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Atlanta mayoral candidates pitch affordable housing plans at forum

Six of the major contenders in the race for Atlanta mayor vowed at a forum Wednesday to work with the development community to tackle key issues such as affordable housing and to find fixes to other challenges that will arise as the city’s population swells in the years ahead.

The forum, held by the Council for Quality Growth, an influential trade group for developers and related fields, focused on economic issues, such as growth, transportation and regionalism. The candidates’ answers to questions were largely in the spirit of finding common ground with business leaders.

RELATED: Atlanta mayoral candidates wrestle over what it means to be a regional leader

On the topic of the city’s notoriously frustrating permitting process, for instance, candidates Peter Aman, Keisha Lance Bottoms, John Eaves, Kwanza Hall, Ceasar Mitchell and Mary Norwood all said the process was overdue for an overhaul.

The Council for Quality Growth helped develop an affordable housing ordinance in Atlanta and the topic of affordability loomed large in the forum. Here’s what the candidates, in alphabetical order, had to say on affordable housing:

Peter Aman, former Atlanta chief operating officer:

Aman called affordability “a critical need of the city,” and one that if the city gets right will help traffic congestion. Working-class people have had to move away to afford their rents and mortgages, but their jobs remain in the city, meaning more workers drive into Atlanta.

“We have people who built Atlanta being forced out of Atlanta,” he said. Aman said he’d create a committee on the subject of inclusionary zoning, and said the city needs to set objectives and create predictable development rules. He also said the city will use land trusts, tax incentives and other tools.

“We’re only 8 percent of the metro Atlanta population, and capital will flee if we get this wrong,” he said of business investment.

City Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms:

Bottoms said the city needs to get creative, and she touted her effort to create displacement-free zones in neighborhoods where residents fear displacement from redevelopment.

Out of that effort, city leaders, the Westside Future Fund and corporations created an Anti-Displacement Fund, designed to protect homeowners near the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium from rising property tax rates, she said. The fund is backed by private dollars and will help cushion longtime residents in the shadow of the new stadium from the shock of rising taxes.

“It will be most important to look at expansion of displacement-free zones throughout the city and make sure they’re neighborhood-specific.”

Former Fulton County Chairman John Eaves:

Eaves focused his comments on the issue of taxes, including a property tax freeze approved by the Fulton County commission that Eaves championed after residents got sticker shock from soaring property tax assessments.

“I think there’s tremendous opportunity to work with the state Legislature to provide creative ways to provide relief to seniors,” Eaves said, including exempting or reducing the burden of school taxes.

In hot neighborhoods such as the Old Fourth Ward, where rising property values have displaced many longtime residents, Eaves said the city could look at freeze taxes in those specific areas.

City Councilman Kwanza Hall:

Hall said he would leverage 11 Atlanta Housing Authority properties totaling 400 or so acres to develop new units and said as mayor he believed 20,000 new units is an achievable goal.

“But we need to bring partners to table,” he said.

The city also must build more density, including affordable units, at MARTA stations. Building near MARTA reduces the need for a car, cutting residents’ monthly costs, he said. If you remove the need for a car, he said, “you change the game.”

City Council President Ceasar Mitchell:

“Affordable housing is probably the most important issue in our city,” Mitchell said. He said a city without affordable housing loses its diversity.

Mitchell pitched what he called a “blight to light” program, to turn vacant houses and lots into homes for cops, firefighters and teachers, and said he would incentivize affordable housing development through Invest Atlanta. He said his goal would be to create 30,000 new affordable units as mayor.

He also said the city should look at increasing the homestead exemption to help prevent displacement of seniors and make ease the burden of property taxes on working families.

City Councilwoman Mary Norwood:

“We need to ensure every part of the city has affordable housing,” Norwood said.

She said the issue will require a number of tools, including federal housing assistance, the Atlanta Housing Authority, Invest Atlanta and the development community. She also said she’d like to see an enhanced lease-to-own purchasing model to turn more renters into buyers, and tax abatements to encourage landlords to rehab older affordable properties.

Norwood also said the city needs to do more to ensure seniors aren’t displaced by rising property taxes, and wants to explore an employer-assisted workforce housing model.

MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT.

