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?
I grew up in Stone Mountain and have been a homeowner in Morningside for 23 years. These deep roots have instilled in me an optimism of what Atlanta can be. While I have volunteered with numerous community organizations over the years, I first ran for office because I wanted to accelerate the progress Atlanta was making toward the collective vision we have for our city. I have continued that work during my two terms on the Atlanta City Council.
I am now running for Atlanta City Council President to bring the leadership we will need going forward, particularly with at least seven out of fifteen new council members and a new mayor. I want to ensure that we continue applying the tight fiscal oversight that I brought to City Council in 2010 that has led us back to solid financial footing so that we don’t make the same bad decisions as the previous council. I also want to “build the team” with the new members as quickly as possible so that we are better prepared for deliberations and are able to stand up against bad initiatives and proposals. Finally, I want to make sure that City Council creates a forum where all stakeholders have a place at the table and that our decisions are balanced across the entire city.
2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponents?
My education and experience, as well as my leadership style and temperament, make me a better candidate than my opponents.
I earned my industrial engineering degree from Georgia Tech and a finance MBA from Wharton Business School. This educational training has equipped me with an eye for efficient deployment of resources (financial, human resources, materials, etc.) and a solid understanding of financial operations of large and complex institutions. My professional career includes working as an investment analyst, running a small family business (engineering consulting), working for an Atlanta non-profit housing and supportive services provider, and my current position as a director at Emory University. I am the only candidate in this race to have work experience in the public (City of Atlanta), private, non-profit, and higher education sectors, and we will need all stakeholders at the table to craft solutions for our complex challenges.
The next City Council will see a significant turnover, with at least seven new members coming on in January. Solid leadership will be critical to getting the new members up to speed and to building a highly functioning team as quickly as possible. During my two terms on City Council, I have built a reputation of being a principled, reasoned, and collaborative council member, and in my committee chairmanships, I have provided fair, deliberative leadership to our proceedings. I have stood my ground against my colleagues and even against the Mayor at the appropriate times, but I have always done so in a respectful way that preserves relationships so that we can continue to work toward solving the problem at hand. Divisive leadership that others bring has only created standstill, and the City deserves better with the challenges that lie ahead.
3) What do you think is Atlanta’s greatest strength?
Atlanta’s strength has always been its diversity and how our leaders have recognized that the solutions we forge together are far stronger and more effective in the long-run. That approach has built a welcoming place and “a city too busy to hate.” and people continue to choose to make Atlanta where they live, work, and play.
As the “city too busy to hate,” Atlanta is seen as a welcoming place of opportunity, and people continue to choose to make Atlanta where they live, work, and play. Atlanta’s ambition and aspirations are borne out this very spirit.
4) What do you think is Atlanta’s biggest challenge?
While I was initially inclined to say transportation/traffic, I now think that Atlanta’s biggest challenge is the growing disparity among different segments of its people. This divide manifests itself in so many ways: (1) quality of education; (2) economic opportunity and mobility; (3) affordability, especially housing; (4) community development; (5) infrastructure; and (6) public safety. Left unaddressed, the resulting social unrest and instability will be even harder to solve.
5) How would you address what you feel is Atlanta’s biggest challenge?
We are finally starting to face the issue of disparity head on, and making sure that this consideration is consciously factored into the decisions and investments we make at the City. We must continue to apply that lens.
More importantly, we must ensure that all stakeholders have a voice in our process and that we truly listen. As City Council President, I will use the vantage point to regularly convene forums and conversations with City Council on these difficult topics, and will ensure that all constituent groups not only have a seat at the table but that City Council is organized in a way to more effectively take in this information in our deliberative process.
6) What are the top two or three things you plan to focus on during your term as an elected official?
First, I will provide leadership for City Council so that it is organized in a way to focus on spending the city’s tax dollars wisely. This will be evident in my committee appointments, as well as those I select as committee chairs. I will also bring back retreats and other forums through which City Council can hear from experts and stakeholders so that we are making more informed decisions. We have spent the last eight years working back from some bad financial decisions by the previous council, including employee pension sweeteners that nearly bankrupted the City. Over the last eight years, I have gained an appreciation of how quickly financial solvency can be undone by the stroke of a mayor’s pen, or through passage of unfunded or unaffordable mandates by council. We cannot afford to let that happen going forward. Plus, with the balance of the Renew Atlanta infrastructure bond funds, the TSPLOST, MARTA and airport capital projects, we have billions of dollars that will be deployed. We need to keep a watchful eye on those dollars, as they are limited and, ultimately, belong to our citizens.
