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?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been civically engaged. As the son of two civil servants, both of whom taught me the importance of civic engagement from a young age, I have always been involved in the family business, so to speak. That upbringing and passion for service has never left me. It’s what drew me to get involved as a leader with numerous non-profits. It’s what led me to call then Mayor-elect Shirley Franklin years ago and offer my services as a pro bono consultant. It’s what drove me forward as Chief Operative Officer of Atlanta. It is what drives me now to want to serve citizens of Atlanta.
I am running for mayor because I know there is so much more we can do to advance Atlanta together. I believe in this city. I believe we are, as author Mark Pendergrast puts it, a city on the verge. On the verge of becoming a magnanimous metropolis, or an urban quagmire. We’re confronting great challenges, yet, they can also be great opportunities if handled well. It’s up to us to decide who has the right vision and the right capabilities to advance Atlanta right now. I believe I possess both.
2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponents?
The next mayor must be a Convener-in-Chief, someone with a demonstrated track record of ethics, leadership, and vision. I am the only candidate with the track record required to tackle challenges which will define the next generation for Atlanta.
There will be unique challenges facing the next mayor of Atlanta. The next mayor must be prepared to enter office at a critical juncture, and get right to work. The city will be re- zoned, and billions in tax referenda dollars are coming online just as the population is booming. We must be able to harness these opportunities skillfully and strategically, allowing ourselves to remain competitive in the global economy, while ensuring we continue to be a livable, welcoming city against the backdrop of increased pressures on our infrastructure. Having worked with two of the mayors, I know the ins and outs of government, and I know how the city works.
From 2001 to 2004, as a private citizen and partner at Bain & Company, a global consulting firm, I led a team of pro-bono consultants to Mayor Shirley Franklin, helping solve some of the city’s greatest challenges. We helped Mayor Franklin address a 20 percent budget gap and put the city on a path to begin tackling its infrastructure backlog. From 2005 to 2009, and again from 2012 to 2015, I continued this pro bono support by working with the city and the Atlanta Committee for Progress. From 2010 to 2011, I served as Mayor Reed’s Chief Operating Officer, where I managed almost all of the about 8,000 employees – a key distinction from the rest of the mayoral field – and the day-to-day business of the city. As COO, I led from the front lines. For example, by personally going to 9-1-1 calls, I found ways to improve customer service to people in need, and found areas where the city needed to better support our first responders. That is the type of hands-on leadership I will provide as mayor.
They type of leader Atlanta needs is now is very important. As we move into the next chapter for the city, Atlanta needs a consensus builder to lead her over the verge and into the realm of what is optimal and what is possible. Success will only be possible if the next mayor uses a collaborative leadership approach. The city must partner with agencies like the Atlanta Public School System and MARTA, as well as the surrounding counties, and the state, to be the shining city on a hill and economic engine to this region. To connect all of these partners, we need an experienced, ethical hand at the wheel who is able to work with Democrats and Republicans; corporate America and concerned citizens; philanthropists and activists. We need someone who is intimately familiar with the four areas that dovetail together to make Atlanta the city we know and love: the public and private sectors, the civic community, and the neighborhoods.
I understand the private sector as evidenced by the nearly 30 years I spent as a business leader helping some of the world’s largest and most complex companies improve. And I am no stranger to the non-profit world either. I have served as a founding board member of the Atlanta Police Foundation and the Westside Future Fund, as well as the founding board chair for Partners for H.O.M.E. – a non-profit coordinating support services for the homeless in the city. Other non-profit organizations I have helped lead include the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and the Woodruff Arts Center, among others. I also conceived of and helped Mayor Franklin create the Atlanta Committee for Progress.
I believe that I have the strongest capabilities for the job, and my resume proves it.
3) What do you think is Atlanta’s greatest strength?
Its sense of civic responsibility and engagement.
Atlanta has everything it needs to rise to meet its greatest challenges. We have community leaders who are steadfast in their dedication to neighborhood preservation. There is an amazing wealth of non-profits working all across the city with the best minds at their disposal. We also possess a group of private sector leaders who are civic- minded and heavily engaged in achieving positive change. The list goes on.
