TagsAtlanta mayoral raceElection 2017John EavesMayor Kasim Reed
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11 Questions for Atlanta’s Mayoral Candidates
1. According to Invest Atlanta’s housing strategy, tens of thousands of Atlantans, particularly those living on low incomes, spend more than one-third of their income on housing. How will you use the powers of your office to help people stay in their homes and people living on lower incomes afford to live in the city?
Affordable housing is similar to the term “workforce housing,” and in a Mayor Eaves administration, affordable housing will be a top priority. Atlanta’s prosperity risks pricing-out many who want to own a home in the city. We must work hard to attract investment but remain vigilant against forcing out the city’s middle-class and underemployed citizens through gentrification. As Atlanta’s next mayor, you can count on me to build a city in which firefighters, police officers, teachers, and others can afford to live. Affordable housing will be more than just a catchphrase or small set-asides while developers rake in big bucks using public money to finance their construction projects. We will redouble this effort with our development authority, Invest Atlanta, which now only requires developers who use public money to set aside about 15 percent of their units as affordable housing. Further, I will insist that the Atlanta BeltLine development live up to its promises to produce affordable housing, which so far has been less than dismal at best.
2. Atlanta is dotted with memorials to the Confederacy, ranging from street names to statues. Should they be kept, removed, or modified?
Americans must know all their history, not just part of it. However, museums are the place where many of these monuments belong, not in open spaces that breed present-day hatred and disunity.
3. Many mayors have struggled with reducing homelessness in the city. Mayor Kasim Reed called for the creation of smaller facilities with services to help this population. Will you continue such a plan or do you have an alternative?
I have developed a “Mayor’s Homelessness Eradication Plan,” and I am the only person running for mayor who has spent the night with the homeless to learn firsthand their needs and their predicaments. Instead of kicking the homeless to the curb, we need a war on homelessness. Each day about 4,000 homeless people are scattered throughout the city. At least 800 go unsheltered, living under bridges, wrapped in blankets, tucked in corners or in abandoned buildings. As Fulton County Chairman, I led the way in resolving this in the county through cooperation and collaboration. I passed a plan that reopened a county facility (Jefferson Place) with state of the art health and social services to house up to 300 homeless adults and children (in light of Peachtree-Pine’s closure). As Atlanta’s next mayor, I will bring that same leadership approach to the city. I believe we can eradicate homelessness if we work together. We need to join forces with our neighbors in Cobb, Fulton, and DeKalb Counties as well as the nonprofit community to find the best model to ensure there are proper safety nets, housing, and treatment options.
4. Atlanta voters approved a sales tax that will raise approximately $2.5 billion for new transit in the city. How should that money be spent?
- MARTA expansion: Regional transit is paramount to the success of Atlanta and the region. If studies are correct, the population will continue to rise. That equals more cars, more traffic, more gridlock. We must find creative ways to fund and build more transit stations, light rail, and bus service so that more people will feel comfortable using rapid transit to ease up on congestion and the adverse health effects that come with cluttered roads and highways in Atlanta.
- Roads and bridges repair: It’s been more than a decade now since Mayor Shirley Franklin unleashed her “Pothole Posse,” and Atlanta’s roads, streets, and bridges are now in need of major repair unlike never before. It shouldn’t take I-85 collapsing before we begin to do something. We got lucky this time that no one was hurt, but we may not be so lucky next time. I will put together a task force with the job of coming up with a 50-year plan (similar to the water/sewer 50-year plan) that aims to overhaul all our major roads and bridges that currently do not meet state and federal safety standards.
- Neighborhood and community development: We’ve seen a surge of redevelopment in the Downtown and Midtown areas but staggered development in the city’s neighborhoods. Atlanta has become a tale of two cities! Downtown and Midtown development in business, housing, restaurants, and entertainment facilities are going strong and moving those areas in the right direction. However, we need sustainable urban and community development, good educational opportunities, jobs, job training, housing, and blight remediation for our neighborhoods. We need our neighborhoods to thrive with the same energy that is transforming Downtown and Midtown. I plan to spur economic development through rebuilding the infrastructure of our neighborhoods that have been left behind and left out. We will rebuild neighborhoods, brick by brick, block by block. And we will do it without gentrifying seniors and others out of their neighborhoods.
5. The city’s zoning code hasn’t been updated in decades. City officials are planning a multi-year rewrite. What changes would you like to see in the city’s zoning and where?
We must have more resident input in whatever we do. While in Fulton County we have amended our zoning ordinance to ensure things such as the elimination of hazards, pollution, and other ills that impact neighborhoods when new development takes hold.
The Neighborhood Planning Unit system has provided great service to the city. But it is time to look at updating it and rooting out inconsistencies to make sure the feedback provided represents the entire community. We should look at incorporating modern technology to get greater participation. We need developers and residents to work on the front-end to ensure developments are a win for everyone.
Georgia Tech researchers revealed, “Engagement needs of the city during urban renewal when the NPUs were created have shifted. Now land development is on the backburner, and vacant housing, crime, and redevelopment are at the forefront of citizen’s concerns.” Understanding this, as mayor, I will launch a 100-day “Listening Tour” of neighborhoods to learn the benefits and challenges each of our diverse neighborhoods faces. Then we’ll implement a neighborhood-mobilization plan to bring all neighborhoods to quality standards—to include access to better transportation, retail, affordable housing, and quality schools.
6. Say a recession occurs during your term. What’s the first program you cut? Or do you raise revenues, and how? Or do you pull money from the city’s reserves to keep government operating at the same level?
First I will do what we did at Fulton County under my leadership as chairman and that is complete a system-wide audit of our operations and resources. Until we do that, we don’t know what we should or can cut, recession or not. On day one I will launch an analysis of the city’s financial condition to provide real data on the next best steps to achieve our overall goals and how to fund them. The key is to learn how to do more with less. In my 10 years at Fulton County we haven’t substantially raised taxes and have kept a surplus above $100 million every year.
