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 was concerned by how the city is growing and by the fact that we haven’t expanded our transportation system. That along with the housing crunch and income inequality made me feel obligated to throw my hat in the ring because I believe I’m the right person at the right time to lead the city.
Atlanta is truly at a crossroads. We can be a world-class city that plans for sustainable growth, continues to attract quality jobs, and fulfills our promise to provide opportunity and quality of life for all. But achieving this goal will require collaboration, innovative policy, solid financial management and strong, ethical leadership.
As Mayor of Atlanta, I will bring people together to get things done. I will leverage the strength of all of our neighborhood, faith, and community groups, as well as public-private partners, private sector investors, corporate leaders and small business owners, philanthropic funders, and federal, state and local agencies to do what is best for our City. I will welcome feedback and criticism, and engage all relevant stakeholders, as we find the best solutions for our problems and opportunities.
2) What makes you a better candidate than your opponents?
I will draw on my experiences as an elected official and a nonprofit executive to bring people together, build sustainable spaces and improve performance at City Hall.
As District 6 City Council-member, Chair of Atlanta’s Transportation Committee and City Council President, I brought the Atlanta BeltLine from a Master’s thesis vision to implementation by rallying community support, passing multiple ordinances, placing the project in the region’s long-range transportation plan, bringing in over $20 million in funding for the initial phases of the project and recommending the Tax Allocation District as the funding mechanism. Also, as the first openly-gay elected official in the state, I introduced and brought to passage the only comprehensive non-discrimination bill in Georgia (at the local or state level) that provides private sector protections in housing, employment and public accommodations. In addition, I have served as a lead lobbyist and strategist working with the business community and issue advocacy communities at the state Capitol over the past 4 years to defeat all harmful religious exemption bills proposed to date.
I have managed organizations and units of organizations with as many as 800 employees in my division. I understand budgets, personnel, planning and managing. I’m innovative and detail oriented. I’ve worked moving policy and political activities at the international, national, state and local level and understand how to make things happen (as well as how to stop bad things from happening).
My experience as a Council Member and City Council President has given me insight into our city, neighborhoods and civic, business, faith and non-profit leadership. I’m confident that I can assemble a diverse team that understands what it takes to develop and manage a world-class city and work with that team to bring people together around a common vision to get things done.
3) What do you think is Atlanta’s greatest strength?
Our biggest strength is our people. Atlanta is a city with heart and it seems like everyone wants to contribute to our success as a city.
4) What do you think is Atlanta’s biggest challenge?
Traffic and lack of options for mobility.
5) How would you address what you feel is Atlanta’s biggest challenge?
See my answer to question #9
6) What are the top two or three things you plan to focus on during your term as an elected official?
The five greatest issues facing Atlanta are ethics and transparency; traffic congestion; infrastructure investment, including housing to keep pace with growth projections; public education and public safety.
I fully recognize the interdependent nature of our city’s priority issues, which must be addressed in coordination rather than isolation. For example, one of my most urgent priorities will be increasing affordable housing options, with density being focused along expanded transit lines. This plan requires infrastructure investments, which will directly impact and attract economic development. And our education system must be improved to prepare our residents to access new, better paying jobs that come with economic development. At the same time, if there is one fundamental job that a Mayor must take ultimate responsibility for, it is public safety. Therefore, all of the above issues are interrelated and will be top priorities for my administration.
7) What is your opinion of the Atlanta Beltline? Is there anything about the project that you think should be handled differently?
I believe that the Beltline is a positive way to connect our city and reduce car dependency. That said, there are many things that we can do better. Most importantly, we must follow through on our commitment to provide affordable housing along the trail. We can accomplish this goal by utilizing publicly-owned property like the Civic Center site for affordable housing and raising the necessary funds through a parking tax.
The Beltline will connect to my planned five new transit lines in strategic locations for maximum convenience and accessibility, while passing through many of Atlanta’s neighborhoods. If done correctly, the Beltline has the potential to revolutionize the way we travel our city, while bringing economic advancements for all residents.
8) What is your opinion of the Atlanta Streetcar? Is there anything about the project that you think should be handled differently?
I was not a supporter of the Atlanta Streetcar. There were never any studies that indicated that there was the ridership demand for the project. Not that it is here, we need to make it work by connecting it on the west side to MARTA and on the east side to the Atlanta BeltLine.
Our local transit future is a 40-mile streetcar system along already-approved routes. A public-private partnership can get this done in half of the currently projected 15 years and at a fraction of the cost. Such a model, in which private sector partners design, build, and finance the system while operating and maintaining the system with local transit partners, has been used in Denver to build out a large portion of that region’s transit grid. It has recently been embraced in Washington, D.C., for build out of the new Purple Line.
More significantly, collapsing the timetable from fifteen years to eight shaves off years of construction cost escalation and unnecessary financing expense. Collectively, this could yield at least a 20 percent savings, and for Atlanta that means reducing total project costs by a staggering $640 million. Using different streetcar technology with slimmer cars and no overhead wires could reduce costs by another 5 percent, reduce visual clutter and probably allow for dedicated transit lanes along at least some of these routes.