AJC Business reporter J. Scott Trubey keeps you updated on the latest news about economic development and commercial real estate in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

Never miss a minute of what's happening in local business news. Subscribe to myAJC.com.

In other City Hall news:

Reports: Florida GOP leader once beat female classmate with claw hammer until it broke

Florida GOP officials find themselves in an unusual position after they learned that a newly elected member of the Broward County executive board was once charged with attempted murder in connection with the brutal claw hammer attack of a female classmate at his California prep school.

Rupert Tarsey, 28, was elected secretary of the Broward County GOP chapter four months ago, according to the Miami Herald. His new position came into question after a fellow member made the discovery earlier this month. 

That member informed Broward County GOP chairman Bob Sutton about Tarsey’s past over the Labor Day weekend.

“We were blindsided,” Sutton told the Herald. “He’s a member of the Knights of Columbus, for Christ’s sake. And he came highly recommended by the former chair. We had no idea what his background is.

“We want him out, but he is refusing to resign. He deceived us. It looks like he even used a reputation management firm to make sure we wouldn’t find out who he is.”

Tarsey, who volunteered on President Donald Trump’s campaign, admitted that he has no intention of resigning his post. 

“Why should I resign?” Tarsey asked. “I did nothing wrong, and I was elected. This is just party politics.”

Sutton suspended Tarsey from party functions last week. 

Tarsey’s real name is Rupert Ditsworth, the Herald reported. He changed his name to Tarsey, his mother’s maiden name, when he moved to Fort Lauderdale two years after the 2007 incident, the newspaper said. 

Los Angeles Times story reported that Tarsey, then 17, was accused of attacking Elizabeth Barcay, an 18-year-old classmate at Harvard-Westlake School in L.A., on May 14, 2007, with a claw hammer, hitting her at least 40 times and splitting open her head. Barcay’s mother, Barbara Hayden, told the Times that her daughter also suffered a shattered leg and a broken nose in the attack. 

Tarsey’s parents admitted him to a psychiatric hospital immediately after the assault, the Times reported. He was initially charged as a juvenile with both attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon.

The juvenile case was dropped, and he was rearrested in June 2007, the day after his 18th birthday, so he could be tried as an adult.

Prosecutors at the time told the Chronicle, the online newspaper of Harvard-Westlake School, that Tarsey was tried as an adult because of the seriousness of the injuries suffered by the victim. If convicted of the charges, he faced a possible life sentence.

The Times reported that the attack started after Tarsey invited Barcay to ride with him to a juice bar after a big Advanced Placement exam at school. After drinking smoothies and returning to his Jaguar, he grabbed a backpack from the rear seat and placed it between his legs, according to Barcay.

Barcay told police that instead of returning to school, Tarsey parked in a residential neighborhood in Studio City, not far from campus. Appearing anxious, she said he told her he was contemplating suicide.

When she urged him to return to school to seek help from a counselor, she said he told her, “It isn’t going to happen that way,” the Times reported.

Telling her he wasn’t going to kill himself alone, he pulled a claw hammer from his backpack and attacked her, the newspaper said. 

A witness walking nearby saw the struggle inside the Jaguar and called 911, the newspaper said. 

Tarsey got out of the car, pulled open the passenger-side door and pulled Barcay out by her hair, the Times said. He continued hitting her with the hammer until the tool broke.

He then choked her until she bit his finger, the Times reported. That’s when Tarsey got back behind the wheel and drove off. 

>> Read more trending news

Tarsey ultimately claimed self-defense in the case.

“In the end, I pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor,” Tarsey told the Herald. “It’s not the charges that matter, it’s what happens in court.”

He argued that he did not change his name to hide who he was, but did so after his parents divorced. He said he is estranged from his father. 

After moving to Florida, Tarsey went to college and earned an MBA from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. He is now married with two children and a third on the way.

Barcay, who went to prom and graduation in a wheelchair following the attack, went on to study at Williams College. Her alumni information shows that she went on to earn a master’s degree in education from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. 

She is now an elementary school teacher in the Boston area. 

Georgia DOT: With Irma approaching, stay off the roads

State transportation officials say an easy morning commute and relatively light winds and rain should not lull metro Atlanta residents into thinking it’s safe to go out.

