Atlanta Council District 1 Race Wide Open after Smith Retires (UPDATE 1)
Images published for educational purposes pursuant to Fair Use doctrine. Image of Clarence Blalock by Adrian Paulette Coleman, Atlanta Progressive News.
(APN) ATLANTA — The Atlanta City Council District 1 race is wide open after longtime incumbent Councilwoman Carla Smith announced her retirement in a letter to constituents.
“Twenty years as your City Councilperson: I will reach this milestone shortly,” Councilwoman Smith wrote in a letter to her constituents on May 05, 2021.
“It has been one of the great privileges of my life to work for you. During these five terms, you have given me an opportunity to make a difference,” Smith wrote.
“With genuinely mixed emotions, I write to share this news: my work for you as your City Councilperson draws to a close. I will not seek re-election,” Smith wrote.
Two District 1 residents, Clarence Blalock and Kelly-Jeanne Lee, had already announced that they would be running, although there is no indication that Smith would have had a difficult time getting reelected if she had chosen to run again.
Mr. Blalock, a geographer who has lived in District 1 for five years, reached out to Atlanta Progressive News in recent weeks to discuss his concerns for the District. APN has interviewed Blalock for an article or post to be published shortly.
Mrs. Lee, a teacher and Etsy merchant, did not provide contact information on her website other than an email address for her campaign.
After APN reached out to Lee, she provided her phone number so that we can schedule a future interview.
Moraima “Mo” Ivory, a former radio host and current law professor at Georgia State University, who challenged Smith in 2017, told APN in a May 05, 2021 interview that she has received a lot of calls and that she was seriously considering running for the District 1 seat again.
Tanya Washington, who had at one point been a District 1 candidate in the 2017 race prior to withdrawing, told APN in a separate interview that she would not be running.
All eyes are on Sheryl Bennett, Smith’s Chief of Staff, to see whether she will enter the race. Bennett did not immediately return a voicemail from APN seeking comment, nor did she file paperwork to run.
Several District 1 residents have thought for some time that Bennett might run if Smith retired.
In part this is because Smith herself served as a Council aide for the same District before becoming a Councilperson. Smith worked as an administrative aide to former District 1 Councilman Vern McCarty from 1994 to 2001.
“No chosen successor waits in the wings,” Smith wrote in her letter, saying that she might “weigh in” on the field of candidates after doing her research.
Before Vern McCarty served, the seat was held by his then-wife, Deborah Ownby McCarty.
Vern McCarty, Deborah Ownby McCarty, and Smith are White, which is remarkable given the fact that the majority of voters in the District are Black.
District 1 includes parts or all of such historically Black neighborhoods as Mechanicsville, Peoplestown, Pittsburgh, Summerhill, as well as parts of South Atlanta; in addition to areas that have gentrified such as Grant Park and Ormewood Park.
But Carla Smith, with her Southern accent, attention to constituent services, and endearing personality, was able to build a multi-racial coalition that got her elected, and got her reelected four times.
As a Councilmember, this term, Smith was also essentially the one White member of the “nod squad” – the informal name for the group of Council Members who have historically supported the Mayor.
For example, in approving the Northside Drive Pedestrian Bridge completion, a project supported by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Smith voted with Ivory Lee Young, Jr. (District 3), Cleta Winslow (District 4), Natalyn Archibong (District 5), Andrea Boone (District 10), Marci Overstreet (District 11), Joyce Sheperd (District 12), and Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-large).
Smith has generally supported the Mayor on key legislation, whether former Mayor Shirley Franklin, former Mayor Kasim Reed, or current Mayor Bottoms.
Therefore, her retirement will potentially have consequences for the size of the nod squad during the next Council term, making it less likely that said nod squad will secure a majority of seats. Archibong (District 5), who has also recently voted with Mayors Bottoms and Reed on many major issues, is running for Council President.
Smith has previously grappled with whether to retire, as previously reported by APN. In 2013, she engaged a publicist to announce that she would seek reelection and quell any rumors to the contrary.
District 1 is changing and gentrifying, especially with the redevelopment of the area around Turner Field by Georgia State University. This means that more people are moving into the District 1 who are White, and who have higher incomes.
Therefore, District 1 is a changing, growing district. It will be critical to see how the boundaries of the District change in the upcoming Census. While District 1 has been growing, it probably has not been as fast as other districts like Midtown and Buckhead, and therefore will likely have to pick up additional voters, likely in additional neighborhoods.
Already, the race has picked up two new candidates.
Jason Winston, a marketing consultant with Winston Media Group, filed a Declaration of Intent (DOI) to run on May 05, 2021, the same day of Smith’s announcement, apparently while the ink was still wet.
Nathan Clubb filed a DOI to run on May 07, 2021. He has served for three years as president of South Atlantans for Neighborhood Development (SAND).
Mr. Blalock reported approximately three thousand dollars in contributions to his campaign on his Campaign Contribution Disclosure Report dated April 30, 2021.
Mrs. Lee reported over ten thousand dollars on her CCDR for the same period.
It does not appear that Mo Ivory has filed a CCDR since Nov. 01, 2017, days prior to the 2017 Municipal Election, nor did she file termination paperwork for her District 1 campaign.
Candidates are required to file regular CCDRs, even in non-election years.
Thus, it is not clear how much money, if any, Ivory has in her campaign account that could be used towards a 2021 race.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2021)
CORRECTION and UPDATE 1: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that former Councilman McCarty had died. The article has been updated to reflect that he is still, in fact, alive. We regret the error.