TALK OF THE TOWN: Candidates race for lead in mayoral election

Anya Lomsadze, Managing Editor of News

By Anya Lomsadze

With incumbent Kasim Reed ineligible to run again due to term limitations, candidates to succeed him as Atlanta’s mayor are actively campaigning for the Nov. 7 election.

With a wide ballot of more than 10 candidates, proposed policies on a few key issues will be deciding factors in the election. Candidates will discuss how to spend the $2.5 billion allotted to MARTA bus and rail systems approved on election day in November 2016, as well as the $400 million approved to improve streetscapes and the Atlanta BeltLine.

Concerns about rents and property taxes rising in intown neighborhoods and gentrification are beginning to fill the discourse of campaigns. As large developments pop up and possible significant transportation changes ensue, Atlanta is experiencing immense population growth.

“As mayor, I would have a cabinet with housing and transportation directors focused on maintaining [affordable housing in developing areas],” mayoral candidate Cathy Woolard said. “I would deploy more of our resources to arrive at this goal.”

According to the Atlanta Regional Commission, the city added 7,900 new residents between 2015 and 2016, the largest single-year estimated population increase since the Great Recession. The predictions show that growth will not subdue — by 2040, the metro Atlanta region is expected to add eight million people.

“Expanding the BeltLine has led to a lot of great development, so I’d like to see that go into areas of lower income,” Susan Salvesen, Grady AP U.S. Government teacher, said. “The revitalization that can happen is just so exciting, but they have to keep the housing affordable.”

The City of Atlanta’s deals with contractors for development has been fraught with scandals. As Atlanta city government enters a bribery and money laundering investigation in which a construction company allegedly bribed Atlanta officials with $1 million for a contract, guaranteeing transparency and encouraging public trust for city government will be a challenge for the candidates.

“The next mayor’s priorities will have to fall with community development and ensuring ethical government in City Hall,” Woolard said.

Atlantans are also looking to local leaders to focus on issues that may be cut out of the federal government’s agenda.

“When you have national and state forces working against you, it makes moving forward that much harder,” Woolard said. “That’s going to be the challenge for the next mayor.”

One of the issues that may not be addressed by federal government according to President Donald Trump’s proposed budget is climate change. The responsibility to look after the environment could fall to localities in the coming years.

“I want a candidate who is open to committing to the Compact of Mayors,”  said junior Sarah Slutsker, founder of outdoor club Grady Get Outside.

The Compact is a coalition created by the United Nations between mayors of over 633 global cities that aims to increase visibility in mayors’ commitments to affecting climate change. Incumbent Mayor Reed has committed to the program but has yet to offer up data and set emission reduction plans.

While few candidates have made public appearances for the election, one candidate, former Georgia State Representative Margaret Kaiser, already dropped out in October 2016. Several more city officials are rumored to be considering running. Regardless, many major players in Atlanta politics have begun to actively raise funds.

“I do think the 2016 election has started the excitement where people begin to get politically involved,” Salvesen said. “Having a mayor who meets the needs of the city is vital for the energy of the city, for producing jobs, for making the city a better place. I hope that excitement transfers over to this election.”

Profiles of the Leading Candidates

Cathy Woolard

Woolard became the first openly gay official in Georgia history when she began her term on the Atlanta City council in 1977 and the first woman to serve as president of the council in 2002. She oversaw expansion of the Atlanta airport, championed the BeltLine, and pushed an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. She plans to focus on affordable housing and transportation.

Mary Norwood

Norwood narrowly lost to Kasim Reed in the 2009 mayoral election, and currently serves on the city council. As mayor, her initiatives would focus on sustainable growth, like changing the Zoning Code and updating traffic technology. She plans to make prosecution of repeat law offenders more vigorous, push workforce housing initiatives and help the homeless. She is considered the most conservative of the major candidates.

Vincent Fort

Georgia State Senator Fort was endorsed by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. He sponsored bills against racial profiling, prostitution and hate crimes. Fort has called for decriminalization of marijuana and free tuition at Atlanta city colleges, among other liberal initiatives. He aims to bring Atlanta up to its title of the “Civil Rights Capital of the World,” according to his website.

Peter Aman

Aman served as Atlanta’s Chief Operating Officer, which required him to manage all city departments, under Kasim Reed. According to his campaign website, Aman plans to invest in the police force, support transportation initiatives like the Beltline, MARTA, and bike lanes, bring job training to underserved neighborhoods and create a City of Atlanta education plan in partnership with APS.

Kwanza Hall

Hall represents the Grady area as a member of the Atlanta City Council. Georgia State University and Atlanta Park Pride, among other groups, honored him for his work in improving public safety and advocacy for green space. Hall has not released his full platform or policy plans, but he wants to make Atlanta safer and more affordable, improve quality of life and build stronger communities.

John Eaves

As Chairman of the Fulton County Commission since 2007, Eaves focused on criminal justice reform, improving conditions at the Fulton County Jail, fighting HIV and restructuring Grady Memorial Hospital. Before entering politics, Eaves was the southeast regional director for the Peace Corps. As mayor, he would continue to focus on safety, community building, and transparency.

Michael Sterling

Sterling is the former executive director of the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency and a former Senior Advisor to Mayor Reed. Sterling wants to focus on education, safety and income inequality as mayor. He wants to work with APS to create a universal pre-k program and plans to revitalize troubled neighborhoods with the arts.

Ceasar Mitchell

Mitchell is the current President of the Atlanta City Council. In February, the state ethics board accused him of ethics violations in campaign spending. According to the AJC, Mitchell failed to disclose almost $300,000 in campaign expenditures related to last year’s bid for council president. On the council, he has supported legislation for public safety, education and economic revitalization of underdeveloped areas.