Voter's Guide 2010 - CL's picks for Atlanta City Council
Keep Felicia! Dump H. Lamar!
Our pick: Ceasar Mitchell
Just because the title is "president" doesn't mean it's actually a powerful position. Though officeholders would quibble with the argument, the only official duties are setting the agenda and making committee assignments. And as much as CL would love to see Atlanta elect its first Socialist Workers Party City Council president, the contender <a href=""http://theatlantavoice.com/news/2013/oct/09/rachele-fruit-city-council-president-candidate/">Rachele Fruit, who's been virtually invisible during this contest, is not the one. The incumbent Mitchell, who political observers predict will mount an actual campaign for the mayor's office in four years (hence the endless emails about fundraisers), has kept the 15-member body from falling apart. And his smart assignments have included appointing Councilwoman Felicia Moore, the body's most vocal penny-pincher, as head of the finance committee. Send him back. www.ceasarmitchell.com.
Our pick(s): Mary Norwood and Aaron Watson
It was the biggest surprise of the quietest election season in recent memory. On Aug. 30, the last day of qualifying, Mary Norwood, the pugnacious Energizer Bunny of Atlanta politics, announced after a relatively quiet four years of hosting flower shows and enjoying the simple life that she wanted to return to City Hall. And not just any old seat, mind you, but the same one she left behind to launch an unsuccessful bid in 2009 for mayor, which she lost to Kasim Reed by only 700 votes.
Jaws dropped. Incumbent Aaron Watson, who until qualifying had no real serious competition, now faces a tough challenge. Not only is Norwood a tireless campaigner, but the Buckhead businesswoman also boasts a strong fan base. Norwood's eight years on council as an at-large councilmember doubled greatly as a long-running stealth mayoral campaign. By traveling across the city and holding town halls, she cultivated an image as the elected official who was everywhere and would always listen. And people remembered her for it. (In 2009, we opted not to endorse Norwood for mayor because we decided she was ineffective as a councilmember. It is worth noting, however, that she scrutinized the watershed department and raised hell about McMansions.)
Since joining Council in 2009, Watson, a Morningside accountant and lawyer who has helped lead the Atlanta Public Schools board and the Atlanta Housing Authority, is arguably Council's biggest advocate for increased transit and bike projects. The sustainability advocate, who CL endorsed in 2009, is currently studying parking fees that could raise cash for transportation projects and pushing legislation to help boost urban farms. He also supported a mixed-use development near Lindbergh thought to include a Walmart. But compared to Norwood, he's had a more low-key presence. Watson's a key Reed ally, though he tells us that's largely been because he agreed with the mayor's proposals, including pension reform and the stadium deal. Reed's supporting him, which has made some consider Norwood a protest vote against hizzoner.
Voters are lucky in this instance because both candidates are qualified.
Yet after much debate CL is divided. Voters must ask themselves whether they want someone who will be a citywide councilmember — a big-picture thinker and coalition builder — or someone more focused on the day-to-day realities of living in Atlanta. Will Norwood be effective as a councilmember, especially if there are enough votes to shut her down? Will Watson, who boasts a tidy résumé and is studying big ideas, push back?
Pick Norwood if you're looking for a independent-minded councilmember who will likely try to juggle citywide policy while also fielding calls about potholes and missed trash pickups — and potentially be laying the groundwork to run for mayor in 2017). But she runs the risk of being ineffective. If you want a smart elected official who will push for sustainability and tackle complex initiatives, Watson's your man. www.marynorwood.com, www.aaronforatlanta.com.
Our pick: Andre Dickens
Four years ago, H. Lamar Willis was fined $25,000 by the Secretary of State for misrepresenting his scholarship foundation as a nonprofit. Atlanta's ethics board also slapped him with $3,500 reprimand for accepting charitable donations from people engaged in business with City Hall. Still, Atlanta voters re-elected Willis to his citywide post in 2009.
Fast-forward to today and the three-term Council veteran, Reed ally, and attorney faces voters with yet another scandal hanging over his head. In early October, the Georgia Supreme Court ordered that Willis be disbarred after depositing $30,000 from a personal injury settlement into his personal bank account instead of giving the cash to an injured child he represented as a client.
Willis acknowledges most of his wrongdoings and attributes them to a tumultuous divorce along with a battle with depression. But he also says his public record — which most recently includes leading efforts to wrangle Downtown's myriad plans and proposing amendments to the PARKatlanta contract — should be strong enough to get him considered for re-election.
That might not be enough to fend off challenger Andre Dickens, a Georgia Tech staffer and Underwood Hills resident vying for the citywide post. The first-time political hopeful and former business owner, who has raised enough cash to mount a viable campaign, has made Willis' ethical missteps a campaign issue. If elected, he says he'll help improve blighted neighborhoods, take measures to improve public safety, and bring more job opportunities to Atlanta. And, of course, ensure that City Hall upgrades its ethics laws.
