In an effort to help voters prepare for the Nov. 7 elections, Atlanta Loop sent questions to candidates running for Atlanta City Council, Atlanta Mayor and Atlanta School Board. Early voting begins Oct. 16. To see district maps, click here.
1) Why are you running for office in the city of Atlanta?
In 2013, I began working on transit expansion at the Georgia Sierra Club, the nation’s largest grassroots environmental organization. My proudest moment was the successful effort to expand MARTA to Clayton County. On July 5th, 2014 I sat in the Clayton County Board of Commissioners building along with hundreds of other people waiting to see if the county’s leaders would vote to put MARTA on the ballot. When the commission finally voted in favor of MARTA, everyone in the room celebrated. I had tears in my eyes because I knew this would help make everyone’s lives better. Expanded transit meant access to better schools, jobs, healthcare, recreation, food, housing and more. In that moment, people felt empowered, like they finally had control over their lives and their community. I decided then that I want to spend every day working to empower people and to help them live the kind of lives they want and deserve.
I started my family right here in southwest Atlanta because it is a beautiful community with wonderful people and a great legacy. Yet, parts of the district have been neglected. Many of us feel unheard and left behind. That is changing now and investment is on its way. If we want our community to thrive again we must make sure everyone is a part of shaping our vision for a better southwest Atlanta, and that everyone is positioned for success. As a wife, mother of a two year old, activist and community organizer with a record of success, I know what it will take to lead our district in this time of transition.
2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponents?
I am a mother, wife, activist, environmentalist, community organizer, millennial, advocate for people, and a supporter of transit, bikes and sidewalks. I am a movement builder who believes that everyone should have access to opportunities to improve their lives for the better.
I am currently the Assistant Director at the Georgia Sierra Club, the nation’s largest grassroots environmental organization. I have trained and engaged with the public on how to get our elected leaders to act on issues that are important to us. A big issue in Atlanta right now is the need to restore trust between the city and all of its residents. As a city council representative, I will prioritize being available to my constituents. I will make sure to stay informed and keep everyone involved, because I know the best ideas come from the people.
I earned my degree in Public Policy from Georgia State University and have spent the past several years working on transit expansion. This has been a crash-course in all of the major power dynamics facing the city. This work requires and in-depth understanding of how the state, federal and local regional governments work with one another to solve major problems. I have engaged in lobbying and relationship building in the state legislature, city and county governments.
Finally, over the years, I have served as a volunteer in the 411 call center at the United Way, ensuring that people got the help from various nonprofits and government programs that they were looking for. I also served as a volunteer for Operation Hope, working to teach financial dignity to our children and our community members. In 2012, I worked at the Atlanta Regional Commission on water conservation. From there, I joined Southface, a nonprofit focused on improving energy and water efficiency in buildings. There I played a role in training and certifying workers in high quality green jobs.
3) What do you think is Atlanta’s greatest strength?
Our people. Hands down. They are leading and innovating on all the major challenges facing the city. One prominent example of this is the Atlanta Beltline. This project is attracting tons of growth for our city. A graduate student created and championed the vision for this project.
4) What do you think is Atlanta’s biggest challenge?
I applaud the growth the city has experienced over the past several years. Major redevelopment projects like the Atlanta Beltline, the Atlanta Underground, both Turner Field and the Georgia Dome are underway. They are taking Atlanta one step further to becoming the thriving, world-class city we have strived to become. The investments will pay off by attracting higher income residents and business activity to the region’s core.
However, as we grow, I want to make sure that everyone is positioned for success. Some of our major redevelopment initiatives are contributing to a growing affordable housing crisis that is leading to a loss of many of the city’s African American residents. It is also putting pressure on lower-income households and young people. This presents a problem in several ways:
1) The city’s legacy is its civil rights heritage. Many people like myself have specifically moved to Atlanta because of the promise of success and opportunity it had for people of color that is not present in other cities. As we grow, we are systematically erasing that history, letting go of important cultural markers, buildings, and people in the name of development. The importance of a city’s cultural heritage to its ability to thrive cannot be understated and is well documented. I believe there is a way to be more intentional and proactive with how we preserve our history, while also preserving affordability and promoting growth.
