I was taught to give thanks before all else. So as Atlantans elect a new mayor, let’s begin with gratitude that three solid, capable candidates lead the field.
One must look only to last year’s presidential race — or perhaps to next year’s gubernatorial campaign — to see that this isn’t always the case. Lisa Borders, Mary Norwood, Kasim Reed: Put their names in a hat, draw any of them as the winner, and we should be in good hands.
But “all of the above” isn’t an option on the ballot. My colleague Jay Bookman came to one conclusion based on the AJC’s meetings with these three candidates. Here’s how I chose the one who will get my vote.
First I needed to eliminate one of the three, and Reed made the job easy. Not because I don’t like him or find him a good candidate. On the contrary, I think his experience at the Legislature could greatly benefit Atlanta if he were mayor. Despite his line about not being “cuddly,” he is a genuinely likable guy.
And I appreciate his honesty in telling us that “leading is choosing,” that you can’t promise everything to everyone. Not all politicians are so forthright.
Reed chooses public safety as his priority, the goal for which he’d sacrifice elsewhere. That’s where I part company with him.
No doubt, crime is a big issue in Atlanta and therefore in this election. No doubt, it is probably a bigger issue for some Atlantans than it has been for me. (I did have a car window busted out a few months back — and was advised by a police officer just to leave the doors unlocked at night and save myself the trouble of replacing windows.)
But it’s not the issue for me in a city so cash-strapped that it can’t afford the 750 new officers Reed says he would add within four years. Those officers would cost some $58 million a year plus recruitment and training costs, a daunting figure considering Atlanta raised taxes this year by $56 million just to end furloughs and fund its pension liabilities.
Focusing on public safety above all else will win Reed some votes. Bookman wrote that Reed will get his vote, and Reed might get mine in a future race. But not this time.
That leaves me with Borders and Norwood.
Fixing the city’s finances is a prerequisite for addressing public safety and all other concerns. As big a problem as dollars and cents are, it’s a bigger problem than just that.
There is a trust gap between Atlanta’s citizens and its civil servants, not to mention between Atlanta and our state government. Both Borders and Norwood acknowledge this gap.
Both women talk about the need to enforce city code better and clean up neighborhoods wracked by mortgage fraud. Borders, worryingly, puts a bigger emphasis on eminent domain and making it easier for the city to seize such properties.
Both women talk about collecting more of the fines and other monies already owed to the city. Neither has ruled out variations on a commuter tax — so either one as mayor would need to be talked out of what I’ll call the Business Relocation Tax Credit.
Both women acknowledge the need to get a handle on who does what in the city, and to make sure the work force is lean and efficient.
This is a long-standing problem in Atlanta. One recent example I encountered: My water meter is buried in my yard, with no marker at ground level. I asked the Water Department to send a worker to locate it. One man came to mark the water main; someone else, he said, would have to find and unearth the meter. I finally did it myself.
These tasks will require the next mayor to challenge city employees, particularly those outside the Police Department and Fire Department.
Borders has the endorsement of the union for nonpublic safety workers, who will expect forbearance in return. Norwood has the support of those who lodged the complaints. In a close call, I’ll take the candidate who is more free to change the status quo. In a close call, I’ll take Norwood.
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