Seven Atlanta mayoral candidates — Ceasar Mitchell, John Eaves, Keisha Lance Bottoms, Cathy Woolard, Mary Norwood, Peter Aman and Kwanza Hall — faced questions about race and social justice at an American Jewish Committee-organized forum Tuesday, Oct. 24, at Ahavath Achim Synagogue.
Moderated by Bill Nigut, a producer at Georgia Public Broadcasting and former Anti-Defamation League regional director, the forum aimed to shed light on issues important to the Jewish community and the sponsors of the forum. Questions pertained to immigrant dreamers, an increase in hate crimes, expansion of the police force and retention of officers, and Black Lives Matter.
AJC Atlanta Regional Director Dov Wilker called the event “the most diverse mayoral forum” in reference to the audience.
A forum on race and social justice is important because of the work AJC does with non-Jewish and immigrant communities, Wilker said.
The seven candidates at the forum plus former state Sen. Vincent Fort are running to replace Mayor Kasim Reed, who is ineligible to run for a third consecutive term. If, as expected, no candidate in the nonpartisan voting wins a majority Tuesday, Nov. 7, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will be held Dec. 5.
Asked about immigration and efforts by the Trump administration to roll back the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, every candidate spoke in support of Atlanta protecting dreamers.
Hall, a former city councilman for District 2, said he reintroduced city legislation to provide more support for the dreamers by allowing only judicial warrants and prohibiting nonjudicial warrants. The legislation passed a couple of weeks ago.
“If someone is riding down the street, they can say they look like they’re undocumented; we can go arrest them. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and it’s not what our city is known for,” Hall said. “We have a welcoming platform, but we have to reaffirm these things sometimes.”
Eaves, a former chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners and a member of The Temple, met with the Obama administration in December to talk about sanctuary cities. Eaves said Atlanta has an opportunity to reaffirm that the largest city in the state is welcoming for people of all backgrounds.
“In the county government we instituted a racial profiling accounting system where all police officers have to document and report arrests on a quarterly basis,” Eaves said. “This was designed to minimize any sort of racial profiling, particularly among people who are undocumented.”
The image of Atlanta as the “city too busy to hate” was challenged with a question about whether the city remains true to its civil rights movement legacy.
Aman, who served as the city’s chief operating officer under Mayor Kasim Reed, said Atlanta is pushing out the people “who built the city.” He said 40 percent of children in Atlanta are born into poverty, and 80 percent of black children are born into areas of concentrated poverty. The next mayor needs to address those impoverished areas.
“There’s too much wealth and indifference for us to keep getting away with that,” he said.
Bottoms, the City Council member for District 11, said “city too busy to hate” is just a slogan.
“We have to look at Atlanta and our history in standing up in the face of what’s not popular,” she said.
When asked whether she would allow alt-right groups to march or protest in Atlanta, the lawyer and former judge pro hoc in Fulton County State Court said a Nazi group “should not be allowed to (march) if there is truly a risk to safety to the general public.”
Mitchell, the current Atlanta City Council president and a lawyer, said the city must embrace everyone’s First Amendment rights.
“If Nazis want to march down Peachtree Street, they can have it,” Mitchell said. “The one thing we’re not going to do is authorize a march that creates the imminent likelihood of violence.”
The next mayor will have the task of leading the city’s economic growth while balancing a demographic shift that includes growing populations of immigrants and whites. Even though Atlanta has chosen a black mayor in every election since Maynard Jackson defeated the city’s only Jewish mayor, Sam Massell, in 1973, the city’s African-American population seems to be on the fringes of progress in Atlanta.
Hall’s District 2 is the most diverse in the city, including the most impoverished and some of the wealthiest people in Atlanta. The former city councilman said the next mayor must “break up the status quo” while maintaining the ability to bring different people together.
Cathy Woolard, a former City Council president, criticized Atlanta’s slow progress toward overcoming income inequality and embracing diversity, saying, “We’re the city too busy to commit.”
Atlanta gets a lot of credit for its history, she said, but it must do better at committing quickly to values rooted in civil rights.
“When we had religious exemption bills in our General Assembly, it took three years for the business community to arrive. … That’s not what I would call a stellar record,” Woolard said. “Atlanta is the No. 1 city for income inequality, and, because of that, we should be the No. 1 city with the most creative and comprehensive solutions to solve income inequality in the future.”
Income inequality in Atlanta directly affects certain areas of the city with high concentrations of blight and poverty, said Mary Norwood, an at-large City Council member who is leading the polls for the mayoral election.
Norwood was criticized after a mayoral forum hosted by radio station V-103 for saying she does not support Trump. Norwood said she was misrepresented.
She said she wants to see everyone in Atlanta prosper. Atlanta must see growth in every neighborhood to overcome its current problems, she said, and she focused on the area southwest of Bolton Road, including the neighborhood of Bankhead, for economic development.
“We need to get rid of the blight and redo zoning and repurpose the abandoned buildings in a thoughtful way because people still live in some of those homes,” Norwood said. “We need job opportunities, job training and to connect better with technical colleges. We had a job program for young people, and I want to bring that back. We have the resources to do it.”