With the worst of Irma expected to reach the Atlanta late this afternoon and evening, it’s still a good idea to stay home from work if you’re able, Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Natalie Dale said.

Anyone caught on the road on their way home this afternoon could find conditions dramatically worse.

“We don’t want them to be lulled into a false sense of security because it’s not so bad outside (right now),” Dale said.

IRMA: Latest news, map and resources UPDATES: Irma kills power to 350,000 on coast and across South Georgia

Already GDOT is contending with road flooding and non -functioning traffic signals in southeast and southwest Georgia.

GDOT has more than 100 maintenance employees and contractors out in metro Atlanta clearing debris and checking storm drains in preparation for high winds and possible flooding this afternoon. That preemptive work will help alleviate problems, Dale said.

RELATED: Irma knocks tree into road near Emory in DeKalb County

But with the worst of the storm yet to come, there will be flooding and downed trees later, she said.

Gov. Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency and urged residents to stay in today, and MARTA and other transit agencies have canceled service.

“We hear, ‘is this an overreaction?’” Dale said. “The time to make decisions for the safety of the public is before the storm comes in, not as the storm comes in. That’s something we’ve learned from hurricanes and from winter weather.”

Georgia’s most diverse county will soon have its first black mayor

Local political observers don’t believe any city in Gwinnett County — the most diverse community in Georgia, if not the entire Southeastern United States — has ever had a black mayor.

But that’s almost certain to change. And soon.

MORE: The candidates for Gwinnett’s 2017 city elections

Craig Newton, a Norcross native and longtime city councilman, was the only candidate to qualify last month for his hometown’s mayoral seat. And his eventual swearing in will be a symbolic but significant milestone for one of the Southeast’s most diverse counties that has, nevertheless, had a historical dearth of non-white government leadership.

Read more about who Newton is — and about Gwinnett’s history of lacking non-white representation — at myAJC.com.

In other Gwinnett news: 

Watch: Unveiling of new Martin Luther King Jr. statue

After a three-year wait, the 8-foot-bronze statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has been unveiled at the Georgia Capitol at 10 a.m. Monday.

The sculpture is visible from at least two blocks away, along the boulevard named for the civil rights icon.

“He’s gazing slightly toward MLK Boulevard,” said sculptor Martin Dawe. “You make people smile not by the mouth but by the eyes, so I have a slight glimmer that I hope comes through.” 

Dawe said the statue’s placement as well as the timing of the dedication raised the stakes for him.

To find out why and  to read how Dawe used video to perfect King’s likeness, click here.

RELATED

Aug. 28, the date of King’s statue dedication, has poignant meaning in Civil Rights history

How lifelike is the new Martin Luther King Jr. statue?

Shared space, shared history: What Georgia’s governor might say

Photos: Statues of MLK around the nation (and beyond)

MLK statue comes to GA Capitol Monday on poignant anniversary

 After a three-year wait, the 8-foot-bronze statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was unveiled at the Georgia Capitol at 10 a.m. Monday.

The sculpture is from at least two blocks away, along the boulevard named for the civil rights icon.

“He’s gazing slightly toward MLK Boulevard,” said sculptor Martin Dawe. “You make people smile not by the mouth but by the eyes, so I have a slight glimmer that I hope comes through.” 

Dawe said the statue’s placement as well as the timing of the dedication raised the stakes for him.

To find out why and  to read how Dawe used video to perfect King’s likeness, click here.

For the latest, follow AJC Politically Georgia on Facebook or @GAPoliticsNews on Twitter.

Watch the unveiling ceremony below:

RELATED

Aug. 28, the date of King’s statue dedication, has poignant meaning in Civil Rights history

How lifelike is the new Martin Luther King Jr. statue?

Shared space, shared history: What Georgia’s governor might say

Photos: Statues of MLK around the nation (and beyond)

GPB Political Rewind: Preview of the MLK statue dedication

Georgia prepares to unveil new statue in Martin Luther King’s birthplace

Original sculptor selected for Atlanta’s MLK statue was killed in motor accident

Prominent statue of Georgia populist Tom Watson was removed in 2013

Learn about MLK Jr. in this interactive quiz

Photos and facts: 29 things to know about Martin Luther King Jr.

