By Maria Saporta
Inclusion was the prevailing message at a mayoral forum Thursday evening sponsored by the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
The forum, held at the Georgia Terrace, included the five top candidates running to become Atlanta’s next mayor.
All five candidates said their administrations would work with the Hispanic community to participate in City Hall’s policies and contracts.
“I would bring the best people to the table,” said Jesse Spikes, an attorney who is running for his first public office.
State Sen. Kasim Reed said he would demonstrate his dedication to inclusion through his appointments. “I want to make sure my cabinet looks like the city of Atlanta,” he said.
City Council President Lisa Borders saisd she would work towards “streamlining the process” for businesses to qualify with the Office of Contract Compliance.
City Councilwoman Mary Norwood said she is a woman business owner, and she would make sure the bid proposals were written in a way that would be most inclusive.
And Glenn Thomas, a former city employee, said his policy of inclusions would include the lesbian, gay and transgender community.
The forum, which was moderated by Atlanta Business Chronicle Publisher Ed Baker, was dominated by the candidates’ positions on fiscal responsibility and dedication to increased public safety.
When asked about their stand on the city’s recent 3 mil property tax increase, real differences emerged.
“I though we should have a 1 mil increase for public safety,” Reed said.
“I think there needed to be a tax increase to bring people back to work,” Spikes said adding that he would work to get rid of waste at City Hall.
Thomas called the tax increase “irresponsible.” Tax increases should just go to providing new services and not to support existing services, he said.
“I did support the tax increase as a last resort,” Borders said.
Norwood said she voted against it because she felt uncomfortable with the growth in the city’s budget and its accounting practices.
Reed then lashed out at Borders and Norwood, without calling them by name, for not having passed a property tax increase a year ago.
The council voted 15-0 in opposition to a tax increase proposed by Mayor Shirley Franklin. “That, to me, was irresponsible,” Reed said.
When asked about their vision for the future, particularly as it relates to transportation, the candidates had a variety of thoughts.
Spikes called for more regional cooperation and the need for a special assessment for transportation.
Thomas urged the city to invest in itself without relying on the state.
Borders said the city has been investing in itself through MARTA and the Beltline. She also said the enabling legislation for MARTA needs to be rewritten without a “paternalistic” control from the state.
Norwood endorsed the city’s Connect Atlanta plan, and said the state should have implemented a commuter rail network years ago.
Reed said the state needs to adopt a regional sales tax for transportation and change the MARTA formula to give it flexibility on how it spends its sales tax.
In his closing statement, Reed said public safety would be his top priority. “The notion that we don’t have enough money to keep our city safe is nonsense,” he said.
Spikes said the race would boil down to one fundamental question: Who can you trust to get it done. He then described himself as a “problem solver.”
Thomas said Atlanta was on the “brink of greatness,” and that it needed to elect a leader, no a politician.
Borders told the audience that she has wanted to be mayor of Atlanta, serving the city, all of her life. “The mayor of Atlanta has an awesome responsibility,” she said. “This is not the time to just step forward. We’ve got to come together and get this city back on track. Atlanta’s best days like ahead.”
Norwood, the last candidate to give her closing statement, said she has spent 20 years in the trenches getting to know the city inside out. “We need a hands-on mayor,” Norwood said, added that she was “propelled and compelled” to run after seeing “ a City Hall that was not functioning.”
The non-partisan election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Because there are 13 candidates in the mayoral race, it is expected to be settled in a run-off, which will be on Tuesday, Nov. 24.