2) Startup culture is changing the American economy. Atlanta should be an incubator for young professionals, the growing tech industry and for entrepreneurs; many of whom moved here because they believed Atlanta was still a place where someone could make an impact. As we make our city less and less accessible to people with lower incomes, we lose the intellectual capital they can bring when they locate to more affordable cities within and outside of the metro Atlanta area.
3) Low-income people are displaced through increased rent and property taxes, forcing them to locate to counties like Cobb, Gwinnett, and Clayton, where suburban poverty is becoming an epidemic. These people do not have access to the same services available in the city, including transit, higher education, and vital nonprofit services. This exacerbates income inequality in the region and perpetuates our transportation woes as workers commute into the city for jobs. Atlanta’s fate is tied to the region’s success. We cannot do this alone.
4) Finally, but not all, development is infringing on Atlanta’s tree canopy, and putting a strain on our water resources (the Chattahoochee). I am happy city officials have taken steps to address these items, investing millions in green infrastructure projects like the Bellwood Quarry expansion, and putting a moratorium on tree removal for projects with larger acreage. Still, we can be more assertive in protecting these resources.
5) How would you address what you feel is Atlanta’s biggest challenge?
To address these major dynamics, I am committed to Dr. King’s philosophy of building the Beloved Community. I want to make sure everyone has a quality home and jobs with high wages. I want safe communities with great schools and childcare for our kids to learn and grow in. Our neighborhoods should be clean, healthy, and easy to move around. I will work to make sure our businesses are thriving, and that our streets and parks are taken care of. To achieve this, I will make sure that everyone is informed and involved. See more detail in question six.
6) What are the top two or three things you plan to focus on during your term as an elected official?
I. Keeping People Informed and Involved
Do you believe our city’s leaders are working for you? Do you trust them to do the right thing? For too many people in Atlanta the answer is no. We need to restore trust between the city and all of its residents. As your city council representative, I will prioritize being available to you. I will make sure to stay informed and keep you involved, because I know the best ideas come from the people. Let me work with you and for you. This means:
● I will always be open and honest about what I know
● I will have a responsive office that will partner with you
● Giving you more opportunities to choose the kind of growth you want
● Listening to your concerns about the budget
II. Improving Our Neighborhoods
I want Southwest Atlanta to thrive again, even better than before. Many of my neighbors have reminisced about the old days when a person could buy everything they needed and get everything done right on Campbellton and Cascade Roads. I commit to bringing our communities back to life. Our neighborhoods should be clean, healthy, and easy to move around. I will work to make sure our streets and parks are taken care of and our businesses are thriving. This means:
● Ending blight in our communities
● Fixing our roads and sidewalks, and improving bike lanes and transit access
● Attracting more major and small businesses to Cascade Road, Campbellton Road, Greenbriar Mall and more
● Cleaning up the trash and stopping the dumping in our community
● Building healthier communities and advancing sustainability
III. A City that Works for Everyone
As your city council representative, I will continue to advance Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community. I want our seniors, veterans, young people, low-income people and everyone else to be taken care of. Everyone deserves a quality home and jobs with higher wages. I will work to make our community safer, and to ensure we have great schools and childcare so our kids can learn and grow.
● Fighting crime through prevention and investing in our police force
● Expanding our affordable housing policies to make sure our seniors, veterans, and low-income people can stay in their homes
● Strengthening the city’s relationship with Atlanta Public Schools and investing in early childhood education
● Providing job training through partnerships
● Improving access to healthcare
7) What is your opinion of the Atlanta Beltline? Is there anything about the project that you think should be handled differently?