Looking back: MLK’s 1965 Nobel Prize Dinner in Atlanta

Qualifying for Atlanta mayor race to end Friday

Qualifying ends at 4:30 p.m. for those hoping to be Atlanta’s next mayor. 

Most of the major candidates -- those with strong financial backing -- qualified throughout the week with rallies before and after declaring their intentions to succeed Kasim Reed as mayor of Atlanta.

“Atlanta is at a critical juncture,” state Sen. Vincent Fort said Wednesday at a rally outside City Hall before qualifying. “The real question on the ballot is, ‘Are we going to have a City Hall for the 1 percent or are we going to have a City Hall that works for the 99 percent.’”

Atlanta City Councilwoman Mary Norwood, who is the frontrunner in the race according to polls, said if elected she will focus on transparency and accountability and promote a responsive government. 

“I have stated during this campaign that our people are better than our politics,” Norwood said in a release. “I want to provide the leadership that makes our politics as wonderful as the people we serve. As your next mayor, I will dedicate all my energy to leading a well-run city that will be Atlanta at its best.”

Qualifying is traditionally seen as an unofficial kickoff of the campaign season because it’s when candidates — especially those who already hold office and will have to relinquish their seats — decide whether they have the campaign infrastructure and the cash to stick with a long fall run.

Michael T. Sterling, the former director of the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency, said he plans to qualify on Friday. 

Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves, who has led the county since 2007, resigned from his position on Tuesday and qualified on Wednesday.  Eaves had a year and four months remaining in his term. 

Perennial candidate Elbert “Al” Bartell announced on Tuesday he was dropping out of the race and would instead focus on running for a U.S. Senate seat in 2020.

Qualifying began on Tuesday with Atlanta City Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms, Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall, Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell and Norwood jumping in. 

Former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard and former city of Atlanta COO Peter Aman qualified on Thursday. 

In a Facebook post, Aman said, “Qualified and proud to stand with my family and my team. Today at City Hall, we made it clear that we’re in this race to win. Across Atlanta, we’ve heard from people who want a mayor with the will and the skill to collaborate and led the city at a time of major change.”

 

MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT.

The AJC's Leon Stafford keeps you updated on the latest in the Atlanta mayoral race and everything else going on at City Hall. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

Never miss a minute of what's happening in Atlanta politics. Subscribe to myAJC.com.

DeKalb judge’s racial discrimination case settled for $90,000

A DeKalb judge who alleges she was fired because of her race recently won a $90,000 settlement from the county.

Former DeKalb Magistrate Judge Tracy Dorfman, who is white, alleged that she was discriminated against when DeKalb Chief Magistrate Judge Berryl Anderson, who is black, decided not to reappoint her to a four-year term at the end of last year.

Instead of retaining Dorfman, Anderson filled two positions with black judges who had less experience: Judge Curtis Miller and Judge Nora Polk, according to a letter from Dorfman’s attorney, Lee Parks.

Anderson’s actions led to the “inescapable conclusion” that race was the reason for Dorfman’s dismissal, Parks wrote.

The DeKalb Commission voted 5-1 to approve the settlement on July 6.

Exclusive to subscribers: Read the full story on myAJC.com.

Seven-member panel to help Kasim Reed decide fate of Confederate statues, streets

UPDATE 8/21/2017 -- A seven-member advisory committee will help Mayor Kasim Reed decide what to do about Atlanta’s “Confederate-themed” statues and street names.   

The Atlanta City Council on Monday passed a resolution giving Reed authority to name four members to the committee while the Council names three members. The Council also agreed to allow the committee to appoint ad hoc members -- historians, residents and others -- but they will not have voting privileges.

The city is trying to decide whether to remove Confederate statues and rename streets for those fighting for the south in the Civil War or related themes.

Reed has said he hopes to have a decision made in 60 days, but the Council’s resolution added an additional 10 days to add flexibility as the November election of a new mayor, Council president and Council members nears.  

ORIGINAL STORY: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said he will pull together a group of leaders to help him decide how to address growing calls to remove Confederate statues and rename streets bearing Confederate monikers.

“Over the next 60 days, we are going to take a thoughtful approach to any Confederate-themed monuments or street names,” Reed said Thursday. “I want people to know that I heard their concerns loudly and clearly.”