The only problem is that too often these different parties work in siloes or at cross- purposes. As mayor, I will define the problems confronting us not only over the next four or eight years, but the next generation. Then I will move forward engaging all these parties towards a common purpose of advancing Atlanta together.
4) What do you think is Atlanta’s biggest challenge?
Atlanta has two big challenges, I believe, that in many ways overlap. One is our wealth immobility. Those born into poverty in Atlanta have a four percent chance of escaping it in their lifetimes. That is unacceptable. The second is our inability to effectively balance inclusion and growth. I believe in vibrant growth. I believe that the people who built this city should get to share in its prosperity. And I don’t think either needs to be mutually exclusive.
5) How would you address what you feel is Atlanta’s biggest challenge?
Three things. First, the city is set for its first comprehensive re-zoning in decades. That gives us a chance to have a citywide conversation around where and how we want to grow. We should grow with intention; the intention to bring more opportunity into impoverished areas and the intention of making it more desirable to live and work intown.
Second, our population is set to boom. Estimates say we are looking at a doubling if not tripling of the population by 2046. We have to design a future where people find it preferable to move into the city rather than bringing further density to the suburbs. This takes pressure of our transportation infrastructure. It expands our tax base. It gives us a larger budget to confront our core challenges. It makes this an even more dynamic place to call home.
Third, we have roughly $14 billion in referenda dollars coming on line ($3 billion coming from a federal match). That’s the largest sum any mayor has had to spend in recent memory. That’s invaluable money for greenspace, sidewalks, bike lanes and things that make it easier and more enjoyable to live in the heart of Atlanta. That’s invaluable money to improve our transit system in a way that connects every corner of our city, providing a higher quality of life and equity for all.
6) What are the top two or three things you plan to focus on during your term as an elected official?
This is a difficult question as there are more than two or three things at the “top” of my list. I will start by saying that ethics is the bedrock of my platform. You deserve a government that you can trust. As mayor, you can trust me. I will deliver. I have done it.
I will highlight just a few elements of my platform, notable for being distinct from my opponents.
Safety. If you cannot keep your citizens safe, not much else you do as mayor matters. Among other things, I’m offering a compact to our police force. There is a concrete list of things I expect from them, and in exchange, there is much that I will deliver.
In terms of what I expect, we need community-based, compassionate policing where the force is as diverse as the neighborhoods they patrol and sensitive to their concerns. We will train our officers in implicit bias and systemic racism. It will be a force trained to treat everyone with the respect they deserve, both those they patrol and those in blue. I also expect results. We will further lower Atlanta’s crime statistics. There will be fewer instances of LGBTQIA+ hate crimes, fewer car break-ins, and more tangible results in combatting our sex trafficking epidemic.
In exchange, as mayor, I would offer our force benchmarked pay increases that match those seen in the surrounding counties. We will ensure that vehicles and in-car equipment are in working order. We will also look into expanding the “take home” car program. The length of time it takes to complete internal investigations will be limited. And we will expand the down payment assistance program so that the goal of having more officers living in the communities they serve is achievable.
Education. I want to be the “education mayor.” I want to make real, tangible strides on education. I am so committed that I am willing to stake a second term on my ability to make it happen.
We don’t do enough in this city to support early childhood education. I will use the mayor’s office as a “pulpit of hope” to work with the philanthropic and private sectors, and the state, to fund early childhood development – particularly for children under the age of four. I believe by providing support to families of young children, we set those students up to succeed when it’s time for Kindergarten. My end goal is to deliver means-tested access to a quality education for every child that needs and wants it.
On K-12, I will be an active partner with APS. The Superintendent and I will communicate on a regular basis about ways the city can deliver wraparound services to improve things for families and students in and around the classroom. There will be a space on my cabinet for a delegate from APS, just as I hope a liaison from the mayor’s office will be able to sit in on their meetings. We can improve our public schools together. And as we continue to improve our schools, we continue to advance Atlanta together.
As a measure of good faith to that end, on day one, I will hand-deliver the 50 APS property deeds the city currently holds as a way to kick off a positive, productive, trust- based relationship.
Last, I want to vastly improve our job-training and workforce development programs. Some of this is will involve working with APS to foster vocational training curricula and apprenticeship programs starting in middle school. But looking beyond that, we need to take successful non-profit models such as Westside Works and scale them by five to ten times. We know how to foster quality training programs in Atlanta, we just don’t have enough of them.
