Sharon Gay is running for mayor of Atlanta.
Campaign website: sharongayformayor.com
What is your current job (include the name of your employer) and list any significant memberships in public service organizations?
I am currently Senior Counsel at Dentons Law Firm. My public service organizations include the following: • Member, Rotary Club of Atlanta • Board of Directors, Piedmont Park Conservancy • Member of Livable Communities Council and Affordable Housing Task Force, Urban Land Institute – Atlanta • Board of Directors, Canterbury Court • Board of Advisors, Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce • Board of Trustees, Reinhardt University • Board of Directors, Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce • Board and Executive Committee Member, Georgians for Passenger Rail • Founding Board Member, Historic Fourth Ward Park Conservancy • Board Chair, Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership • Board of Visitors, Emory University • Vice Chair and Founding Board Member, Georgia Regional Transportation Authority • Board of Visitors, Georgia State University Law School • Member, Leadership Atlanta Class of 2001 • Member, Regional Leadership Institute Class of 1998 • Chair, Mixed Income Communities Coalition • Chair, Piedmont Park North Woods Expansion Task Force • Board Member, St. Jude’s Recovery Center • Member, City of Atlanta Ethics Task Force
What is the biggest issue facing your constituents and why are you the best candidate to address it?
All Atlantans should feel safe in their homes, at work, and in their neighborhoods. The rise in violence we have experienced in the past year is unacceptable, and reducing crime will be my highest priority as mayor. We need to rebuild trust between the community and law enforcement and make sure that those who commit crimes no longer pose a threat to our citizens. By working together, we can ensure that Atlanta is a safe and welcoming city for all. I have a four-point plan for improving public safety conditions in the city. Despite the spike in crime we are currently seeing, the city has experienced a significant reduction in crime overall over the last thirty years. Our goal should be to address the current spike in crime while at the same time implementing policies that will return us to the path of long-term crime reduction.
How do you define “affordability” in housing and what is a specific tactic you would use to improve it?
Our goal should be to ensure that all of our neighborhoods are thriving, diverse and accessible to people of all incomes. We need to make the public investments needed to attract private investment in residential, retail, and commercial properties. Atlanta has an 18% vacancy rate in its residential housing, largely because we have neighborhoods where people do not want to invest and live. My goal is to make sure all of our neighborhoods prosper.
I have worked to deliver affordable housing in Atlanta for over 15 years. I have served as Board Chair of Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership and co-chair of the ULI Affordable Housing Task Force. We need to work with our affordable housing partners to identify goals, maximize economic incentives, preserve existing affordable units, activate vacant land on corridors, and remove roadblocks to affordable housing development.
City Hall has been dogged by an apparently ongoing federal investigation involving accusations of corruption in the previous mayoral administration. How would you help restore public trust on matters of staff spending and contract procurement?
Ethics start at the top. My administration will be committed to operating in a transparent and ethical fashion because that is the only way I know how to operate. I will commission a review of the city’s ethics code and practices, make improvements where necessary, and adopt a zero-tolerance policy for all employees. The rules will be clear and consistently communicated.
My plan is to review and redesign the entire procurement process. We need an 21st century procurement process that is open, honest and simple to follow.
In 2020, Atlanta and the nation experienced two historic events: the COVID-19 pandemic and protests about racial justice and police brutality. What is a public-policy lesson you learned from those events?
All of the outcomes we worry about – crime, health disparities, failing schools and the lack of economic mobility – are concentrated in the distressed neighborhoods that are a legacy of our discriminatory history. These neighborhoods have been disinvested in, they are subject to environmental injustice – we have westside neighborhoods that are Superfund sites – and they are where crime and underperforming schools are located. What COVID and the BLM protests remind us is that are most vulnerable citizens reside in places that have been left behind by an increasingly prosperous city, We need to make sure that all of our citizens live in thriving neighborhoods, neighborhoods that are healthy and resilient.
The debate about the location of a public safety training center is an example of longstanding tension over whether Atlanta’s urban planning should be more top-down from corporations and private groups or more bottom-up from communities and neighborhoods. What is your approach to planning processes and is there a specific change you would make?
