If re-elected, I will continue invest in our public safety to not only increase police presence, but make sure that these resources are used effectively.
Atlanta was hit particularly hard by the great recession because of our large construction industry. We are gradually recovering, but continuing our progress is extremely important. I created the Downtown Development Technical Advisory Group to help look at ways we can bring economic development and residents to our downtown core. The group consists of business, civic, and community leaders with a vested interest in downtown, who will develop a set of recommendations for the city.
I will continue to work with this group, as well as future advisory groups so that we can find opportunities to put all of our residents back to work in a way that doesn’t discriminate against any individual.
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. Mayor Kasim Reed continues to make strides, which I support, to ensure the inclusion of LGBT workers in the city. He recently hired attorney Robin Shahar as his LGBT advisor. Among other things, Ms. Shahar will be tasked with looking at ways that city government can continue to be inclusive of LGBT residents and employees. Ms. Shahar and I have worked together on a number of legislative projects and I am certain we will be able to work effectively together in her new role.
My office will offer any resources available to us to help Ms. Shahar in her efforts, as well look work with our HR department to determine stamp out any intentional or unintentional discriminatory practices, if there are any. I believe a diverse workplace brings diverse ideas that only enhance an organizations performance.
If re-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 healthcare? As an elected official, I believe the most powerful tool I can use to advocate for the LGBT community is with my vote on council. If elected, I will continue to vote in support of issues such as marriage equality, equal health benefits, accurate Census counting, and military service. I will also support any resolutions at the council level that encourages other governmental agencies to adopt LGBT friendly legislation.
And while I believe my vote is my strongest advocacy tool, if anyone from the LGBT community felt it would be beneficial for me to participate in vocal manner, I would be open to doing so.
If re-elected, in what ways would you advocate support for people living with HIV/AIDS? As a former board member of the NAMES Project Foundation, the international caretaker of The AIDS Memorial Quilt, I am an ardent advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS. While human services does not fall under the city’s charter, I will work with Mayor Reed’s administration in identifying resources from private industries to assist non-profits and other organizations that support individuals living with HIV/AIDS.
If re-elected, in what ways would you advocate for increased support, housing and services for transgender individuals? As a council member, I would solicit the expertise of organizations like Georgia Equality, possibly HUD, and the Atlanta Housing Authority, to find out what some of the best practices are in supporting housing services for transgender individuals. By doing so, we could then look our legislative options for the city to assist transgender individuals needing housing options.
Would you appoint openly-LGBT individuals to local boards and commissions? I would absolutely appoint openly LGBT individuals to local boards and commissions. Since serving on council, I have voted to appoint board members of all ethnicities and sexual orientation.
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 recognize that there are numerous reasons why someone becomes a sex worker. As an elected official, I believe that it is in the best interest of that individual, as well as our city to find productive means to help them out of this situation rather than incarceration or banishment. It is not just good policy, but it is right morally. For those reasons, I definitely support policy the help organizations that work to save the lives of transgender sex workers.
Occupation: Assistant Director, OMED Educational Services – Responsible for outreach programs such as the 5-week summer bridge program for incoming freshmen called Challenge and the graduate recruitment program called FOCUS. Also responsible for a new targeted initiative of the University System of Georgia – the African-American Male Initiative (AAMI).
Party affiliation: Democrat
Endorsements to date: Endorsements to date: Georgia Stonewall Democrats, Georgia Equality, former Mayor Shirley Franklin, former City Council President Cathy Woolard, Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, State Senator Vincent Fort, State Representative Ronnie Mabra, International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 623, Atlanta Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 134, Communication Workers of America/AFL-CIO Local 3204, Atlanta Progressive News, former Councilwoman Anne Fauver, former Councilwoman Debi Starnes, former State Representative Ralph Long, Joe Beasley – Rainbow Push Coalition, Ben Johnson III retired managing partner at Alston & Bird, Elaine B. Alexander – Buckhead, Edward Menifee – Southwest Atlanta Youth Business Organization, Rev. J. Allen Milner – The Chapel of Christian Love Baptist Church, Rev. Kenny Alexander – Antioch Baptist Church North, Rev. Sean Smith – New Horizon Baptist Church, Lawrie Demorest – Partner, Alston & Bird, Jenifer Keenan – Board Member, Virginia-Highland Civic Association, Dianne Olansky – Past NPU-F Chair, Donna Foland – Morningside, Total campaign budget: $200,000 As of Sept. 30, Dickens raised $115,776.88 and has $61,590.73 cash on hand, according to the state ethics commission.
You at first received a favorable rating then a full endorsement from Georgia Equality. What does that mean to you? As a long-time supporter of full equality for LGBT persons, I am thrilled to receive the endorsement of Georgia Equality. It means a great deal to receive the consideration and then endorsement from an organization that works consistently to advocate for the LGBT community, and as an Ally to the community I will continue to push for equality and inclusion for all the people of Atlanta including LGBT persons.
What has been your involvement with or within the LGBT community? I have been an active supporter and contributor to organizations such as Georgia Equality. In my position at Georgia Tech, I frequently act on behalf of LGBT students in matters of inclusion and diversity within the campus community and as a public ambassador for promoting a diverse, welcoming environment for all.
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? Job creation and retention continues to be a major focus for our city as we work our way out of the recession. As the City of Atlanta continues to strive to be the preferred place to start and own a business, we must take care of our existing businesses as well as our local entrepreneurs by ensuring advocacy for and access to the myriad of local, state and federal programs available to small business owners. By increasing the job opportunities at all levels, we can continue to lift the individuals who are more experienced, while also filling positions for less-skilled workers.
