Atlanta City Council Candidate Q and A: Anthony Johnson

Anthony Johnson, candidate for Atlanta City Council District 11. Credit: Michael A. Schwarz, courtesy of Anthony Johnson

Anthony Johnson, candidate for Atlanta City Council District 11. Credit: Michael A. Schwarz, courtesy of Anthony Johnson

Some comments have been condensed or lightly edited for brevity or clarity.

Atlanta City Council wouldn’t be Anthony Johnson’s first elected office. He briefly served in the Alabama state Legislature.

Campaign website

Q: What is your No. 1 concern for your district specifically (as opposed to the city as a whole?)

A: My No. 1 concern is reversing the cycle of poverty. Onto that, you have affordable housing; I think that’s a major concern throughout the city. … There’s a lot of poverty in the district. It’s a food desert. Southwest Atlanta is a food desert. People are having to fight every day just to make ends meet. Jobs are scarce. That’s the biggest thing, is to be able to reverse the cycle of poverty.

Q: The next question is a follow-up, what can you do as a Council person about that, what are some of your ideas or proposals?

A: So, my first issue is … is to reverse the cycle of poverty.

But my second concern is just representation. Right now, we don’t have any representation. I plan to be a very active City Council representative for District 11. That’s what we need.

…We have absentee representation in our City Council seat. I’m not going to use the City Council seat as a stepping stone to run for mayor or anything else. But I’m going to use it to serve, taking my 20 years of experience, both in the Georgia House [as staff] and as a volunteer in the mayor’s office, back under Shirley Campbell and Bill Franklin, to make sure that our district is represented at City Hall.

… We’ve got to develop, very, very strong economic development. Inclusionary zoning is at the top of my platform. Affordable housing. Making sure that our families and our children are safe … Making sure we bring all of our resources to the table so we can do the work in our community.

Q: Turning to Council, what’s an uncomfortable truth the next Council will need to face?

A: There are a few of those. … An uncomfortable truth that we are going to have to deal with is: this is a highly polarized city. It’s a highly economically polarized city. We see the gap widening each and every day. We live in an ultrapolarized city now. You can see it every day. … We see class, as far as the problems that come with class.

A lot of what Atlanta has fought for, foot soldiers, Civil Rights icons like Dr. Joseph Lowery (who is my god-uncle, who endorsed me early in the campaign) … a lot of that we see coming to the fore. We see a very polarized city. Income inequity, all of that. …Class economics are dividing people and it’s almost drawing these very real lines of demarcation in the sand. Where cost of living may be higher in this part of town, we see demographics and all of that in play.

We are going to have to rise up to the occasion, to be the city, essentially to be a city that is too busy to hate. We’ve got to step up to be that. I think we set a high bar where that theme is concerned. Now we’re going to have to fight to be it.

… I feel like that is the biggest thing: are we going to honor everybody in the district? Are we going to make sure that people, poor people, have basic access to transportation, is everybody in my district and throughout the city, is everybody going to have proper education, health care, transportation, jobs?

… At one of the forums, the question was asked how we feel about the reality of Atlanta being the ‘tale of two cities.’ Our challenge is going to have to be one city that’s going to benefit every resident of it.

Q: Over the last four to eight years, what is something that this Council has gotten right? … The next question is what they got wrong, so heads up.

A: … This one is a two-edged sword. One thing that the City Council as a whole has gotten right and gotten wrong is …  look at development. We look at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, look at Turner Field and the sale of it to Georgia State University, you look at development that is going on throughout the city … even at the airport. You look at how … Atlanta has been able to attract new forms of revenue, from inside of our country and outside. We all know that Atlanta is probably the largest economic engine in the southeast, using the airport and even the port authority as methods of “irrigation” for our revenue.

We’re building all these new buildings, and we’re seemingly building something in the city every other week or so.

So as a whole that’s great.

But then, the second part — what have we gotten wrong? It’s that we have not been responsible in including our poor and middle class workers in that master plan of development.

We have been successful in development, but we have done a poor job in including the poor and middle class in our master plan.

… There’s an ugly word that’s been thrown around for years, “gentrification.” We’ve seen aggressive gentrification, we’ve seen it. Turner Field, the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition, they were trying to fight to get a community benefits agreement. So my thing is: we see the city of Atlanta has been very … class-insensitive.

We’ve been willing to invite the “haves” to occupy inside 285 and Downtown primarily. But we haven’t included everybody else … while the thrust has been to occupy Downtown and get Downtown and make it the place to live and work and play, but we’ve developed regular, average people out of the locale.

Q: Overall, bottom line, why should people vote for you, what’s your pitch to the voters?

A: People should vote for Anthony Johnson because Anthony Johnson is, hands down, the most qualified candidate in this election. … The other candidates will agree that Anthony Johnson has 20 years of consistent service in the community. Twenty years. I am the only former elected official. Anthony Johnson is a public servant. I work with people every day, I’m the only ordained pastor. But I look at myself as a public servant. Anthony Johnson has a proven 20-year track record in the community. The experience, the know-how, when I’m elected I can start serving on day one. I have both the legislative and community background to hold office and to begin serving on day one.

I’ve gotten the endorsement of Dr. Lowery, I used to be his driver a long time ago. We’ve got IBPO [the International Brotherhood of Police Officers]. We’ve got the Georgia Federation of Teachers. We’ve got PACE, the Professional Association of City Employees. … We’ve got [founding former president of the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership] Hattie Dorsey.

Back to Atlanta City Council District 11 candidate profiles

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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