Killer Mike calls for mayoral candidates to strive for 'Black Mecca'

Hizzoner hopefuls hashed out plans for affordable housing, income inequality and criminal justice reform at ONE Musicfest's recent forum


THE GANGS (ALMOST) ALL HERE: A bevy of Atlanta mayoral candidates gathered at the ONE Musicfest Forum on Tuesday, Sept. 5.
| Sean Keenan

Atlanta hip-hop artist Killer Mike (aka Michael Render) wants the city to cement its status as a "Black Mecca," and he's helping residents identify the mayoral candidate best equipped to pull that off.

While moderating ONE Musicfest's Atlanta mayoral forum Tuesday, Killer Mike prodded Hizzoner hopefuls with pointed questions about how to address concerns of the city's marginalized residents minorities and the impoverished. The rapper, then flanked by conservative pundit Shelley Wynter and Georgia Tech scholar Joycelyn Wilson, asked candidates how they'd stave off worries of gentrification and mass displacement, income inequality and immobility, and crime and police misconduct.

Asked how he'd address criminal justice reform, John Eaves, the former Fulton County chairman who's flaunting a history of cracking down on crime, said he'd introduce a "reinvestment plan," which, among other things, would shutter the city's Downtown detention center and reroute its resources to curb recidivism and prevent undue incarceration.

Wynter asked other candidates if they'd prioritize implementing early-life education initiatives before boosting the city's police force. Atlanta's ex-chief operating officer, Peter Aman, said the two aren't mutually exclusive. Education is a centerpiece of his campaign, although he's also adamant about effecting more "compassionate community policing" to ward off concerns of foul play by cops.

Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms said programs for youths require more immediacy. "I'm running for mayor because I have four children," she said during her introduction spiel.

Council President Ceasar Mitchell wants Atlanta's police officers to be more neighborly, which means mandating more foot patrols legislation he's pushed in the past and hiring more cops who live in the neighborhoods they protect. He also pitched the idea of sprucing up blighted properties so police and firefighters could find homes locally.

Councilwoman Mary Norwood, this race's front-runner, told the crowd that the city can and should shell out more cash to pay its emergency workers. Plus: "We need a program where if cops and firemen stay in the residence for "x" amount of years, they get all that increase in equity," she said.

Moderators started the discussion with a query of the candidates' openness to a potential endorsement from Mayor Kasim Reed. Among the nine-strong gaggle of runners attending, just three hands shot up: Bottoms, Aman, and Councilman Kwanza Hall indicated they'd be grateful for a plug from the city's top dog. Hall, who's joshed that Norwood would back his bid, said he's appreciative of any campaign support.

Bottoms, surely Reed's favorite in the crowded contest, seemed less than thrilled with the question. Sitting high at second place in recent polls, she was put on the hot seat Tuesday, jabbed with questions about her ties to the mayor. She'd of course appreciate an official endorsement from Reed, but she said it's "sexist" to credit him with her popularity and assume she's obligated to carry out his agenda. But, Mitchell, who's recently become Reed's preferred punching bag, managed to miss questions about their beef.

Norwood, showing up a tad late, fielded a few questions in a row to make up for lost time. Among them again: Would you accept Reed's endorsement? "That's about the most farfetched question I've ever been asked," she responded. "But of course I would accept an endorsement from anyone in our city.

Cathy Woolard, Atlanta's ex-Council president, was later pressed about the "disaster" (Render's word) that the Beltline has become for some citizens. Woolard acknowledged the mass displacement that's happened and continues along the transit trail, although she said the Great Recession took her and Beltline visionary Ryan Gravel's initial goals a bit off the rails. "I would be the first to agree that the Atlanta Beltline Inc. has not delivered on the housing promise," she said. "We need to build housing for the poorest of the poor in our community and work our way back up."

State Sen. Vincent Fort, the Atlanta Democrat who scored support from Render during a 'Run the Jewels' concert in January, said he's fed up with leadership that "is too interested in working for the billionaires and millionaires." (Can you guess how he snagged a Bernie Sanders endorsement?)

Fort's been fired up for a while over the city's apparent infatuation with stadium development and asserts that leaders should be looking out for the little guy, not just big businesses. "Maynard Jackson said, 'We don't want to knock over the table; we just want more chairs at the table.' I don't campaign to say that we shouldn't have the business community engaged and involved in the city's business, but we've got to invest in our neighborhoods," Fort said. "We've got to invest in our young people." That's why he's pushing free community college for Atlanta Public Schools grads.

Fort told Creative Loafing he thinks Killer Mike's January endorsement is still solid. Although Render hinted at interest in a few other candidates, namely Aman. The rapper, renowned for his politically aggressive lyrics, padded Aman's clout with some African-American voters by dubbing him a "white guy who gets black culture." Aman's said for months that "race frames this race for mayor," and his appreciation for the plight of black Atlantans seems to have resonated with Render during the discussion.

And of course Render had to ask not just because he's a self-proclaimed "avid marijuana user," but also since weed laws are harsher on Atlanta's people of color who of the bunch wants to relax cannabis laws. Fort and Hall stole the show there, as they've both been pushing legislation to ease the punishments for being busted for pot crimes. But all the other candidates offered interest in decriminalization so long as such policies don't clash with state codes.

Michael Sterling, the underdog of the nine and the former head of the city's workforce development agency, fielded a question about his willingness to drop out of the race and tag another candidate with his support. He's not down and out yet, he said: "I am certainly a realist. If two weeks before the election there was no viable way for my campaign to continue forward, I certainly could consider stepping out of the race and supporting a more viable candidate." Sterling's not quite sure who he'd back, though.

At the tail end of the show, Render presented five poster boards plastered with legislative promises and asked the candidates if they'd sign to show commitment to the issues. Every candidate scrawled five autographs, although some noted caveats. See one of the signs below, and check back soon for more updates on this mayoral hullabaloo.


PROMISES, PROMISES: Atlanta mayoral candidates signed posters plastered with issues facing the city.
| Sean Keenan