Atlanta residents have petitioned the city to rename roads such as Confederate Avenue and Stonewall Street as municipalities across the country grapple with objections to memorializing the nation’s painful Civil War past. Several cities, including Lexington, Ky., have decided to remove monuments to Confederate leaders such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, despite threats by neo-Nazi, white nationalists and KKK groups that they will march in protest.

Baltimore’s mayor removed several Confederate monuments overnight earlier this week after the City Council unanimously signed off on taking them down.

A city spokeswoman said Atlanta’s Confederate-themed monuments include The Lion of the Confederacy statue in Oakland Park (erected in 1894), the Confederate Obelisk Monument in Oakland Cemetery(1874), the Peace Monument in Piedmont Park (1911), the Sidney Lanier Bust in Piedmont Park and at Oglethorpe University (1915), the Henry Grady Monument on Marietta Street (1889) and the General Walker Monument on Glenwood Avenue.

Some of the streets under consideration include Confederate Avenue in Grant Park, Stonewall Street near Northside Drive and English Avenue, which was named for former Atlanta Mayor and Civil War soldier James English. 

Reed also on Thursday decried President Donald Trump’s responses to last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Va.

“I think that President Trump’s response has been a national and international embarrassment,” Reed said Thursday, two days after the president gave an impromptu press conference on the deadly protests. “I thought that it was one of the most sad days of many sad days of a presidency that is disastrous for our country.”

Charlottesville paralegal Heather Heyer died and 19 people were injured after being struck last Saturday by a car allegedly driven by James Alex Fields Jr., who was seen attending a “Unite the Right” demonstration of neo-Nazis, white nationalists and members of the KKK in Charlottesville.

Many people, including Republican leadersaccused Trump of sending mixed messages on his reaction to the violence. Initially the president said that both the “Unite the Right” demonstrators and counter protesters shared the blame on Saturday. He seemed, however, to focus more on the neo-Nazis, white nationalists and Klan members on Monday.

But on Tuesday, he forcefully said again that both demonstrators and counter protesters were to blame and accused the media of ignoring unrest caused by the so-called “alt-left.”

Reed said Trump created the term “alt-left” to push a false equivalency and that he failed to support Heyer as well as two Virginia State Police officers — H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates — who lost their lives when the helicopter they were in to monitor the rally crashed.

He said Trump failed when he tried “to be even-handed when there is clearly a right and a wrong side.”

Andrew Young opposes fight over Confederate statues

Civil rights icon and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young said Wednesday he doesn’t back the fight to tear down Confederate memorials around the country and that he fears it could have unintended consequences.

“I think it’s too costly to refight the Civil War,” Young said Wednesday at a press conference in which he and fellow civil rights icon C.T. Vivian endorsed Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell to succeed Kasim Reed as the city’s next mayor. “We have paid too great a price in trying to bring people together.”

Young’s comments came just days after a woman was struck and killed and at least 19 others were wounded in Charlottesville, Va., when a car plowed into a group of demonstrators who were protesting neo-Nazis, KKK members and white nationalists who had descended on the city because of plans to dismantle Confederate statues.

President Donald Trump sent what many consider mixed messages to the nation in reaction to the violence, saying on Tuesday that “alt-left” demonstrators shared some blame for the confrontations after a day earlier saying racism had no place in the nation.

Young said the fight in the early 2000s to replace the Confederate battle emblem on the Georgia flag hurt the state and Atlanta because the Democrats lost the governor’s mansion. If Georgia had not been embroiled in the battle, it might have salvaged the deal to bring a Mercedes-Benz plant to southern Georgia and an accompanying 3,000 jobs and that Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act might have expanded in the state.

“I’ve always been interested more in substance over symbols,” Young said, calling the fight over the flag a mistake.

“If the truth be known, we’ve had as much agony but also glory under the United States flag,” he said. “That flew over segregated America, it flew over slavery.”

Young also said he thinks James Alex Fields, the driver alleged to have been behind the wheel in the fatal death of Heather Heyer in the Charlottesville melee, is probably suffering from some type of mental illness and needs professional care.

“That’s not normal behavior,” he said of Fields. “That’s not militant behavior. That’s not patriotic behavior. That’s sick behavior.”

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