Buckhead Coalition hosts ‘conversation’ with Atlanta mayoral candidates

The race for Atlanta’s new mayor is officially underway. Eight of the candidates met to present platforms as part of the Buckhead Coalition’s business meeting on Jan. 25.

Each had two minutes to answer two questions: what will they do better for Atlanta than their opponents, and where will they get their votes from?

Guests at the Jan. 25 Buckhead Coalition meeting received fliers from some of the mayoral candidates. (Photo by Dallas Duncan)

“That will be a deciding factor in many cases as to who we support,” said Sam Massell, former Atlanta mayor and president of the coalition. “[The second question] will give us some idea that you’re electable and will make a big difference, in my opinion, for a lot of the investors.”

For openly LGBT former Atlanta City Council president Cathy Woolard, who was the first candidate to declare, she’ll be the best candidate because of her ability to bring people together.

“It’s not the job of the mayor to have all the ideas. It’s the job of the mayor to bring people together, to understand what the vision is for the city, to block and tackle and build partnerships to get us there,” Woolard told the nearly 200 invited guests at the event.

She later told Georgia Voice that this election could spell how Atlanta develops over the next quarter-century.

“The forecast is we’ll triple our population,” she said. “How are we going to spend the infrastructure dollars and the transportation dollars that were just approved so that there is a coherent plan when all is said and done? How do we grow this city in a way that is equitable?”

Woolard said she found it difficult to fully describe her vision for the city in the one minute allotted for answers, but saw that government ethics appeared to be an over-arching theme in the discussion.

“85,000 will come out to vote in the next election. It’s been a very consistent number. We may break through that because this has been an extraordinary election year. People are angry and they want to see change,” she said.

State Sen. Vincent Fort, one of eight Atlanta mayoral candidates at the Jan. 25 Buckhead Coalition meeting, discusses Atlanta’s gang problem. (Photo by Dallas Duncan)

State Sen. Vincent Fort appeared to agree with her on that front.

“Atlanta City Hall has lost its way and there are people there who are more interested in serving their own interests than the peoples’ interests,” he said.

Fort’s biggest priority if elected is to tell the truth, which includes speaking openly about gang activity in Atlanta. Other candidates’ priorities include developing partnerships to unite the city, creating a “neighborhood renaissance,” public safety, transportation and increased transparency in local government.

“Our next mayor has to have executive experience to lead … experience to work alongside the council and the fortitude to run towards the fire and not away when things get tough,” said Atlanta City Councilwoman Keisha Bottoms.

Bottoms believes she has a strong chance of winning because her district consistently comes out to vote. So does fellow Council member Kwanza Hall, who is counting on his district’s LGBT community to get him in office. Hall said he is the only candidate who can connect with a broad voter base across the whole city.

“I’m going to be everybody’s mayor,” he said. “Atlanta’s not asking for a black mayor, a white mayor, a gay mayor or a straight mayor. Atlanta wants a great mayor. I’m the only one with a proven track record with bringing neighborhoods forward.”

Mary Norwood, a longtime City Council member who barely lost the last mayoral election, isn’t sure about that.

“That Mary Norwood constituency is there because I care about the issues that matter to them,” she said. “It is time for us to be completely, openly accountable to our citizens. I will have a forensic audit of all funds. I will do a top-to-bottom analysis of the budget and I will overhaul the bidding process, which desperately needs it. I will put all expenses online, including checks. It’s our money. We ought to know how it’s spent.”

Though a majority of the candidates at the Coalition meeting were former or current Atlanta City Council members, candidate Michael Sterling said that didn’t necessarily mean a shoe-in for higher office.

“We only elected one City Council member in the last two decades to become mayor. We’ve only elected two mayors who were City Council members since 1974,” Sterling, a former assistant US attorney, said.

Peter Aman, the former chief operating officer for Mayor Kasim Reed, echoed a similar vein, saying his candidacy stands out because he’s not a politician. He also raised concerns about ethics violations for fellow candidates Norwood and Ceasar Mitchell, the sitting City Council president.

Mitchell responded by saying his first job as mayor will be to develop a thick skin.

Atlanta mayoral candidate Michael Sterling, left, with openly gay City Council member Alex Wan. (Photo by Dallas Duncan)

“I know how to win. I know how to increase my vote count,” he said. “I’m going to deliver a very strong message and a vision for this city and its future.”

City Council member Alex Wan, who just announced his intent to run for Council president, said it was informative to have so many of the candidates on stage.

“I was surprised that one of the candidates went right out of the gates after two of the other ones, but I have a feeling that’s what it’s going to be like,” Wan said. “What I’ll also be listening for are themes of inclusion and diversity and embracing that and celebrating it, because I think in this day and age, that’s what Atlanta needs to be and it comes from the top down. The mayor has to embody those principles for the city to embrace them as well.”