There are many other crucial areas such as housing, economic growth, and transportation infrastructure, but I speak about a lot of that later in this document. For the sake of brevity, I will stop here.
7) What is your opinion of the Atlanta Beltline? Is there anything about the project that you think should be handled differently?
The Beltline is now much more than one man’s Master’s thesis. It is not the domain of any one person or institution. The Beltline is a promise. It is a promise to the people of Atlanta that we all share. It is a promise to those who saw the vision and realized its potential; and to those who stood up and spoke out to realize a dream. It is a promise to deliver a brighter city, one characterized by equity, improved quality of life, greater mobility, affordable housing, safe spaces for our children, public art, public gathering spaces, reduced blight, and connections that will stitch back together communities torn apart. It is Atlanta’s promised future.
As promises go, it’s an audacious one. But rest assured, I will make sure the city keeps its promise. Here are the core areas around which I believe we must unite:
Housing. The people of Atlanta were promised 5,400 affordable units. We are not on pace to deliver. Restoring faith in the fact that we will come through is central to restoring faith in the entire project. I will more than double the number of units currently being built year-over-year. These units will be sensitive to the particulars of various neighborhoods and subject to community feedback along the way.
We will look into partnering opportunities around financial mechanisms such as the anti- displacement tax fund program. Because of a number of factors, the quantity of bond issuances for housing has been lower than expected. As a result, there is a signficant budget gap that we need to fill. We need a coalition builder who understands how to work with the private and civic sectors to do that. I am that candidate.
Connectivity. Bringing everyone together is at the heart of the Beltline’s mission. We must complete the Westside trail’s southern half and begin work on the Southeast trail. We should expand the Streetcar to achieve east-west connectivity. And we must better connect people to the project by investing more heavily in the planning, development, and maintenance of public art, greenspace, safety, and the general infrastructure along the trail.
There are two more specific items I would point out as an extension. We must complete negotiations with CSX, Norfolk Southern, and others if we are to acquire the right-of- way and operating rights needed to complete the project. That’s going to take someone sensitive to broad-based negotiations – a skill set I possess. And we must ensure we are making the most of the Westside Reservoir Park by opening up the Bellwood Reservoir for recreational use.
Ambition. Atlanta’s sense of pride and shared identity flows through our ability to imagine and accomplish. The Beltline gives us the chance to realize projects on a dramatic scale. The Westside Reservoir Park is underway. We must make the improvements listed above. We must work towards fulfilling promises already made. But that does not mean we cannot make new ones. That does not mean the Beltline should cease being the place where audacious ideas are welcomed and celebrated. The next big idea or the next thesis is likely on the horizon.
8) What is your opinion of the Atlanta Streetcar? Is there anything about the project that you think should be handled differently?
The 2.7-mile downtown loop that currently exists is insufficient. Its brevity is capping the expansive possibilities of a fully-realized system.
Light rail offers numerous benefits relative to alternative modes. These include the potential for reduced road congestion, high passenger density, lower emissions, and ease of use relative to heavy rail. Further, net benefits should only increase as more routes are created, more track laid. As the Beltline expansion presses forward, these benefits will become clearer. As mayor, I will support growth of light-rail-transit on the Beltline and other areas (e.g. on a dedicated right-of-way to Emory) to better connect our transit infrastructure and improve the connectivity of the Atlanta Streetcar.
Notably, I am open to the possibility of a public-private partnership to help complete the design, build, and maintenance of the Streetcar and Atlanta Beltline. Current estimates put us at about 15 years from completion. If we execute an effective public-private agreement, that number could be cut nearly in half.
9) What should the city of Atlanta do to reduce traffic congestion in the city?
I will answer this question in four stages. The first, and easiest answer, is to see out the RENEW Atlanta bond in addition to finding more funding so that we can build new sidewalks, fix potholes, and do better at growing and maintaining our core infrastructure.
Next, we should put the entire city on a single traffic grid to streamline our roads. At the same time, we must increase the number of buses and bus routes. Doing so should have an immediate impact on ridership and by extension reduce the number of vehicles on the road.