I think it’s a great project that has been a much needed catalyst for revitalizing our city. BUT it has suffered because they failed to prioritize community involvement and affordable housing. As a result, people feel like it is being used as tool to displace people and redefine neighborhoods. It is happening to them, not with them.
Case in point: The decision to place photos of black men in prison with dogs right next to a high school on the city’s westside. It was insensitive and disrespectful. Any person from the community would have offered the feedback that the portrayal of black men in prison reinforces a stereotype and is not appropriate for “art”, especially that young people would see.
The Beltline must increase its presence at NPU meetings and community/neighborhood association meetings. I’ve seen that a few people were hired specifically for community outreach. This is a step in the right direction. More than just being present and telling people what is happening, people need to be consulted and their feedback included before major projects are taken on. That includes everything from trail expansions and art installations. The people in charge of meeting the affordable housing goals must be more intentional about making sure that new development along the beltline have a plan for affordable housing, especially those taking incentives from Invest Atlanta or any of the Beltline funds. Permits should be dependent on the plan. Additionally, the home ownership incentives need to be intentionally marketed to low income communities and communities of color. For example, public meetings about these programs need to take place at Greenbriar mall or any of our local recreation centers rather than at their office downtown. Finally, intentional outreach to homeowners within the Beltline overlay or nearby is needed to help people know the worth of their homes and stop them from being taken advantage of by developers.
8) What is your opinion of the Atlanta Streetcar? Is there anything about the project that you think should be handled differently?
It is one piece of a larger plan to solve our transportation problems. It isn’t supposed to solve all of our problems. That said, it should have never been allowed to mix with car traffic, which slows it down and makes it unreliable. Signal prioritization would have been helpful as well but even that wasn’t done. Now that the operations have been turned over to MARTA and many of the federal problems it was cited for have been addressed, I think the project is moving in the right direction.
I believe we should use a portion of the MARTA expansion funds to make the Atlanta Streetcar work by connecting it to the proposed Atlanta Beltline light rail loop. Then, adding MARTA infill stations that connect the existing heavy rail system to the Beltline loop will do a lot to improve mobility in the city.
9) What should the city of Atlanta do to reduce traffic congestion in the city?
See my response above. In addition to those activities, the Clifton Corridor and Campbellton Rd light rail projects would be smart as well. These would do a lot to move the transit dependent working population in the southwest part of the city to the job centers in the northeast. MARTA and the city should also work together on a better plan for community engagement; too many people who rely on transit did not know about the MARTA Listening sessions or the Atlanta Transportation Plan. As daily users of the system, they know what the greatest challenges are to using the system and their input matters as much as, if not more than people who are choice riders.
MARTA and the city should work together to continue improving bus service, specifically making stops more accessible (sidewalks, road repair, ADA) and easy to use (improved signage with schedules, trash clean up, benches). The city should also consider formally partnering with the MARTA Army, a group of committed citizens who are already doing some of this work to make the system more user friendly. To be clear, this means committing some funds to the help the group operate or provide improved infrastructure at the stops.
10) What should the city do to increase affordable housing options for its residents?
Ensuring that all people can afford to live in our city and take part in its continued success helps to diminish the income gap, deconcentrate poverty, and reduce traffic congestion. We must expand the Inclusionary Zoning ordinance passed earlier this year to include people making less than $40,000, and require it for any developer taking incentives from the city. We also need to explore more incentives to developers for including affordable housing, for example reducing the amount of parking they have to build. We can also commit to issuing the Housing Opportunity Bond each year to provide an ongoing source of funding for affordable housing. Finally, we should continue to experiment with tiny houses to see how they can be a part of the solution.
11) If elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: As a grassroots community organizer, I fully support citizen engagement and activism. The more engaged citizens are in local government, the more equitable the outcomes. As a city council representative, I will prioritize being available to my constituents. I will make sure to stay informed and keep everyone involved, because I know the best ideas come from the people