7. Candidates say they want to improve education in the city. But Atlanta Public Schools is a separate entity and the city has no direct control over school policy. So how do you improve public education in the city?
First I will use the bully pulpit without being a bully. The mayor must be a unifying force to bring people together to collaborate to achieve goals and progress. Both the city and the APS are two separate organizations with different missions, yet they must work together, not against each other. To that end I will take the experience and success I have had as Chairman of Fulton County in collaborating with Fulton County Schools and our local post-secondary institutions on key programs and replicate that success with APS. We must have first-rate, safe schools.
Second I will take key steps to bridge the gaps we see in public education that negatively impacts a student’s ability to obtain gainful employment. Working together, leaders of both the city and APS must develop new and innovative programs that provide real results to improve a lot of our kids. [We need to] keep the politics out of it and be focused on child success. For example, one idea I envision is an impactful after-school/community program, including a project by which we partner with students during their freshman year of high school to map out their future, whether that means college, the military, or entering the workforce. I will also support using Atlanta’s technical colleges and the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency to make sure our residents have the skills they need to get and keep good-paying jobs.
8. Atlanta’s arts scene is growing, particularly the independent arts scene, but funding remains an issue. Mayor Kasim Reed during the 2017 legislative session proposed a fractional sales tax to raise cash for the arts but the effort failed. Would you lobby for a similar initiative?
Yes, because the arts are not just about art. It is a booming sector of Atlanta’s and the Atlanta region’s economy.
Here again past experience indicates future success. I would take the extraordinary steps we have taken at Fulton County in funding (providing millions of dollars over my ten years in office) and prioritizing the arts, and bring the successful implementation of our county program to the city.
The arts community and industry provide considerable and necessary contributions to the well-being of communities across greater Atlanta. Arts and culture are powerful tools with which to engage communities. I believe it is important that we continue to support the arts and arts culture both on the national and local levels. The arts community plays a major role in Atlanta and the region—employing people locally, purchasing goods and services from local merchants, and driving tourism and economic development. The strength of every society is shown by its facilitation and support of the arts.
9. Simple question: How many police officers does Atlanta have, how many does it need, and how will you pay for them?
The latest count is about 1,850 officers, well below the proposed number of at least 2,000. I know that Atlanta cannot prosper unless its residents, visitors, and workforce feel safe. Communities only grow and prosper if they are secure. Here’s a preliminary list of what I would do:
- Pay and benefits: Pay is an issue in public safety both in the attraction and retention of employees. I support a pay/class study to ensure our officers, jailers, and firefighters are justly compensated and that we can find other incentives to have all our employees live where they work—in Atlanta.
- Equipment: As I did at Fulton County, I will push through legislation that provides funding for Atlanta to invest in the best technology and techniques—cameras, community-oriented policing, shot spotters, and predictive algorithms for a start—so that we arm our officers with the tools they need to succeed in their mission. The same holds true for our Fire Department and city jail.
- Recruitment and retention: As mayor, I will prioritize the hiring of new officers to return the city to optimal numbers. Further, and unlike the rest of the candidates for mayor, I will redouble our effort to retain those we hire by focusing on retention to ensure we do not continue to be a training ground for other public safety agencies. My administration would come up with a strategy to ensure officers stay with us after we have invested in their training.
10. The city has discussed deprioritizing marijuana, making the penalty of possession similar to a traffic ticket. If the topic is still up for debate when you take office, what will you do? [Note: Atlanta City Council passed this legislation in October—after this survey was submitted to the candidates.]
Marijuana possession is just one small step in total criminal justice reform. I will use the bold reform I put in place at Fulton County for the City of Atlanta.
As Fulton County Chairman, I energized and expanded our re-entry program that utilizes some programs and initiatives that has reduced the county’s recidivism rate. In addition to giving young people, in particular, a “second chance,” we have also been able to drastically reduce our county jail population and overcrowding.
Another program that I championed at Fulton is the “Expungement” program. It has become an annual event. This year, more than 600 people registered to have their criminal records expunged at our “Expungement Summit.” We held it at Ebenezer Baptist Church and it took a matter of hours—a process that usually takes months. Those arrested for a misdemeanor or a felony in Fulton County but never convicted were able to get their record restricted, essentially hidden from the public.
11. Neighborhoods that have traditionally been home to black residents and black-owned businesses have watched property values and rents rise thanks to new public investments like the Beltline and a renewed interest in city life. Displacement is a key concern. How can the mayor prevent not just people losing their homes, but people losing their communities?
I haven’t wanted to become mayor to do this; I’ve already done it. Earlier this year I fought hard (against the odds) to get the Eaves Tax Freeze passed. It froze property assessments at 2016 levels to give property owners a one-year reprieve on increased assessments that would have resulted in hundreds, maybe thousands of people losing their homes due to skyrocketing tax bills.
Atlanta’s prosperity risks pricing-out many who want to own a home in the city. We must work hard to attract investment but remain vigilant against forcing out the city’s middle-class and underemployed citizens through gentrification. We are working to provide more creative homestead exemptions to guard against people being forced out of their homes as neighborhoods change their value and demographic characteristics.
Yes, we need sustainable urban and community development, good educational opportunities, jobs, job training, housing, and blight remediation for our neighborhoods. We need our neighborhoods to thrive with the same energy that is transforming Downtown and Midtown. I plan to spur economic development through rebuilding the infrastructure of our neighborhoods that have been left behind and left out. We will rebuild neighborhoods, brick by brick, block by block. And we will do it without gentrifying seniors and others out of their neighborhoods.