Atlanta mayoral candidates discussed public transportation, policing, housing and other issues facing Atlantans at Emory University’s Glenn Memorial Church on Tuesday night. The forum brought together 13 of 14 mayoral candidates ahead of the Nov. 2 election; one did not attend. 

The event was organized by the League of Women Voters in Fulton County, the Urban League and the ACLU and was moderated by former WSB-TV Director of Editorials and Public Affairs Jocelyn Dorsey. 

University President Gregory L. Fenves gave the opening statement and detailed the Atlanta City Council’s vote to annex the school into Atlanta in 2017, which he said was a “bold decision” that “created many new opportunities for our University and the city to work together to serve the common good.” He also stressed the importance of political engagement, particularly at universities.

“It’s very important to hear from the candidates to answer the voters’ questions if we want voters to participate in the general election and be engaged and make a decision based on the issues,” Fenves told the Wheel.

Thirteen of the fourteen Atlanta mayoral candidates gathered at Glenn Memorial Stadium on Oct. 5 to discuss crime and housing. Photo by Noyonika Parulekar

Currently, the two highest polling candidates are former Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed and City Council President Felicia Moore, polling at 23.5% and 20.4%, respectively, according to a poll commissioned by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The difference between them was within the poll’s margin of error, a statistical tie.

The other candidates that polled above 1% are City Councilmembers Antonio Brown (3.5%) and Andre Dickens (5.2%) and Denton attorney Sharon Gay (5.7%). 

Attending candidates who did not poll above 1% included Kirsten Dunn (Entrepreneur), Nolan English, Mark Hammad (private sector), Kenny Hill (Non-profit founder), Rebecca King (CEO), Roosevelt Searles III (Entrepreneur & Non-profit founder), Richard Wright (CPA) and Glenn Wrightson (Resident, ran in 2013 and 2017).

Dorsey began the debate by pressing the candidates on the Clifton Corridor Transit Initiative, which would expand public transportations systems to outer Atlanta, mainly where Emory and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention are located. This initiative would likely impact Emory students and employees by adding MARTA stops and other transportation forms near the campus. Dickens said transportation is “vital” and noted issues of equity that could arise in the initiative.

The candidates were also asked to address how they would support small businesses, particularly those owned by Black people and women. In response, Moore discussed a city council initiative “Atlanta Business Matters” that she intends to expand as mayor. 

“Small businesses are a vital part of our economy and the lifeblood of our city,” Moore said. 

She added that she wants to make sure City Hall is “able to provide goods and services to our citizens.”

Other than public safety, most candidates noted that their top priority to address was housing. Some mentioned how fixing the housing issue could funnel into solving other societal and economic problems in the city. 

Gay said that, if elected, she would implement “targeted, thoughtful, public investment in under-invested neighborhoods.” 

Additionally, many of the candidates drew a connection between the increase in homelessness and the rise in trash buildup in the city over the past few years. Wright also mentioned his intentions for a monthly cleanup program.

Later on, all candidates cited Buckhead’s secession from Atlanta as detrimental to the city. King, a Buckhead resident, said this issue is why she joined the race. Some like Brown, however, said that other neighborhoods aside from Buckhead deserve more attention as well. 

“We’ve got to start shifting the conversation because it’s more than just Buckhead that feels unheard in the city,” Brown said. “There are several underserved communities in this city that feel the same way that Buckhead does today.” 

Dorsey concluded the forum by asking candidates how they plan to unite the city’s police and community after the past year’s divisions. Many candidates, particularly Dunn, emphasized unity as an important factor of their campaigns. Moore said she hopes to bring police officers into schools to foster a positive relationship and provide education.

Reed detailed his goal of adding 750 new police officers to the Atlanta Police Department, which he said will be trained “in a proactive manner.” He said he will ask “them to re-engage in the process of keeping our city safe.”

Several candidates spoke to the Wheel about the importance of college students engaging in politics.

“My first time voting was on the campus of Georgia Tech in the presidential election,” Dickens said. “What I think we have to do is make sure it’s very easy for college students to register and to change their domicile.”

In addition, Reed mentioned the significant role Emory plays in the Atlanta community today, citing his work with two previous Emory presidents.

“I always love being at Emory,” Reed said. “I plan on bringing Emory into the city and making it an official part of our community. It is such a dynamic part of what Atlanta is going to be in the future. And I think that the relationship needs to be nurtured and supported.”