A mayoral candidate forum hosted by the Young Democrats of Atlanta at Manuel’s Tavern on Wednesday night touched on hot button issues including crime, affordable housing, and transit (watch the full forum above). But not all the candidates were in attendance, including two newcomers who have announced their intentions in the past week.

Raina Bell-Saunders –  a native Atlantan, wife, mom and minister, according to her announcement –  graduated from Georgia State University in 1994. She had a successful career in sales, owned her own business, and worked as a legal assistant for some of Atlanta’s top lawyers, including Stacey Abrams.

Also entering the crowded mayoral race is Buckhead businesswoman Rebecca King, a member of the Buckhead Condo Alliance (BCA), a member at-large and fundraising committee/membership chair for Livable Buckhead, and co-chair of the Midtown Quality of Life & BCA joint committee to combat bar and street noise along with illegal solid waste fees.

In attendance at Tuesday night’s forum were candidates Antonio Brown, Andre Dickens, Sharon Gay, Felicia Moore, Kasim Reed, and Richard Wright.

Crime lead off the forum as the spike in violent crime – including the recent high profile murder of Katherine Janness and her dog in Piedmont Park – continues to frighten residents.

Brown, the current Dist. 3 City Councilmember, said  generational poverty was one of the roots of crime in the city. He pledged more money for community policing programs, using pre-arrest diversion programs for youths, and personnel to handle non-emergency, quality of life issues that typically tie up police officers.

Gay, a local attorney, said crime in the city is “more violent, brazen, and happening in broad daylight,” noting that she was mugged recently near her home. Gay said the city needed to be clear on ‘what we want police to do and what we want social services to do.”

Wright, a local certified public accountant, said crime goes hand in hand with poverty. Wright said he would institute a short-term  gun buyback program to build trust and address longterm, systemic poverty within Atlanta.

Moore, the current City Council President, said she would hire more officers, use the “bully pulpit” of the mayor’s office to prompt the courts to deal with repeat offenders, bolster code enforcement on nightlife, and use city resources to help kids in need.

Reed, the former two-term mayor, said his first priority would be hiring 500 more police officers in the next year and then 250 more. “When I was mayor, I built the police department to 2,000 officers,” Reed said. He also wants to move the hiring process out of city hall to the Atlanta Police Department to cut down on the length of time it takes to hire new officers. Better training for officers, reopening recreation centers six days a week until 7 p.m. to cut teen crime, focusing on repeat offenders, and keeping the city jail open were also part of his agenda.

Dickens, current Post 3 At-Large City Councilmember, acknowledged that citizens were afraid and that the spike in crime should not become the “new norm.” He wants to implement a “Safe Streets” program, hire 250 more officers in his first year – including officers from historically black colleges and universities, arrest gang leaders, create a strike force to go after gun traffickers, and create more community based policing.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.