A candidate for the District 3 Atlanta City Council special election is appealing the city’s decision to disqualify him from the race due to a residency challenge. The election, set for March 19, is needed to fill the seat after Councilman Ivory Lee Young Jr., 56, died of cancer in November.
Matthew Charles Cardinale, one of nine candidates in the campaign, was disqualified Feb. 13 following a residency challenge hearing. After filing today for an emergency appeal and stay from Fulton County Superior Court, he will have his emergency hearing Friday at 2 p.m. in front of Judge Kelly Lee Ellerbe in Courtroom 8B. He wanted to have the hearing before early voting starts Monday so he can remain on the ballot.
Cardinale was disqualified by Atlanta Municipal Clerk Foris Webb III, who oversees the city’s elections. Webb argued the Atlantic Station apartment on 16th Street Cardinale lived in for a month was considered a temporary residence and not a permanent one because it was rented through the website Airbnb.
“My decision is also based on the inherently temporary nature of obtaining housing through a service such as Airbnb. Unlike hotels, Airbnb bookings are not generally considered to be of a continuous nature based on the guests desire to remain and ability to pay. It is my opinion that a rental through Airbnb is short-term and not indefinite or continuous,” Webb wrote in his decision.
Cardinale said he meets the requirements of living in the district for at least a year prior to qualifying (Jan. 23, 2018), but did not reside in the same home the entire time.
From Jan. 14 to Feb. 14, 2018 (31 days), he lived in the Airbnb-rented apartment. Since Feb. 14, 2018, Cardinale has lived in District 3’s Hunter Hills community on Bernard Street. When the two residencies are added together, they total just over a year in the district, he said.
Cardinale, a longtime activist for more transparency from Atlanta who has sued the city, said his disqualification was “politically motivated.”
“I am more convinced than ever that this is politically motivated because they know (if elected) I’m going to stand up for the rights of average people to have a voice at City Hall,” he said. “I’m going to continue to stand up to developers and I’m going to stand up to the law department when I think the Constitution is being violated. They would prefer to not have me on the city council.
“When I look at (Webb’s) decision letter, in which he ignored any authority or exhibit that was favorable to me and yet considered other things that were never even entered onto the record to reach his opinion, it’s obvious the deck was stacked.”
Webb did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment and a full copy of his decision letter. Cardinale said his Airbnb-rented apartment should count as part of his residency for two other reasons, in addition to the one already mentioned.
“(Webb) wrote in his personal opinion that Airbnb-rented homes were lower than the hotels and motels (on the residency ladder), even though Airbnbs are regulated under the Atlanta hotel occupancy regime,” he said. “The municipal clerk is not entitled to create his own law and legal authority. … The second issue of law relates to a statutory clause that requires ‘no present intention of removing therefrom.’ That is under OCGA 21-2-217 Section A1.
“He argues that during the 31 days I lived at the Airbnb, my intention was not to stay there forever to but to move into a house ultimately at some point in the future, which I did. I moved into the house I currently own. That is a misreading of the statute for three reasons: one, the plain language doesn’t support his interpretation. It says present intention of moving therefrom, not future intention."
Cardinale's second argument has to do with Williams v. Williams, a Georgia Supreme Court case from 1970. It states, “(I)f a person changes his domicile without any present intention of removing therefrom, it is none the less (sic) his domicile, although he may entertain a floating intention to return, or to move somewhere else at some future period.” That ruling means Cardinale’s Airbnb residence should count as a permanent one, he said.
“The Georgia courts have already said present means present, not future intent,” Cardinale said. “Finally, to construe the residency requirement to lead to future intent would lead to impossible and absurd results for all Georgians because nothing is permanent in this life.”
He also argued individuals also live in hotels and motels as their permanent residences, including President Donald Trump, who owns a home at New York's Trump Tower, which has hotel rooms and condominiums.