Dickens, who also graduated from Georgia Tech with a chemical engineering degree, is an intelligent and independent thinker. Sure, he'll be green as a policymaker. But his past work as a business owner, education staffer, and NPU rep will help bridge that gap. He's even finishing up his master's of public administration to learn how to craft policy effectively. All of that has earned him strong endorsements from former Mayor Shirley Franklin (her kids are helping run his campaign), ex-City Council President Cathy Woolard, and state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, among others. Add us to the list.
H. Lamar Willis has served Atlanta but it's time for him to find another career. Yes, his most recent ethical mishap happened outside of City Hall. Yet he's racked up egregious errors that shattered our trust in his work. A disbarred lawyer shouldn't be writing laws. We strongly encourage Atlantans not to vote against Willis but to vote for Dickens. Like, mash the screen hard. www.andredickens.com.
Our pick: Carla Smith
After running unopposed four years ago, veteran incumbent Carla Smith has picked up a pair of opponents: Robert Welsh, a state agency budget manager from Peoplestown, and Bill Powell, an Ormewood Park-based federal grants consultant. The former boasts an intriguing agenda focused on economic development, public safety, food deserts, and fixing vacant homes on a wide scale (he was involved in the Dirty Truth advocacy and art campaign that raised awareness about blight in Pittsburgh, Mechanicsville, and Summerhill). The latter is relatively unknown and touts a platform focused on community redevelopment and crime reduction.
Smith's public record is mostly positive. And she's intensely engaged with the community she represents. The Council vet stood behind efforts to improve public safety, redeveloping vacant properties, and pushing for more affordable housing. More importantly, she goes to bat for her district despite political risks. This summer, she fought Atlanta developer Jeff Fuqua's proposed big-box project along the Atlanta Beltline near Glenwood Park. Some critics say her rezoning legislation came too late — though just before the election — and was ineffective. She might not stop the development but her opposing stance helped raise awareness about building bad ideas along the smart-growth project and could help prevent others. If you're angry that she didn't step up sooner, Welsh is your guy. But frankly, Atlanta City Council needs more reps willing to take meaningful stands to improve the city. www.carlasmith2013.com.
Our pick: Ivory Young
For the last four years, Ivory Young has tried everything from wooing Prince Charles' philanthropic foundation to embracing Walmart to improve his district, which includes English Avenue, Vine City, and other West Atlanta neighborhoods. The three-term incumbent has been criticized for failing to improve the neighborhoods that sit so close to Downtown's resurgence yet seem worlds away from escaping poverty. Young, however, can only do so much in a community that's saddled with socioeconomic strife and internal politics. The architect should have raised holy hell and demanded a deal between the Atlanta Falcons, state, city, and community on how the millions of dollars set to be invested in the neighborhoods would be spent before approving the deal for the proposed stadium, which sits in his district. Considering how quickly the deal was rushed, that might have been impossible. But his experience, combined with the fact that he's pushing for the city to revisit how it approaches vacant and abandoned properties, stands in his favor. Given his two opponents' inexperience, we choose the incumbent. www.ivoryyoungdistrict3.com.
Our pick: Torry Lewis
Since 1993, Cleta Winslow has represented a large swath of southwest Atlanta, and in that time, the former social worker's district hasn't shown much improvement. You could even argue things have gotten worse.
Sure, Winslow will boast that since she's been in office, more than $300 million in funding and new investment has come to the community. But storefronts are empty. Crime is high. A ZIP code she represents was a hotbed of mortgage fraud leading up to the recession.
It's unfair to lay all of this on Winslow's shoulders — she can't control the economy or the circumstances that drive a person into a life of crime — but it's high time to call out when something, or someone, isn't working. And when you stack up what's right before your eyes — a councilmember who is facing a trial for a DUI charge (she's pleaded not guilty), promised but never delivered a meeting to bring together neighborhoods divided over a Living Walls mural, and points to bus tours of blighted neighborhoods as a great way to turn around southwest Atlanta — then it's time for a change.
Winslow's most qualified opponent, Torry Lewis, is a political scientist working on his PhD at Clark Atlanta University (Sister DeBorah Williams is also running). The 30-year-old Atlanta native has concrete ideas that could actually improve the district. If elected, Lewis, who's running on a platform of fixing infrastructure, reducing crime, and boosting economic development, plans to court more people to help fill the abandoned homes that line the district's streets and businesses, as he claims he's already been doing as a regular citizen. He says he'd push for security cameras, which you currently don't see in southwest Atlanta compared to the thousands in Downtown, Midtown, and Buckhead. The list goes on.
Lewis is green — a political scientist getting into politics — but he dares to have vision (and a big-ass RV dubbed "The Beast"). Winslow's approach to representing her constituents might feel good but hasn't done much to make southwest Atlanta a better place, despite the fact that she's deeply entrenched in the community, which makes her practically unbeatable. She's had a long career at City Hall but it's time for her to go. www.torrylewis.com.
Our pick: None
A few months ago, Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong seemed like a lock to earn a fourth elected term from East Atlanta, Cabbagetown, and Kirkwood residents. Recently, the progressive attorney formed a 911 task force and has backed smarter development along the Beltline. Many neighbors have applauded her constituent services and staff.