Second, I will continue focusing on the City’s transportation infrastructure, both in terms of how we are maintaining these assets, as well as the investments we are making in new facilities in a thoughtful, deliberate way to address congestion against our growing population. We must continue building out alternative connectivity for pedestrians and cyclists, and we must continue to push MARTA and projects like the Atlanta BeltLine to bring more transit options to our citizens.
Finally, I will make sure that City Council continues to keep equity and closing the disparity gaps at the forefront of our deliberative process in all of Council’s standing committees. Only by making a conscious effort to think through how each legislative action shrinks/worsens the divide will we be able to move in the right direction.
7) What is your opinion of the Atlanta Beltline? Is there anything about the project that you think should be handled differently?
I continue to be a strong supporter of the Atlanta BeltLine, and I am particularly excited about the connectivity – both the East Side and West Side trails and informal paths that have been developed as well as the transit to come in the future.
Where the project has created challenges, however, has been around the failure to deliver the number of affordable housing units that was promised and the impact that the redevelopment has had on our vulnerable residents like seniors and low- and middle-income families that want to stay in their homes. We’ve got to ensure that longtime homeowners are not priced out of their neighborhoods and that teachers, police, firefighters and others whose work is vital to the community can afford to live here.
8) What is your opinion of the Atlanta Streetcar? Is there anything about the project that you think should be handled differently?
Had the Atlanta Streetcar not been funded predominantly through a federal grant, I would be less enthusiastic about the project. My votes on City Council around this initiative have been driven more by the promise that this will ultimately tie in with the future transit on the Atlanta BeltLine.
I think the project should have been in closer partnership with MARTA since its inception, and I am anxious for the City to turn over the project to that agency as soon as possible.
9) What should the city of Atlanta do to reduce traffic congestion in the city?
Traffic congestion is one of the biggest challenges Atlanta faces, and as a complex problem, we must deploy multiple strategies to try and mitigate. These include: (1) Properly maintaining our city’s current transportation infrastructure (roads, sidewalks, bridges, etc.) and expanding those facilities where appropriate; (2) Aggressively seeking and building out transportation facilities for pedestrians and cyclists; (3) Investing in and expanding transit options like MARTA and the Atlanta Streetcar/Atlanta BeltLine; and (4) Focusing development and density around existing transportation/transit nodes.
Funding will always be a constraint, and we are fortunate that the City of Atlanta voters have approved three referenda – Renew Atlanta infrastructure bond, MARTA expansion half-penny sales tax, and the TSPLOST 4/10 penny sales tax – that will provide nearly $3 billion to invest in transportation/transit projects. We will need to keep a watchful fiscal eye over the deployment of those funds, as well as seek leveraging opportunities with private, state, and federal dollars.
10) What should the city do to increase affordable housing options for its residents?
Affordability is a complex challenge, and, consequently, it will require a multi-faceted solution to address. I am glad that City Council has begun having in-depth deliberations about this topic. My plan to increase affordable housing options for our residents is through (1) continuing to develop as many tools as we can and (2) acquiring the resources to implement.
The City currently has a wide array of programs to address affordability, including buyer/renter assistance; financial incentives for developers to include affordable units in a project; requirements for affordable units in projects receiving government funding; and partnering with land bank authorities for land assemblage. I am co-sponsoring legislation currently being considered by Council to prioritize the City’s surplus properties to be used or converted to affordable housing. I also support exploring carefully crafted and location specific inclusionary zoning provisions, as well as non-financial incentives (like expedited permitting, zoning considerations, etc.) for developers to include affordable units in their projects.
Of course, these strategies required resources to implement. I was proud to support the City’s recent issuance of the $40 million Housing Opportunity Bond to fund these initiatives. We must continue seeking federal and state assistance, as well as investments from the philanthropic community going forward.
11) If elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner?
Absolutely. I have been doing so for my two terms on the Atlanta City Council (and throughout my career) and will continue doing so as City Council President.
I have zero ethics charges or rulings from the Ethics Officer, and I am in no way tied to the current federal investigation into alleged bribery for City of Atlanta contracts.
And while City Council continues to deliberate on placing transaction level detail for both City Council and City expenses online, I am the only City Council member who has, in the meantime, taken the initiative and published all of my district expenses since taking office through the following links: