Mayor Dickens reveals his governing strategies to Atlanta Press Club
By Maria Saporta
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens hopes the state will help the city fulfill its top priorities, and he is working hard to have good relations with Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, House Speaker Jon Burns and other elected leaders.
But he’s not stopping there.
“We also are asking the federal government to skip the state and just send direct money to us,” Dickens said Tuesday at his annual visit with the Atlanta Press Club for a Newsmaker luncheon. “That’s what we want.”
He pointed to an announcement from just the day before. U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff and the mayor unveiled a $30 million grant from the bipartisan infrastructure bill to make bicycle and pedestrian improvements in downtown Atlanta along the Pryor Street and Central Avenue corridors. “The federal government can give us our own allocation without going through the state,” Dickens said.
Dickens, however, hopes the state will work with the city to help him gain traction on several of his top priorities. During the lunch he explained that the state holds the city’s charter, so the city must get state approval to enact certain policies.
Dickens gave the example of inclusionary zoning – considered one avenue to get more affordable housing units in the city. Atlanta would need state approval to pass an inclusionary zoning law citywide. The BeltLine overlay district, for instance, has an inclusionary zoning requirement that Dickens helped get through when he was a council member.
Another example Dickens mentioned was investment in transit and MARTA. In recent weeks, MARTA has acknowledged that it has a shortfall, and it won’t be able to build out all the projects that were promised in the More MARTA plan.
City voters approved a half-cent sales tax in November 2016 for More MARTA, which was supposed to include 29 miles of light rail transit, 13 miles of bus rapid transit, enhanced bus service and other improvements. Because of rising construction costs and time delays, MARTA now is going to have to scale back plans.
But if the state gave MARTA financial support, that might not be the case. MARTA is the largest transit system in the United States that does not receive regular operational support from the state.
“Having the state’s support for MARTA would be great,” Dickens said. “That’s why I’m working really hard with the state to get things that help us.”
The mayor added that the state is working with the city on public safety issues.
During the lunch, Dickens answered questions from Patricia Murphy, a political columnist with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Sophia Qureshi, founder of 285 South. Both of them asked several questions related to the proposed public safety training center on the site of the old Atlanta Prison Farm in DeKalb County.
Later in the program, someone in the audience asked the mayor if he felt athletes from Russia and Belarus should be barred from next year’s Olympic Games in Paris because of the invasion of Ukraine.
“There’s actually more going on in the world than the public safety training center,” the mayor laughed before saying he needed to do more research on that topic before he could answer that question. He added that those are the types of questions Atlanta may have to answer in hosting the 2026 World Cup Games.
Dickens also was bullish on Atlanta’s possibilities to host the 2024 Democratic National Convention.
“We are going to get the DNC,” said Dickens, adding it would be a big economic boon for the city and that it would solidify Georgia’s role as a swing state.
“Georgia becomes a state that Democrats and Republicans have to invest in,” Dickens said.
The mayor was also asked about the possibility of the Georgia legislature passing a bill that might increase the possibility of a City of Buckhead.
“Buckhead City is something I don’t want,” Dickens said during the luncheon that was held at the Buckhead Club. “We want one city with one bright future.”
Dickens said he talks to state leaders, and he’s encouraged by those conversations. When Buckhead was incorporated into the City of Atlanta in the early 1950s, the operations of that community became fully meshed within city government.
“You can’t unscramble an egg,” Dickens said. “I’m not about to let that happen.”
You can’t afford an egg to unscramble.Report