But a high-profile crime wave throughout the district prompted several candidates to enter the fray. She now faces three challengers — East Atlanta marketing professional Matt Rinker, Kirkwood businesswoman Christian Enterkin, and designer John Paul Michalik. (Direct democracy champion Jon Jones bowed out and endorsed Archibong.)
The random murders and robberies aren't Archibong's fault, but they have dovetailed with an ill-timed ethics violation for making undisclosed payments to her brother's consulting firm using public cash. Archibong said the firm acted as a pass-through entity to pay a printer and made no financial benefit. The printer also happened to be a client of her bankruptcy law practice. (Why Archibong even pondered using his firm — and OK'ing the final payment to one of her clients — astounds us.) The combination of those two missteps has made this race more heated than initially expected.
While Archibong has helped her district move in the right direction, some of her constituents are ready for change. Although she settled the ethics fiasco with a $250 fine, she didn't show the best judgment with her actions, and there are signs that her recent misdeed is only the tip of the iceberg. Rinker, a visible candidate who possesses solid ideas about public safety and strongly supports the Atlanta Beltline, remains her strongest opponent. But we're not entirely convinced if the first-time candidate who boasts no neighborhood involvement on his résumé, or any other challengers, can do better.
Our pick: Alex Wan
When we interviewed Alex Wan in 2009, we were keen on his savvy educational background and professional experience. Since taking office, the Morningside resident has been a largely low-profile councilman, opting to asking probing questions in committee meetings rather than trumpeting issues, save his push to quicken the exit of adult businesses along Cheshire Bridge Road. Wan caught hell for the move, which was desired by longtime residents and fought by the LGBT community. A misstep, to be sure, but no reason to boot Wan for his worthy opponents: self-employed sports agent Tracey Austin or community activist and businessman Mike Boyle. Wan was one of four councilmembers to vote against public funding for the stadium and, true to his wonky style, is keen on seeing how the city could tap millions of unspent city dollars that are collecting dust in trust funds. He deserves your vote. www.alexwanforatlanta.com.
Our pick: Howard Shook
Two political novices have stepped up against three-term incumbent Howard Shook: Bobby Montgomery, a 37-year-old online marketing manager, and Abid Haque, a 21-year-old first-time candidate. Both bring fresh energy to the race, but neither should replace the right-leaning Buckhead resident. We don't often agree with the longtime community advocate — he was one of the few nays against a largely symbolic resolution honoring marriage equality — but he's financially savvy and consistently represents the will of his constituents. Shook voted against a controversial rezoning that would have paved the way for a big-box monstrosity near Lindbergh, has been working to increase the amount of greenspace in his district — it has the least amount in the city — and keeps close watch over how the city spends the public's cash. In addition, he took a political risk by voting against the stadium deal. Send this hard worker back to City Hall. www.howardshook.com.
Our pick: Felicia Moore
This one's a no-brainer. Over the past 16 years, Felicia Moore has garnered a reputation as one of Council's most vigilant watchdogs and penny-pinchers — and thorn in the side of the mayor. She's also one of the city's most knowledgeable officials, provides an independent voice on important issues, and votes against policies she thinks aren't properly vetted (which means a lot). Had Moore not pushed the issue, we never would have seen a series of public meetings on dedicating more than $200 million of the city's hotel and motel tax to Arthur Blank's shrine to concussions and monster truck shows. One opponent, Duwon Robinson, has been largely invisible on the campaign trail. The other, Ricardo Mosby, is an attorney who was late to file his required disclosure, gave away a computer at a campaign rally, and is supported by an independent expenditure committee backed with funding from the mayor. Council needs Moore and so does City Hall. Vote for Moore and tell your friends to do the same.
Our pick: Keisha Lance Bottoms
In one corner, there's Keisha Lance Bottoms, an attorney and devotee of the mayor. In the other, Ron Shakir, a neighborhood activist and fixture on the public comment circuit at City Council meetings. Neither one has thrown any blows that we've seen. Bottoms, who's finishing her first term on Council, didn't wow us this go-round, yet she's managed to earn a spot in Reed's circle of trust. From the little we've seen of Shakir's views on the issues, he's best holding politicians' feet to the fire at City Council meetings. www.keishalancebottoms.com.
Our pick: Joyce Sheperd
Incumbent Joyce Sheperd, who's challenged only by Michael Jackson, has supported some positive measures during her latest term. That's included co-sponsoring a public park smoking ban, leading efforts on a vacant property registry, and helping to create Atlanta's new film office. She's also stood on the wrong side of important issues such as voting in favor of public funding for the proposed stadium and rezoning Glenwood Park to make way for Jeff Fuqua's suburban-style shopping center. But without a strong challenger, she's done enough to stick around for another term. www.joycemsheperd.com.
??NOTE: This article originally stated that CL endorsed Alex Wan in 2009. We originally endorsed Liz Coyle.