In addition to creating jobs, making sure that there is equitable access to these new opportunities is also important. Workplace equality is not only good for business; it’s good for Atlanta. I will also advocate for programs to help our unskilled workers acquire a pathway out of perpetual poverty by equipping them with training and knowledge. If we invest in the future and help people by giving them the tools to break prior trends, I believe our entire community will benefit. Rising tides lift all boats.
Looking long-term, job creation/retention also means ensuring Atlanta’s children have access to a world-class education. If we have a strong school system, I believe employers will be more apt to bringing good paying jobs to the market. As a father, I want more for my children than I had for myself.
The second issue is higher ethics in government. My opponent has proven to have numerous ethical challenges. It is time for us to no longer tolerate unethical behavior – in any form. Some may argue that there are no absolutes, but to me, as a public servant the bottom line is about acknowledging right from wrong – even in so called, gray areas. You are either trustworthy or not. Ethics requires knowing difference between what you “can do” by virtue of position, and what is “right to do” then acting appropriately.
As stewards of the public’s trust, I believe the onus is on elected officials to avoid conflicts of interest and comply with all ethics codes and regulations. I strongly support upholding the code of ethics that was strengthened in 2002 by Mayor Shirley Franklin. There are certainly many honest public servants in Atlanta and if elected, I plan to be one of them.
What have LGBT residents discussed as being some of their concerns with Atlanta? Many of their key issues are similar to issues for the population at-large including public safety, ethics and job creation. In addition to these main issues, many would like to see the liaison position that has been created between the Atlanta Police Department and the LGBT community to continue and broaden particularly in efforts of two-way communication between the APD and the LGBT community.
Other concerns have been ensuring that appointments to city commissions and councils be inclusive of members of the LGBT community which I have pledged to do, and that I continue to promote fairness and equality for LGBT individuals in every aspect of the council’s business to affordable housing, homelessness, teen and at-risk youth programs and other such initiatives of the city council.
Why should LGBT voters support your candidacy? I have a long history of promoting diversity, fairness and access for LGBT persons, and in me the LGBT community will have a very strong ally on the City Council who can be depended upon to do the right thing with concern, thoughtfulness and integrity.
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. Continuing open communication with the mayor, the city council president and the individuals and leaders in the LGBT community will be a key effort of my work as a member of the City Council. I will provide an open ear and a strong advocacy for members of the LGBT community in both listening to concerns of everyone and pushing for diversity and inclusion in the City’s workforce, contracting and appointments.
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 healthcare? Again, open dialogue, serving as a liaison for all Atlantans, and maintaining relationships with other elected officials will be a key part of my work on the city council. I will be a resource for members of the LGBT community who need an open and honest representative and ambassador not just on the Council, but in City government as a whole and interactions between Atlanta and our affiliated elected officials.
I have years of experience both as a business leader and a community organizer in establishing relationships between elected officials, government agencies, private institutions, academia and other organizations such as non-profits and neighborhood associations and NPUs. I will leverage this experience and my connections as an elected official to push for full equality and fairness for all members of my City including the LGBT community.
On Marriage Equality: I fully support marriage equality and will actively and vocally stand with members of the council and the LGBT community. On Military Service: The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was a major milestone in equality for our brave men and women and their partners and families. I fully support the efforts of the DoD in including domestic partners and married LGBT couples in benefits and rights that should absolutely be afforded to LGBT persons and their loved ones who serve our country. On a state level, I believe the governor and leaders in our National Guard should follow the lead of the DoD and extend full benefits to married LGBT couples and their families. On US Census: It is vitally important that education in the LGBT community continue the importance of the LGBT community in the Census and that all members of Atlanta’s diverse community be counted and included in this information. I will fully support and help with any efforts in this regard. On healthcare: While many health concerns are the same for the LGBT community and all communities in Atlanta, the LGBT community has many unique challenges as well. I full support the efforts of organizations like Project Open Hand and Positive Impact in providing unique care services, and I absolutely will be an public advocate for ADAP funding and other key funding and education programs specifically impacting the LGBT community.
If elected, in what ways would you advocate support for people living with HIV/AIDS? I would advocate for equal treatment in all matters such as housing and access to health care. I support increased funding for ADAP and will work alongside Georgia Equality and other organizations in this matter.
If elected, in what ways would you advocate for increased support, housing and services for transgender individuals? Maintaining open dialogue and routine interaction with leaders and policy makers at Atlanta Housing Authority will be a key part of my advocacy for increased support for transgender individuals. This would also apply to any contractors and vendors who receive funding and grants from the city for housing and services. I can be a very effective voice for those who cannot or are unable to speak for themselves, and I would be proud to advocate for fairness and support for transgender persons. Would you appoint openly-LGBT individuals to local boards and commissions? Absolutely. Atlanta is blessed to have such a diverse and talented and active LGBT community, and it would be my honor to promote and appoint these members to public positions and community boards and commissions.
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? Absolutely. This is a crisis that is often overlooked in the increasing market of human trafficking, and I would be honored if I could help in any way– including support of a collaborative, comprehensive approach that addresses the underlying issues, which often fuel prostitution. Specific to SOAP, in spite of the policies initial intentions, I believe it does not afford equitable treatment to LGBTs under its current form. Recently, I had an extensive conversation with a transgendered woman who was quite outspoken in her views on several policies, like SOAP, that impact the LGBT community. We agreed that regardless of any individual’s personal views, there must be equality in the legal system. This includes equitable, fair treatment and a balanced approach to ensuring that the LGBT community is not unlawfully targeted and subject to discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Citizens of Atlanta, both LGBT and straight, have expressed concern that an LGBT perspective is represented at the mayor’s office and on the council, and that the system of advocates or advisors continues. I would work to make this so. As part of this effort, many are also encouraged by the liaison position with the City of Atlanta Police Department. I would like to see this effort continue to receive support and look forward to working with the LGBT community to fight for true equality and to protect the gains made to date.