Looking longer term, we must expand our light and heavy rail lines. We must also build towards an even greater goal, heavy rail that brings the entire metro area together and better connects the region to the city. Doing so will help us accommodate population growth projections and mitigate traffic and congestion.
Finally, getting away from direct transportation solutions, I want to reference the importance of livability in this conversation. We should make it more attractive and practical to live in town. This way commutes are shorter, alternate modes become more practical, and we can start to push back on the troubling disparity between the number of people living inside and outside the perimeter.
10) What should the city do to increase affordable housing options for its residents?
The city’s two greatest challenges I referenced in question four cannot be adequately met without a comprehensive affordable housing strategy.
Before getting into the particulars, I believe it is critical that we move from years of empty words to concrete actions. We can begin by convening stakeholders and outlining an explicit strategy that we will hold one another accountable to. Invest Atlanta, MARTA, APS, AHA, and many more will be involved in this effort.
On specifics, we have to cover all levels of Area Median Income. I will prioritize programs that preserve ownership in some form such as zoning ordinances, and land trusts for those in higher relative income brackets. But ultimately, the portfolio needs to be more diverse as conditions dictate. At lower income levels, we need the kind of tax abatements and subsidies that you see in the Housing Opportunity Bond. We must also recognize that homelessness is a housing issue. We cannot make homelessness rare and brief unless we invest more in supportive housing where individuals can find stability and then get access to the services they need to achieve the best possible outcome for them.
It’s also important to get away from AMI as an exclusive construct for looking at this issue. These are people, not just income brackets. They should be treated as such. The people that protect Atlanta should have the support they need to be able to live here.
Our seniors deserve community-based affordable solutions where they can age at home and be well in-placed to be re-invigorated as vital members of their neighborhoods. That’s not exclusive to one AMI or another, but it is the right thing to do.
11) If elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner?
My history and commitment to ethics offers proof that as mayor I will restore trust in government. When I was the city’s Chief Operating Officer, I became aware of individuals who were trying to skirt the procurement code so they could avoid bidding contacts. Once I confirmed the information, I terminated those involved, gave the whistleblower their job back, issued a statement condemning those who would ignore city code. Prior to that, in my time in the private sector, I spent seven years building my firm’s global ethics policy and compliance program and received the company’s highest award for doing so. As mayor, I will continue in this spirit and do what I have always done: I will act and lead ethically to restore faith in City Hall. There are a few ways how:
We must foster a culture where right from wrong is clearly delineated. I promise to personally train all 8,000 of the city’s employees on updated ethics procedures in my
first year in office. I will expect employees to let me or a manager know if something out of line is going on. Those that see something and don’t report it will be held accountable. Through use of tools like smartphones, an “open door” policy in the mayor’s office, and random third-party surveys, we will give city employees every opportunity to speak out.
The second priority is to make it easier and fairer to do business with the city. If you’ve been getting contracts because you do the best job, you will have every opportunity to keep doing so. If you have been missing out solely because it’s too costly or complicated to do business with City Hall, you will have greater opportunities when I am mayor. This includes small, minority-owned, and disadvantaged businesses who will be supported by the continuation and improvement of Atlanta’s Equal Business Opportunity and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise policies and programs. The only bidders that will lose out are those that have been getting by on relationships and not merit.
I have some ideas as to how we realize these objectives. For example, we should explore the option of awarding contracts by lottery when all other terms such as costs and services are tied. I plan to partner with the counties and other city agencies to form a coalition to simplify and streamline regulations and perform joint purchasing where possible. This way, regulations are easier to understand and less of an overwhelming expense for small businesses and the pool of buyers and sellers with common contracts will be larger. And new Requests for Proposals of whatever sort, including property sales, will be readily available to any who sign up for alerts.
The other priority is transparency. Under my administration, all emergency procurements will face stringent audits. Costs may be higher in these situations and safety is the first concern, but that doesn’t mean we can’t monitor them closely and hold people accountable.
All payments made by the city will be posted online and searchable. Analytic tools will be developed that anyone can use to help spot problems. I will expand the amount of other information, such as contracts, City Hall makes open to the public. I will make it easier to search items online. We will also explore recording and making available audio recordings of bid-related meetings between vendors and city officials, as is done in other cities.