ANALYSIS: Mayoral Race a Voter’s Dilemma
(APN) ATLANTA — This campaign season, Atlanta Progressive News’ homepage and blog have been your number one source for news and information about the 2009 Mayoral and City Council races. APN has published what appears to be the only full-length interviews with all of the major Mayoral candidates so far in any publication.
Our readers have a lot at stake this election. The Mayoral and Council races provide an opportunity to see some new faces in the Mayor’s office and on the Council who may be more interested in the welfare of working families than the majority of those currently serving citywide.
To be frank, APN had a non-existent relationship with Mayor Franklin’s office, pretty much since the news service was founded in 2005. Franklin’s spokesperson, Catherine Goodling, stopped responding to press inquiries from APN years ago.
As far as Council Members, Councilwoman Felicia Moore has been the only Member APN has found to be worth approaching regarding pressing issues such as our concerns over Atlanta’s planned public housing demolitions. While certainly, there have been other Council Members who have voted in a progressive manner, only Moore has been willing to go to bat for working families in our view. Therefore, voters should work diligently to reelect Moore and provide her with some new allies on the Council who are willing to be vocal.
Now that APN has interviewed Lisa Borders, Mary Norwood, and Kasim Reed, this article will provide an analysis comparing and contrasting each of the candidates’ responses to interview questions and a broad overview of the race the way it stands today.
MAYOR’S RACE: THE BOTTOM LINE
Given APN’s research of the candidates’ platforms, positions, and political backgrounds, two major candidates at this time seem to provide the best hope for providing an agenda that will at least be somewhat sensitive to the needs of working families. Those two candidates are Mary Norwood and Kasim Reed.
As this article will explain, both Norwood and Reed have positive and negative qualities in terms of the progressive values which shape APN’s editorial platform. APN will continue to do additional research in the coming months before our Board of Directors issues a candidate endorsement.
To be sure, none of the three major candidates is a clear progressive choice, and that is unfortunate.
APN does have serious concerns about the candidacy of Lisa Borders, who until recently, was a Senior Vice President for Cousins Properties, a major Atlanta developer. Borders appeared to side with the Mayor and Atlanta Housing Authority during the recent debate over public housing demolitions. Her campaign is being funded by major Atlanta developers, according to a recent report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper. Also, the Atlanta Business Chronicle announced her candidacy before she did, citing sources in the business community familiar with the matter, suggesting many in the corporate circles were not satisfied with what the other two candidates had to offer them and were urging her to re-enter the race. Meanwhile, her interview with APN left much to be desired.
APN will be sending questionaires to second tier Mayoral candidates, including Jesse Spikes and Glenn Thomas, and will publish their responses on our website as well.
MARY NORWOOD: POSITIVE QUALITIES
Mary Norwood, first and foremost, is the most independent candidate of the three front-runners. Whereas Borders and Mayor Franklin were thick as thieves the last four years, and whereas Kasim Reed was Mayor Franklin’s Campaign Manager, Norwood is her own political institution, without the same level of ties to the same political machine that has left us where we are today.
Relatedly, the AJC recently reported that Norwood is lagging behind both Borders and Reed in terms of big developer funding. She calls her campaign a real grassroots campaign, and the abundance of Norwood for Mayor yard signs all over the City seems to support this claim.
Norwood showed her independence as well when she introduced a McMansion moratorium while on the City Council. Her concern for neighborhood preservation in the face of hungry developers showed an underlying concern for middle class families and neighborhood quality.
Another positive aspect of Norwood’s campaign is that she is clearly very knowledgeable about the nooks and crannies of Atlanta and all its little neighborhoods. She has connections throughout all the neighborhood associations and she was quite accessible to people during her recent years on the Council, where constituents could even reach her on her home phone.
It was also positive that Norwood was able to take a strong position on property taxes, opposing Mayor Franklin’s recently proposed 3 mill increase. It is good to take a strong position, and also to want to keep taxes low for working familes. Norwood has not detailed, however, what she would be willing to cut in order to balance the City’s books in the face of declining sales tax and property tax revenue. To be sure, Norwood was clear she could not support the increase in part because she lacked transparent information about the City budget. However, citizens have reason to be concerned that Norwood has not clarified what she defines as “things that are nice to have” in the City budget.
MARY NORWOOD: AREAS OF CONCERN
In her interview with APN, Norwood neglected to articulate a comprehensive plan to address affordable housing and homelessness, two very interconnected problems, in Atlanta. Her answer to address affordable housing was to assist families in getting into foreclosed properties, particularly in South Atlanta, because of the current low prices on those homes. She admitted this was the “low hanging fruit,” and promised affordable housing was important to her; however, she did not present plans to get us to the higher hanging fruit, as it were.
On homelessness, Norwood said her plan was to expand upon a program she had developed as Councilwoman, to provide homeless people with jobs picking up garbage on Atlanta’s streets. APN heard from readers who were concerned about this plan because it appeared to affiliate homeless people with garbage, it assumes most homeless people are unemployed [which is not true], and again, it was not comprehensive in addressing homelessness.
