Atlanta mayoral candidates are talking about affordable housing, hoping to stave off a secession movement in a wealthy neighborhood and trading increasingly sharp blows. But like in so many places across the country, the election is really about the crime.
The news is dominated by reports of violence, and poor and rich residents demand solutions, though many say they want to balance law enforcement and social justice. Candidates seeking to appease voters are competing in a widely open race after Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms surprised many in May by announcing she did not want a second term. Now, with 14 names on the Nov. 2 ballot, a runoff in the non-partisan race looks almost certain.
Early in-person voting began this week and recent polls show many voters are still undecided. Bottoms predecessor Kasim Reed is a top contender. Another prominent candidate is City Council President Felicia Moore, a long-time critic of Reed. Lawyer Sharon Gay and board members Andre Dickens and Antonio Brown also garnered support.
As in cities across the country, homicides have increased in Atlanta. As of Oct. 9, murders were up 14% from the same time last year and 60% from 2019, according to Atlanta Police data. High-profile murders – a woman and her dog stabbed to death late at night in the city’s first park, a bartender kidnapped and gunned down as she returned home from a late shift – have frightened residents. Neighborhood social media sites are full of crime posts, generating dozens of frustrated and frightening comments.
Reed, who served two four-year terms starting in 2010, stepped down amid a federal investigation into corruption at City Hall. Half a dozen members of his administration have been charged. Some have pleaded guilty and others are awaiting trial. Reed has never been charged.
Reed said he would not have challenged Bottoms, but once she announced his departure he said he was motivated by the rise in crime to run for a third term. He is uniquely qualified to deal with it, he says, citing the low crime rate and the hundreds of police officers hired when he was mayor.
“I think voters have a very simple question: do they think they are better off today than they were four years ago when I was mayor? My feeling is that we were definitely better four years ago, ”he said.
But Reed remains polarizing, with some residents believing he is the proven leader needed to fight crime, while others question his integrity and believe he is primarily driven by personal interest.
Moore, who speaks constantly about ethics, transparency and accountability, said crime had pushed her into the race, even before Bottoms stepped down.
“I had more and more contact with me about crime, people being just victims of crime, sometimes 1 or 2 in the morning, consoling people,” she said. “I needed to step up and try to get behind the wheel of the ship.”
Gay, a recent managing partner of a law firm, said she brings a new approach as someone who has not held an elected office and is not tied to the mistakes of the past. To fight crime, she would focus on problematic properties, restore police morale and put officers on the streets, she submitted.
Dickens praises the increase in the number of officers, the arrest of gang leaders and the implementation of community policing. It also aims to increase the supply of affordable housing, improve infrastructure and ensure that current residents qualify for future well-paying jobs in the city.
Brown said generational poverty, gentrification and insufficient affordable housing fuel unemployment, homelessness and crime. It emphasizes these root causes and emphasizes community policing.
Brown is currently facing federal charges, charged with borrowing money and making credit card purchases, and then claiming to have been the victim of identity theft. The alleged crimes took place before his election to city council, and Brown denies any guilt.
Organizers who want upscale Buckhead to become its own city – taking about 20% of Atlanta’s population and a disproportionately higher portion of its tax base – cite crime as a key factor. Leading mayoral candidates have said they will take Buckhead’s concerns seriously, hoping to either quash support for a referendum in the Georgia legislature or convince voters to reject separation if it does. it was voted.
Atlanta’s population grew 19% from 2010 to 2020, reaching nearly 500,000, according to last year’s census. This growth has been accompanied by business expansions in nearby neighborhoods. Property values have skyrocketed and longtime residents say the crisis has hit traditionally more affordable neighborhoods.
While the black population has increased slightly, the white, Asian and Hispanic populations have all grown faster over the past 10 years. People who identify as black are now less than the majority of Atlanteans for the first time in decades.
Tammy Greer, professor of political science at Clark University in Atlanta, says longtime black residents are voicing concerns because of concerns about affordable housing and jobs.
“You have this perceived black mecca of the South that is shrinking in the black population and hasn’t had the political, economic and social capital that comes with the name,” Greer said.
Although new people are arriving, Greer said the “old” residents are still in control of politics, and for them times don’t look so good. This has to do, in part, with the city’s high income inequality. White households have a median income above $ 100,000, while black households typically earn around $ 35,000.
The race may ultimately depend on which candidate has the most enthusiastic supporters – or is seen as less objectionable to supporters of candidates who don’t make a second round. The last two mayors won by narrow margins, with only hundreds of votes sealing their victories.