New leadership at Atlanta’s City Hall bodes well for closer collaboration
By Maria Saporta
Following the results of the Nov. 30 run-off election, a drastically different Atlanta City Hall will take office in January.
A new mayor — Andre Dickens. A new city council president — Doug Shipman. Nine new Atlanta city councilmembers (including the return of Mary Norwood and Alex Wan after a four-year hiatus).
But most importantly, the newly-elected leaders will bring a renewed spirit of cooperation to City Hall — thanks to the tone being set by Dickens and Shipman.
“Doug is high-energy, like me,” Dickens wrote in an email Monday. “Doug and I worked very well together when I was on the board of the Center for Civil and Human Rights, and he was CEO. I like him, and I trust his character. My conversations with him have always been about the love of Atlanta and ways to solve our inequity and challenging social conditions.”
In an hour-long interview on Sunday, Shipman agreed.
“I think Andre and I can have a collaborative approach that is unique, one that we haven’t seen in a long time,” he said.
For the past 12 years, there’s been a distant — and often adversarial — relationship between the mayor and the city council president. Case in point, during the four years Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and City Council President Felicia Moore have been in office, they only met twice one-on-one.
That’s in stark contrast to when Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and City Council President Cathy Woolard were in office in the early 2000s — the last time there was a close working relationship between the mayor and the president of the Council.
“Cathy Woolard and I met every week,” Franklin said in a telephone interview Monday morning. “It certainly was open. There was lots of dialogue.”
That also was the last time when there was a Black mayor and a white city council president — until Dickens and Shipman take office in January.
More importantly, both Dickens and Shipman were able to draw support from every part of the city.
“The racial dynamic can be seen in my election results and even in the polling way back in June, and even in my first election in 2013,” Dickens said. “My voters, supporters, donors, and advisers are significant in every demographic.”
“When it comes to the racial dynamics of governing, Mayor-elect Andre Dickens showed he has support from all over the city,” Shipman said. “The coalition he put together covers a lot of the city.”
The same can be said about Shipman, who was able to garner at least 30 percent of the vote from every city council district.
“You’ve got two people who can move across the entire city and can build collaborations throughout the city,” Shipman said. “That’s going to open up opportunities for us to work together.”
Dickens said he is sure they will have disagreements about policy or agenda items, but he added they are both professionals who will keep their disagreements civil.
“Atlanta needs unifiers with a track record, a backbone, and an opinion,” Dickens said. “We will get the job done without drawing lines.”
Both Dickens and Shipman share another important attribute. Both consider former Mayor Franklin as their mentor – and both will turn to her for guidance and advice.
“Shirley has a school of mentees,” Dickens said. “I’m just one of them. Doug is too. Great leaders can’t stop who they magnetize especially those of us with a thirst for more input.”
For Franklin, the new administration at City Hall will be an opportunity for her to fully serve as an elder statesman – a role she was denied during the administrations of Mayor Kasim Reed and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
In many ways, she now will be able to pay it forward. Franklin’s leadership was built on the foundation of two of her mentors – the late Mayor Maynard Jackson and Mayor Andrew Young. She relied on their counsel and support during her career in public service.
Franklin, who downplayed her insider role, described both Dickens and Shipman as “intellectually curious” with “outstanding” networks and a willingness to talk with everybody.
“I want to be helpful, but I’m not going to interfere,” she said. “I’ll be there if they just want to vent. These are hard jobs. And these are complicated times.”
The city’s demographic profile also is quite diverse, and the recent election shows a city that is not as racially polarized as some would think.
Franklin observed that Dickens and Shipman both had integrated campaigns, and both received citywide support — each receiving a share of white and Black votes.
“Atlanta has had the advantage of having diversity in leadership for years. The power has been shared,” said Franklin, who also noticed several Black women elected leaders lost to men in this city election. “That’s an indication people are judging the qualifications. Women are choosing men and women to represent them.”
Then she added that the newly-elected City Council “is probably the most diverse council we’ve ever had.”
The new City Council will be racially balanced with eight Black members and eight non-Black members (five white and three non-white, non-Black: Alex Wan – a Chinese American and Amir Farokhi and Liliana Bakhtiari – both Iranian Americans). The new City Council also will have three LBGTQ representatives, the most ever serving at one time: Wan, Bakhtiari and Keisha Sean Waites.
“It feels like Atlanta,” Shipman said.
Creating a spirit of cooperation at City Hall will be essential to stop the effort to de-annex Buckhead from the City of Atlanta, he added.
“It’s an existential threat to our future, and it is a unique situation where I believe mayor, the City Council president and City Council ought to be absolutely aligned,” Shipman said. “We have got to fundamentally lock arms. And I’m going to do whatever I can to support Mayor Dickens in that.”
The new City Council also will be much younger than the current City Council. Come January, there will only be two councilmembers who have been in office prior to 2017 — Michael Julian Bond and Howard Shook.
Antonio Lewis, who will be one of the younger members on City Council, also can claim to be one of Franklin’s protégés
“I met Antonio Lewis as a high school senior,” said Franklin, who had launched the Mayor’s Youth Program where she met with every senior in Atlanta’s public schools. “He told me: ‘One day I’m going to be mayor.’ He was an intern in my office.”
Franklin, Dickens and Shipman all expressed excitement about the potential of a more harmonious City Hall.
“I feel Tuesday’s election showed there’s a lot of energy to work on the future,” Shipman said. “There’s a real desire for collaboration with lots of folks ready to work, and that’s a really good thing.”
Franklin summed it up this way: “I’m thrilled with the outcome. I’m excited for Andre. I’m excited for Doug. I’m excited about all the new council members. I’m excited for the city. We will have a lot of new ideas and new energy.”