On the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, Norwood equivocated on whether she would support funding them again if she became Mayor. She argued the Task Force needed to beef up security in order to win over its neighbors; however, she did not recognize how lack of funding from the City undermines the Task Force’s ability to pay for security, nor how much of the crime problem in that area does not involve shelter residents.
Finally, when Eleanor Rayton, President of the Palmer House senior high rise, asked APN for advice about how to save her building from demolition by the Atlanta Housing Authority, APN urged Rayton to call Norwood, and provided Rayton with Norwood’s cell and home numbers. Norwood did not respond to Rayton, even though she listed Rayton on her list of community supporters in her exploratory campaign on her website and campaign literature.
As noted above, Norwood’s strengths are, overall, that she is accessible, knowledgeable in many ways about the City and its inner-workings, politically independent, willing to advocate, and independent in terms of campaign finance. In the next few months, Norwood’s challenge will be to demonstrate that accessibility, in reaching out to affordable housing and homelessness experts, to formulate a more comprehensive and systemic platform on these issues. Also, she needs to return Rayton’s phonecall.
KASIM REED: POSITIVE QUALITIES
Kasim Reed has been showing up as a cosponsor on progressive State legislation, including legislation to end the death penalty in Georgia, as well as at progressive events, including a recent press conference on MARTA. However, it is conspicuous when candidates begin showing their face at events like these merely at the time when they want people to vote for them.
Kasim Reed’s campaign has embraced young voters and online tools, and that is a good sign. Norwood’s campaign, on the other hand, has been much more traditional and has done less to attract young voters.
Reed was the only candidate interviewed by APN who answered yes regarding whether he would restore City funding to the Task Force for the Homeless; Borders essentially ignored the question, while Norwood equivocated. To be sure, Reed stated he would require the Task Force to show they are moving people into permanent housing; while this is a worthy goal, Reed did not recognize the funding obstacles faced by the Task Force in achieving that goal. [Also, the City has lost thousands of units of permanent affordable housing–that is, public housing–thanks to Shirley Franklin and the AHA.]
KASIM REED: AREAS OF CONCERN
Atlantans are still waiting on Kasim Reed to explain–if he was Franklin’s campaign manager and is entrenched in her political machine–how electing Reed would not be akin to a third Franklin administration. Reed has said that he is not Shirley Franklin; yet, Hillary Clinton insisted she was not Bill Clinton too, and this argument did not resonate with many.
Therefore, one of Reed’s biggest challenges will be to explain how, in particular, he is different from Franklin on policy and practice issues, as well as to explain how he got caught up in being the campaign manager for a Mayor who approved public housing demolitions, de-funded the City’s biggest homeless shelter, and banned panhandling.
Readers were quite troubled by Reed’s interview responses regarding ending homelessness in Atlanta. Reed praised both the Gateway Center as a model for ending homelessness, and Debbie Starnes, Franklin’s homeless liaison, as a model leader.
Unfortunately, the Gateway Center’s model is deeply flawed. As previously reported by APN, the Gateway Center only provides shelter for individuals who qualify for a full-time program. They don’t provide shelter beds; they only provide program beds. If there is no nonprofit agency sponsoring any number of beds located in the Gateway Center, the shelter is willing to let them go empty. Also, as previously reported by APN, the Gateway Center evicted homeless women during the height of cold weather in late 2006, because they didn’t have program beds for them, and then lied about it to CBS46 news.
Meanwhile, Debbie Starnes has been the biggest opponent of the Task Force for the Homeless. According to the Task Force, Starnes has led a multi-pronged campaign against the Task Force, including cutting off funding, urging other community agencies to isolate the Task Force, and making negative statements about the Task Force in media reports.
Reed’s answers to these two questions pointed to a more systemic issue, which is that Reed has been focused on state-wide issues in the State Senate for the last several years. Therefore, he has not been as entrenched in City issues as someone like Mary Norwood. It appeared Reed was basically mimicking the watchwords of Franklin’s administration–Gateway Center and Debbie Starnes–without any independent assessment of their efficacy in truly addressing homelessness in Atlanta. This further pointed back to Reed’s ties to the Franklin Administration.
To be sure, Reed’s campaign has assured APN that he is currently in the process of meeting with more community stakeholders in order to develop policy position papers, and that he will be open to meeting with diverse constituencies as Mayor.
In sum, it is too early to tell which front-runner candidate shows the most promise for Atlanta’s working families. There’s a zero percent chance Lisa Borders is that candidate. However, right now, Norwood and Reed’s campaigns have both positive and negative aspects that readers should consider in order to make an informed vote this November.
APN will continue to follow both campaigns to see how they unfold in relation to the issues raised above. We encourage our readers to continue to stay in touch and to share your opinions regarding the candidates.
About the author:
Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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