The Upper Westside Community Improvement District and Northwest Community Alliance hosted a July 21 forum with five Atlanta mayoral candidates. The event was held at The Works, a development in Atlanta’s Upper Westside neighborhood.

Five candidates running for Atlanta mayor at a July 21 forum spoke against Buckhead breaking off from Atlanta.

It was just one of the topics during the Wednesday night forum, hosted by the Upper Westside Community Improvement District and Northwest Community Alliance. Watch the event here.

The candidates in attendance included former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, City Council President Felicia Moore, Councilmember Andre Dickens, Councilmember Antonio Brown, and attorney Sharon Gay. Other candidates have filed to run for mayor but weren’t at the event. Qualifying takes place Aug. 17-20.

The Buckhead cityhood movement has ignited over the past year. A group called the Buckhead City Committee is calling for an independent city due to issues such as the recent spike of violent crime. The committee hopes, through the state legislature, to get a referendum on the 2022 ballot so Buckhead residents can vote whether to secede.

Kasim Reed.

“We have to restore the fractured relationship … If Atlanta breaks apart, our reputation as a ‘city too busy to hate’ falls apart with it,” Reed said, recalling the words of former Mayor Ivan Allen Jr.

Reed said if a vote occurred today, he believes about 20 percent of Atlantans would volunteer to leave, taking with them 25% to 30% of the city’s revenue. “That’s never happened in the history of our city,” he said.

Felicia Moore.

Moore cited language used by cityhood leader Bill White, who has called for a “divorce” from the city of Atlanta.

“You know, with divorce comes alimony,” she said. “It’s going to be a very expensive endeavor. As they say, it’s cheaper to keep her.”

Moore said the city needs a leader to unify the residents and to address crime and insufficient city services. Among her ideas, she said she’d work to boost morale among Atlanta police officers, attending roll calls to have face-to-face interactions.

So far this year, there have been 8 homicides in police Zone 2, which covers neighborhoods including Buckhead, according to the most recent stats from the Atlanta Police Department. That’s up 33% from the same period of time in 2020, and 167% from 2019.

Andre Dickens.

“What we are hearing from Buckhead is that Buckhead wants to feel safe, and they want to feel heard,” Dickens said. If elected mayor, he’s proposing a plan to hire 250 officers in his first year, arrest gang leaders, create a strike force to go after illegal guns, and boost community policing efforts.

“We can get through this together,” Dickens said. “This is just a crime spike and it’s not the new normal.”

Antonio Brown.

Brown said he supported the concerns of Buckhead residents but not the effort to break away.

“I believe that Buckhead should have every right to have a voice and to be able to speak to their issues in the city of Atlanta,” he said. “But I believe that they should not be seceding from the city of Atlanta. I believe we should be working with Buckhead. We should be bridging the gap of communication.”

Sharon Gay.

Gay agreed in her statements. “They deserve to have their concerns heard. They have valid concerns … What I would do is show up. I would listen. I would respond to their concerns.”

Affordable Housing

Another discussion centered around affordable housing, a big topic in Buckhead where rents and home prices continue to soar. A past study has revealed that the majority of people who work in Buckhead can’t afford to live there, which exacerbates the area’s traffic congestion.

“Working folks can’t live in Atlanta anymore,” Dickens said, who is pledging to build and restore 20,000 units of affordable housing if elected. “Since 2010, the cost of housing has increased by 50%, and incomes for working folks have only increased by 10% … Too many working-class people are cost burdened in our city because we have neglected them for over a decade.”

Reed said he’d partner with a “blue ribbon” panel of developers to build affordable housing on city-owned land. He’d also audit existing projects in Atlanta where promises of affordable housing were made to see if those units are actually affordable.

Gay said she’d work with the Atlanta Housing Authority. “Almost nothing has been done by the Atlanta Housing Authority in the past 12 years. I would change that immediately.”

Moore said she’d look at the “entire spectrum” of housing, including units for unsheltered people and city workers.

Brown also said the city needs to create opportunities to help the unsheltered population. “Why can’t we create an auction in the city of Atlanta to take the vacant land that we own and create opportunities for folks and allow them to build generational wealth? … We’re at a crucial point in this city. We are either going to move forward or continue to be left behind.”

Other topics at the forum included transportation investment, a controversial plan to close the Atlanta City Detention Center, economic mobility and greenspace.

Amy Wenk was editor of Reporter Newspapers in 2021-22.