The American Jewish Committee’s Atlanta branch, which is located in Buckhead, held a mayoral forum at a Buckhead synagogue Oct. 24 where seven major mayoral candidates discussed race and social justice issues.
“We wanted to talk about issues you aren’t hearing elsewhere. The issues that affect us on a daily basis, but are rarely talked about,” Dov Wilker, the director of AJC Atlanta, said before the program began.
The candidates who attended included Kwanza Hall, the District 2 councilmember; Peter Aman, the former chief operating officer for the city of Atlanta; Mary Norwood, the post 2 at-large councilmember; Cathy Woolard, former city council president; Keisha Lance Bottoms, the District 11 councilmember; John Eaves, former Fulton County chairman; and Ceasar Mitchell, the city council president.
Vincent Fort, a state Senator, had an assigned chair until shortly before the forum began.
The forum was moderated by Bill Nigut, a producer at Georgia Public Broadcasting, who asked questions submitted by community partners and sponsors of the forum.
The forum was held at the Ahavath Achim Synagogue, which is in Buckhead near Memorial Park. About 250 people attended the forum.
Should the Atlanta mayor protect recipients of DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals?
All the candidates said they would support protecting DACA recipients.
Aman said he would look for ways to fund legal support for the recipients.
“I believe my job as mayor is to stand up for people and to stand by people, and this is the perfect example.”
Mitchell said he would use every legal power available to the city to support DACA recipients.
“When I’m mayor, I’m going to make sure we remain a welcoming city,” he said. “When there’s a fight to get in about doing the right thing, we will do that.”
Is Atlanta still the city “too busy to hate”?
Aman said he believes Atlanta is no longer the city too busy to hate, and instead it has become a city of indifference, pointing to people’s lack of concern about displacement and poverty.
“We are forcing out of Atlanta the people who built Atlanta. Many of our children are born into poverty,” Aman said. “There’s too much wealth here for us to keep getting away with that.”
Norwood said she has seen that people of different races of background still can and do work together, but said the political rhetoric is driving people apart
“What gets in our way is power and money and who has it and who doesn’t have it and who wants it. Our political games are very, very divisive. Race is framing [the election], but it should not. We as Atlantans are better than this.”
Should the city support Black Lives Matter?
Woolard said she supports the movement and she believes the city should encourage peaceful protest.
“I think it is a group of young people who are leading us to a conversation about race we should have already had. I hope we will do everything we can to continue to nurture this discussion,” she said. “You set your limits on how a protest can unfold, but you encourage the protest.”
Bottoms said that the movement is not unlike the movements that fought against Jim Crow laws, but that the goals of this movement are less clear and need defining.
“I think the challenge is they are fighting for a way to make their concerns known. It’s a little more difficult to articulate their goal. I think a responsibility that we have is to help them figure out what the goal is. I appreciate the movement and that our young people are engaged,” she said.
How the candidates would address hate crimes
Bottoms said that a making a case for the economic loss may be the best way to get a hate crimes law passed in Georgia.
“The mayor of Atlanta has the responsibility to set the tone for the state of Georgia. There is an economic case to be made as to what happens when we are not inclusive of different groups. I think when we make the economic case we will have people that will listen who otherwise may not be interested in the conversation.”
Hall said that he would bring people with opposing viewpoints to the discussion, including conservative politicians who oppose a hate crimes law.
“The people who need to be in the room are often not there. Unless we get them in the room we really aren’t having a conversation, we are talking to ourselves. I would convene both sides.”
Mitchell said the mayor needs to set a tone for the state of Georgia of not tolerating hate crimes.
“We’ve got to the set tone and follow up with real initiatives. One of the most important things the mayor can do is to stand up and speak out on legislation,” he said. “We’ve got to use every mechanism we have on a local level.”
Issuing permits to “alt-right” to march
Woolard said she would allow alt-right protesters to march because she does not believe she would legally be allowed to deny them, but she would prohibit them if they presented any kind of safety threat to residents.
“I take no pleasure in that but I do think we have to be very careful to protect freedom of speech in this country,” she said.
Eaves said that he would not allow alt-right marches a permit, despite any legal fees the city could incur fighting a legal challenge.
“Sometimes there are moral laws that supercede legal laws. If Nazis want to march I would say no because it goes against my moral compass. There are times you just have to take a stand,” he said.
Is the police force strong enough?
Hall said that the police force is short several hundred police officers, who need a starting pay raise of $5,000 to $10,000, a new training facility and the ability to take home police cars to stop them from being “poached” by nearby jurisdictions.
They also need stronger support from the city to improve their morale, he said.
“They need to know that the city really does love them,” Hall said.
Norwood said the city should end its goal of trying to reach 2,000 officers and instead use the money allocated for some of those positions to provide raises.
“It is actually tragic. There is something very wrong when our officers are resigning because of the pay,” Norwood said, citing a statistic that 82 percent of resigning officers say in their exit interview they left because of the pay.
Eaves said he believes the multiple law enforcement agencies and systems in overlapping jurisdictions should be consolidated. Between the two different court systems and jails in Fulton County and the city of Atlanta, the systems cost over $500 million per year, and consolidation could save money, Eaves said.
“We have a broken model that’s in place right now. The dollars saved can be used to support people in our community,” he said.