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?
As a native Atlantan, I have seen our City grow in ways unimaginable a couple decades before. Yet, our decision-making and policy-making has not kept up with people’s aspirations or the needs of the City. Whether it’s poor investment in transit infrastructure or lack of attention to the basics like sidewalks and city services, or a belated response to the need for affordable housing or persistent public safety challenges, we tend to chase problems rather than getting out in front of them when we can.
District 2 is the heart of Atlanta: geographically, economically, historically, and culturally. It is also our front door to the world. Our neighborhoods in the District have enormous opportunity to be a model for America when it comes to mobility, inclusion, great design, and economic vibrancy. To represent this District and problem solve with our many, disparate stakeholders for a more livable, safer, connected City would be an enormous responsibility and honor. We have the opportunity to be remarkable. That’s why I’m running.
2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponents?
A few things, all in service of being effective at getting things done for our District:
1. I think I stand alone in the field in having, through leadership in the non-profit and private sectors, the track record of navigating and convening a variety of stakeholders to get things done. District 2 is enormously complex: established neighborhoods, rapidly changing neighborhoods, our central business district, our most iconic cultural institutions, universities, the Beltline, density, poverty, wealth, MARTA, premier park space,…the list goes on. To represent it well will require an ability to navigate all of these stakeholders in a collaborative manner. It’s easy to be aggressive with rhetoric. It’s far more difficult and more important to be effective with solutions.
2. I have experience, through building an organization and then running a $32 million organization, making tough decisions while still in service of the greater good. Doing so requires vision, diplomacy, resourcefulness, and collaboration. My track record and skill set set me apart in this way and position me to effective at making hard decision when it may not be easy to do so…and pushing the City to be smarter with its resources.
3. After nearly 15 years of community and civic involvement/leadership in intown Atlanta, I have relationships with neighborhoods, business, government, and the non-profit and university sectors that allow me to the most effective at examining a problem, navigating the stakeholders, and finding the resources to solve it.
4. Finally, I’m only candidate in this race who is focused on improving the City’s focus on addressing the “basics”: sidewalk repair, accurate water bills, and potholes, for example.
3) What do you think is Atlanta’s greatest strength?
Our spirit. We are optimistic and ambitious at every turn. Few American cities have our renewable, can-do mindset. Layer that in with, more often than not, bringing all stakeholders to the table to solve problems, and we are a model for the country.
4) What do you think is Atlanta’s biggest challenge?
Inadequate transportation infrastructure. We need more ways to move people regionally and throughout the City. It’s not just a traffic issue, it affects our collective affordability, economic and social mobility, quality of life, public health, and competitiveness as a region. We have to grow in a way that gives people options for moving around…and we must continue to build density so car trips are less necessary.
5) How would you address what you feel is Atlanta’s biggest challenge?
Improving our transportation system and infrastructure requires regional solutions. Yet, in Atlanta, we can do much to continue to transform how we move around. I would advocate for:
Transit-oriented development around existing MARTA stations (and reduce the number of parking spaces required for such developments);
TSPLOST funds for projects that will enhance access to jobs and housing in a multi-modal fashion and work closely with MARTA to ensure their system growth is both equitable and goes where we need it to (i.e., job and residential centers);
Expanding transit in District 2 (e.g., streetcar extension on North Ave);
Drastically increasing the number of miles of bike lanes and trails throughout the city, alongside $5 million in annual dedicated funding to close gaps in the existing bike lane network and increase bike lane safety;
Improving the quality of our roads and synchronize traffic lights;
Increased access to bikeshare, transit, and good sidewalks for low-income and disconnected communities; and
The formation of a Department of Transportation at the City to better coordinate, plan, and execute the City’s transportation needs.
6) What are the top two or three things you plan to focus on during your term as an elected official?
1. Increasing and protecting affordable housing in District 2.
2. Improving the City’s focus on addressing the “basics”: sidewalk repair, accurate water bills, and potholes.
3. Ensuring our public safety.
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 a big, transformative project that is incomplete. In District 2, the Beltline’s Eastside trail has been a huge success by most measures but it has also created shortcomings that have not been addressed effectively: less affordability in surrounding neighborhoods and enormous traffic strain on roads and surrounding neighborhoods due to rapid development without corresponding changes to the transportation network. As we look to the future, there must be a genuine and intentional commitment to equity, affordability, and access for all as the Beltline continues to be built out.
8) What is your opinion of the Atlanta Streetcar? Is there anything about the project that you think should be handled differently?
Currently, the Streetcar has not been effective or successful. It runs too infrequently and covers such a small footprint that it is more efficient to walk. However, if I could change anything about the project, it would be to extend the Streetcar to where people live and work and where we have no strong transit service now. One example is the proposed Crosstown Midtown street car extension. This proposed streetcar extension runs across the middle of the city, from one side of the Beltline to the other: from Bankhead MARTA station across North Avenue to Ponce City Market. This Crosstown Midtown extension would fill a transit gap, connect existing residential centers on the west and east sides of the City with job centers in Downtown and Midtown, and tie into MARTA train stations. Built-in ridership/demand from the start will do wonders to build momentum and use for the streetcar and alleviate traffic.
9) What should the city of Atlanta do to reduce traffic congestion in the city?
See responses above. In addition and in short: promote dense development around existing MARTA stations, build out bicycle infrastructure, extend the Streetcar to where it will have built-in ridership and immediate impact, implement a parking tax, and expand transit and walking infrastructure where there is or will be dense development.
10) What should the city do to increase affordable housing options for its residents?
Inclusionary zoning that provides housing for those who earn 20-80% of Area Median Income (“AMI”), in areas where public investment has created the incentive for development (e.g., the Beltline overlay);
Density bonuses along corridors that are appropriate for density (e.g., Ponce de Leon, Boulevard, Moreland). This will allow developers to build more units and more floors in exchange for more affordable housing units.
Work with AHA and developers to ensure workforce housing for those making at or below and above slightly above AMI, an additional area of need in the city.
Support tax abatements and expansion of the homestead exemption for seniors on fixed income;
Support selling vacant city-owned land to true affordable housing developers;
Explore the utility of a city affordable housing fund that developers can pay into to support development of affordable housing units (see, e.g., Los Angeles); and
Protect and promote low-rise, “missing middle” apartments and allow accessory dwelling units.
11) If elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner?
Yes. I have long advocated for greater transparency and accountability at City Hall. I will also make available online where every dollar of my City Council budget is spent and I spend it only in furtherance of constituent services and policy-making.