Cathy Woolard’s endorsement of Mary Norwood for Atlanta mayor Wednesday, Nov. 29, came as a shock to many.
The night before, Woolard, who won East Atlanta and came in third during the general election Nov. 7, seemed hard on Norwood, even disrupting her answers during a mayoral runoff debate she hosted at the Carter Center. Keisha Lance Bottoms seemed clear and poised during the debate.
Woolard used the forum to help her and her supporters decide how to cast their ballots Tuesday, Dec. 5.
“I asked the questions that were on everybody’s mind,” Woolard said.
She focused on transportation and affordable housing and put each candidate on the spot.
“I’ve had issues with both candidates, and I wanted them to answer some questions in depth so people could see what’s behind that one-minute answer,” Woolard said.
She didn’t hold back when addressing Bottoms’ ethics: “I think it was illegal for you to have served as executive director on the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority while still on City Council.”
Woolard was equally tough when she asked Norwood who advises her on race. “As a white person, it’s helpful to be inquisitive when you’re dealing with people who are different than you so you can hear the truth in what they have to say,” Woolard said. “I think it’s important to know who the people are advising the candidates on issues like race and that those people are being honest with them.”
Woolard asked about LGBTQ issues, and both candidates said homelessness, decriminalization of HIV/AIDS notifications and a state civil rights bill are crucial. The openly gay former City Council president said that if Alex Wan wins his runoff for council president. If Wan loses, the City Council will be without known gay representation for the first time in 20 years.
“I think it’s important for people to realize that because it’s mattered in the last 20 years. I know I’ve leveraged my relationships I’ve made to make a difference, and it’s of significance,” Woolard said. “If there’s not a legislator there, then who is going to carry the water?”
She asked about getting affordable public transit to low-income communities.
Bottoms said that getting more light rail around the BeltLine is important, but equally important is the extension of rail beyond the BeltLine. Bottoms called Woolard’s proposal for five new MARTA rail lines “thoughtful.”
Norwood suggested light rail, combined with trolleys, to help people commute efficiently.
The two candidates diverged on affordable housing.
Bottoms, who passed legislation for her district to keep residents from being displaced, said she has a $1 billion plan to build affordable housing, including an option for residents to own.
“It is an ambitious plan, but we live in an ambitious city,” Bottoms said. “The $500 million plan would begin with an inventory of what our stock is.”
Bottoms wants to offer the land on the market to people willing to reinvest.
Her plan would take eight to 12 years, but Norwood said Atlanta needs affordable housing now.
“The city of Atlanta has not built any affordable housing in eight years, and they have 300 acres of land,” Norwood said.
She wants more affordable housing built and proposed renovating abandoned homes for police officers and firefighters to afford living in the city. She also wants employer-assisted workforce housing program so people can live closer to their jobs, relieving traffic.
The next day, Woolard said the issue of transparency led her to endorse Norwood.
“I feel like the lack of transparency at City Hall has crushed our city,” Woolard said. “I feel like we need a clean break from this administration and a new start here with a fresh set of players.”