VOX got to capture some of the closing words from the 2017 Atlanta Mayoral candidates at the Center for Civic Innovation’s #VoteLocal mayoral forum. The interactive forum was hosted on Oct. 30 at Dad’s Garage, an improv theater in Atlanta’s Old 4th Ward neighborhood, which gave it a personal, less conventional feel. Eight of the nine attended the forum, with the exception of Councilwoman Mary Norwood, who was scheduled to come, but did not show up. By a show of hands, most voters who attended were unsure of who they were voting for. One Atlanta resident told VOX, “I think it’s Cathy Woolard, but I’m still deciding, and that’s why I’m here.”
The night started with Councilman Kwanza Hall asking, “Is there any beer?” This gave an indication that it was going to be a fun night.
The first question Rohit Malhotra, the moderator and CCI’s executive director and founder, asked: “What would your protest sign look like if you were to stand up for something that wasn’t your job?” Candidates used dry-erase markers and a small whiteboard to write down their answer. Candidate Glenn Wrightson said he would have people experiencing homelessness participate in recycling. This, according to Wrightson, would give more job opportunities and make the city cleaner.
Former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard and former City of Atlanta Chief Operating Officer Peter Aman gave similar answers, saying they would protect human rights. Aman added that he is for taking down Confederate statues and that getting rid of them will progress race relations in Atlanta.
Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms said she would put her focus on education with a sign that read: “Issues of crime start when they are in kindergarten.” She said that if all Atlanta children get good, fair education, crime will plummet and the economy will flourish.
Georgia Sen. Vincent Fort said he would sue banks for predatory lending, a practice that banks across the nation commit which discriminate certain groups, primarily minorities, from getting loans and mortgages. “When I’m mayor, they will be sued,” he said.
Councilman Hall confidently said he would “legalize weed.”
Malhotra also asked candidates what they would do to make sure sexual assault will not happen in their office, and when it does, what they would do. Woolard said,“We have to dig deep into our culture.” Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell pointed out that it starts with the tone of the person in charge. He said there should be “zero tolerance for intimidation.” All of the candidates present indicated sexual assault should be taken seriously and harsher punishments are necessary.
The personal answers came when the candidates were asked what they would have done differently with their campaigns and careers in public office, a question VOX asked candidate and Fulton County Commissioner John Eaves. He answered, “It would’ve been best to have it organized, some level of consistency from forum to forum so that information that was given out was, was consistent for the voters, so they could make an educated decision.” During the forum, the candidates were asked the same question.
Candidate Rohit Ammanamanchi said he wished he had “less missed opportunities.”
Wrightson said he would’ve hired a coach to help with his campaign.
Aman said he would have “cracked down on more corruption.” It wasn’t clear whether his statement was toward the candidates or other Atlanta politicians.
Mitchell said it was a “mistake” hiring his brother’s consulting firm for his community outreach, because in doing this he committed an ethics violation where the law explicitly says, “An official’s hiring of a company owned by an immediate family member is a violation of section 2-812 of the Code of Ethics.” He later noticed his error and agreed to pay an additional $10,000 on his $5,000 fine.
Hall said he regretted he didn’t have a better relationship with the mayor, who he said he had barely met throughout his career.
When the candidates were asked to put down their egos and name who they’d chose as their “vice mayor,” or who they thought was best qualified — besides themselves — to be mayor, they all chose Woolard. (Woolard chose Ammanamanchi.)
After the forum, the audience of about 200 people had the option of putting a sticker beside the name candidate who they thought won the conversation. By Cathy Woolard’s name was 25 stickers, with a total of 38 given in all. The closest to Woolard’s was Peter Aman, with four stickers by his name.
All the candidates in attendance sounded determined to be the next mayor of Atlanta. Whoever wins today’s election (or subsequent run-off) will not only have an impact on the taxpayers and voters of Atlanta, but us, the teens of metro Atlanta and the generations to come.
Check out a gallery from the forum below:
(Disclosure statement: Terell volunteered with Woolard’s campaign this summer after his original VOX Media Cafe story about Atlanta’s mayoral race.)