A public-private partnership also greatly enhances the project’s eligibility for federal transit dollars. Federal funds pay up to half of such large-scale transit projects, but only if the proposed plan scores well for its economic, environmental and mobility impact, and only if it scores above competing projects across the country.
9) What should the city of Atlanta do to reduce traffic congestion in the city?
As Mayor, I will work to:
Build 5 already-approved transit lines simultaneously
I have proposed a plan to build a 40-mile streetcar grid, covering the Atlanta Beltline loop and other connected routes, in eight years through leveraging innovative public-private partnerships and federal dollars.
2. Complete the Atlanta BeltLine
Atlanta’s 21st century public realm starts with the Atlanta BeltLine, the project that my office kicked off when I was Atlanta City Council President. I worked to build an inclusive, grassroots coalition to support this new concept for public space and mobility that was inherently focused on people. As Mayor, I will engage surrounding neighborhoods in a meaningful way and fully build out the 22-mile loop of the Atlanta BeltLine, ensuring that the project fulfills its promise to connect people and places to the benefit of everyone.
3. Connect the city regionally through solutions like high-speed rail, MARTA expansion, a multi-modal facility and linked bike/trail networks
Being able to travel within the city limits is not enough. Atlantans need connections regionally, across metro Atlanta and the state of Georgia. A regional bike and trail network is planned and, as Mayor, I will do everything I can to push for a timely, aggressive completion schedule. Additionally, I will champion and support proposals for expanding MARTA and for regional rail, especially high-speed rail, that can connect Atlanta to cities across Georgia and the South and culminate in a multi-modal facility to that people can start at home in our transit system and end up anywhere in the world without getting into a car.
10) What should the city do to increase affordable housing options for its residents?
Atlanta cannot continue to be a great city if only a sliver of our community can afford to live here. That’s why I will prioritize an “existing neighborhood resident” preference in all new policies to ensure in-placement of our community members as opposed to displacement due to market pressure.
As Atlanta grows rapidly over the coming years, we need to place urgent focus on this issue if we are to continue to thrive as a city. As Mayor, I will work quickly to get all the key players on the same page to align resources and move quickly to address this issue head-on. That includes governmental entities (City of Atlanta, county officials, Atlanta Public Schools, MARTA, Invest Atlanta, and Atlanta Housing Authority), businesses that need employees to live close to work, the development community, issues experts and nonprofits that are leading in this space.
I will work to increase housing density, aligned with transit lines. We can grow our city, while maintaining the unique character of our neighborhoods and protecting long-term residents, along with our trees and greenspace, if we focus density along transit. I have proposed a strategic plan to complete 40-mile streetcar grid along already-approved routes to be built in eight years, to open up more corridors for residential growth and more areas where people can live within easy access of their jobs.
This will require a focus on creating a dedicated revenue stream for affordable housing, exploring all available funding mechanisms from tax allocation districts to development impact fees to a parking tax, and create an affordable housing trust fund. In addition, I will propose a comprehensive public policy package of incentives and requirements for developers to ensure inclusionary housing development citywide.
I will also appoint a Commissioner of Housing and create and implement a strategic action plan to meet specific and measureable production targets for affordable housing at various income levels that can be tracked and adjusted as market dynamics change. I will ensure that publicly owned assets like the Civic Center site and property along the Atlanta BeltLine are used to create new affordable housing options, and I will secure publicly owned land in areas of future strategic need. Public ownership allows us to enforce long-term affordability.
To protect long term residents from being priced out of their homes through rising property values, I will ensure that existing homestead exemptions are targeted and relevant, and that low-income and senior homeowners are given solid relief while protecting the Atlanta Public School system’s future budget. I also will evaluate the entire Atlanta tax digest to ensure that non-resident investment property owners pay a minimum property tax after adjustments for exemptions.
Finally, I will work to update legislation when the General Assembly convenes in January, in order to give Atlanta the authority necessary to take action on property tax and gentrification related issues.
11) If elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner?
I will create a culture in City Hall from the top down that focuses on openness, service, and stewardship of public resources. This will include timely responsiveness to open records requests, audits and investigations. We will increase the transparency of public information to world-class professional standards and expand the capacity of our city Auditing Department to perform routine as well as special audits as requested by City Council and the Office of the Mayor. I will completely rebuild our Procurement and Building Permit Departments to ensure state of the art technology, best practice policies and procedures and restore confidence in the ethics and business practices of our city government. Ethics training will be a mandatory and regular requirement for all staff working with and for the City of Atlanta. City employees will be encouraged to bring any concerns about ethics or the improper use of city resources directly and confidentially to an independent ethics officer. I will work with the Atlanta City Council to ensure that the ethics policies in the operations of our own offices are clear, transparent and up to date. Finally, I will obey the law at all times and will assume complete and total responsibility for all activity and operations at City Hall.