Five of the 15 candidates for Atlanta mayor discussed rising crime rates, Buckhead cityhood and supporting Atlanta’s youth during a mayoral forum early Oct. 14.
Presented by Livable Buckhead and the Buckhead Business Association, the forum hosted Andre Dickens, Sharon Gay, Rebecca King, Felicia Moore and Kasim Reed. Antonio Brown was also invited, but did not attend. During the forum, residents were able to pose questions to the candidates and hear their stances on issues affecting both Buckhead and the entire city of Atlanta.
Rising Crime Rates
The rise in violent, random crime has become one of the main conversations surrounding the Nov. 2 general election. According to a Sept. 30 Atlanta Police Department crime report, Zone 2 — Buckhead, West Midtown, Lenox Park and Piedmont Heights — saw a 46% increase in aggravated assaults since last September. Auto larcenies and theft have also increased 16%.
“It’s happening all over the city different times of day...you know, in places you’ve never seen it before,” Gay said. “What we need to have is different solutions. We need to support our police, have their back, let them know that we’ll follow due process, give them the right training and equipment to do the jobs that we need them to do in the 21st century, partner with the county to make in the courts to make sure that we keep violent criminals in jail.”
Each candidate told residents they would hire additional police officers, work with the court systems to keep violent offenders in jail, and encourage community policing.
“We need to be out in our communities, helping each other and paying attention to what’s going on,” King said. “Our pre-arrest diversion program needs to be expanded. Our court systems need to keep our violent offenders in jail, and also for that recidivism or lower level crimes, we need to understand what is causing that to happen and give that wraparound services to people so that they don’t end up back in jail again.”
Former mayor Reed also proposed partnering with the Atlanta Police Foundation to build a police department of 750 officers, as well as partnering with the colonel of the Georgia State Patrol.
All candidates present said they oppose Buckhead cityhood, many of them saying Atlanta is stronger together and calling the call for cityhood a “proposed divorce.”
“This proposed divorce between Buckhead is unnecessarily expensive one for both spouses and the children will suffer most and that’s the Atlanta Public Schools with a $200 million deficit they will have,” Dickens said. “We will make sure that Buckhead feels heard...you will see us and we will be able to deliver what is necessary for the city to stay together.”
If elected, Dickson said he plans to immediately enact his Safe Space Plan, start hiring officers, put the chief of police on a hundred day contact and begin policing by 21st Century Policing models.
Gay also spoke to Buckhead residents, saying, “Anybody who’s thinking about Buckhead cityhood — I hear you, your concerns are valid, they’re serious, they deserve to be taken seriously and you deserve action.”
Reed also said he thinks Buckhead residents are sick of talking and want to see action.
“What I would do is in 180 days, I would reduce crime and violence,” Reed said. “Until you reduce crime and violence, I don’t think we’re going to have meaningful conversations about the rest. I’d also assure the people of Buckhead, that I would not raise their taxes to do it. During the eight years I was mayor, I never raised your taxes and I never raised your water rates.”
Moore also reiterated the importance of a united Atlanta.
“I believe in a unified Atlanta,” Moore said. “I don’t support a City of Buckhead no more than I would support cutting off my leg or my arm or any part of my body. At this point, it will debilitate on you, and we have to work together. The issues that are raised by those who want to leave are valid and they’re the issues that you can hear across the city.”
Investing in Atlanta Youth
Candidates also brought up ways they plan to support Atlanta youth. According to Dickens, youth raised in poverty in Atlanta only have a 4% chance of escaping poverty to get to the upper middle class.
King, Gay and Moore all said the city needs to talk to the kids and see what programs they want and what kind of help they need.
“We need to first open up our schools, open up our centers and provide them with mentors because we have been lacking that,” King said. “(We need) to ask what they’re interested in, and making sure that they have a lot of programs. I think a lot of times too with programming, what happens is that we don’t ask what they are interested in.”
Dickens, Reed and Moore also spoke about investing financially in the youth. Dickens proposed using data to drive students success through training and entrepreneurship programs. Reed proposed partnering with the YMCA and Atlanta Boys and Girls Clubs and providing teens the chance to work for $15 an hour during summer programs. Kids want to make money, Moore said.
“You’re either now going to invest or we are going to have the return of more of them finding themselves in the criminal justice system,” she said. “What I want us to do is make sure we’re heavily invested in the family and the kids, so that we have productive citizens of our city.”
“You need to figure out what these children need, what these young people need and make sure we use the full resources of our city, public and private, to provide those resources so that those children will have a decent chance of getting to age 18, healthy, happy, productive and on the way to success,” Gay said.
Georgia early voting runs from Oct. 12 through Oct. 29. The 2021 Atlanta Municipal General Election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 2, at all the regular precincts and polling places within the city of Sandy Springs. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. If necessary, a run-off election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 30.