I have spent much of my career working with neighborhood leaders to ensure that investments that are made in their neighborhoods are consistent with their vision. The challenge is that our infrastructure for ensuring that neighborhoods have well-articulated visions and can effectively represent them are under developed. As a result we tend to default to the plans of developers, and act only in response to those plans rather than shaping them in advance.
We need to change that. I want to be “The Neighborhood Mayor”, to complete the journey Mayor Jackson began 50 years ago to create strong neighborhoods that can represent themselves, describe their visions, and engage productively in the execution of those visions. If we have 100% healthy neighborhoods, we will have a 100% healthy city.
Do you support the Atlanta public safety training center’s location on Key Road in DeKalb County? Why or why not?
It is clear that the process for arriving at this decision was deeply flawed on several dimensions, including the degree to which the affected neighborhoods and other stakeholders were consulted. Having not been a part of this process, I have no way of fully judging the soundness of this recommendation. What were the alternatives that were considered and why were they rejected? Nevertheless, I do appreciate the urgency of the need, the amount of work that went into this plan, and the fact that is appears to be economically viable. We do need a well-trained and professional police department, and I am convinced that this center will help to advance that objective.
Who is the main expert you turn to for information on understanding and addressing crime and what is an important fact you have learned from them?
I have obviously been spending a great deal of time thinking and learning about crime, its causes and what types of responses are warranted. I have the good fortune of having a campaign advisor – Cedric Alexander – who is a nationally known and respected on crime and policing and the Public Safety Commissioner for Dekalb County. I worked with Mr. Alexander and others to develop by crime fighting plan, informed by his experience that the key to lowering crime is to get into the neighborhoods and address the root causes of criminal behavior, to find and arrest those who commit crimes, and to make sure that those are arrested are properly punished. That is what we will do.
What are some areas of opportunity for the mayor’s office to work in partnership with the Atlanta Public Schools superintendent and board?
Our past two mayors have allowed the relationship between City Hall and APS to deteriorate and stagnate. This is a huge problem, and one that is not discussed nearly enough. The performance of our schools is deeply dependent on the conditions within which our children are born and raised, and the City’s primary goal should be to ensure that all of our children are living in healthy neighborhoods. APS cannot be successful without a strong partnership with the City, and the City’s health is deeply dependent on the performance of our schools. We need a mayor that is willing to develop a strategic partnership with APS such that we develop joint strategies for improving neighborhoods and schools. We have seen how that can work in places like East Lake and Grove Park; we need to do that everywhere. It will be a high priority of my administration to forge that type of partnership.
Describe how you envision Invest Atlanta operating under your administration. What changes, if any, would you implement?
In general, I am not convinced that our major public agencies – APS, Invest Atlanta, Atlanta Housing, and ABI, are working effectively together. They all share the same goal – to improve the quality of the lives of our citizens – but they do not seem to collaborate deeply enough. They work in their silos, tend to make decisions to advance the interests of their silos, but rarely take into consideration the broader goal of advancing the health of our neighborhoods. My goal will be to bring all of these entities together under a shared strategy for improving our neighborhoods, driven by our neighborhood leaders and executed according the interests of those neighborhoods. Invest Atlanta will be an instrumental player in that process given their role in economic development in the city, but it needs to be informed by this larger objective.
Explain your leadership style and how it would best serve the people of Atlanta.
My vision for the City is to bring together the rich resources of the government, businesses, charities, faith communities, colleges and universities, and neighborhood leaders to build inclusive, healthy communities – to ensure that every neighborhood has decent, affordable housing for residents at all ages and stages of life and access to good schools, jobs, transportation, and parks. Most importantly, every resident should feel safe at home, at work, at school, and at play.
Anything else that you want to share for voters who may be undecided?
We need new leadership. The events of the past year – the Black Live Matters protests, the ravages of COVID, the spike in crime – suggests that the approaches of the past are no longer working. We need to rethink the role of City government, push decision-making authority into the neighborhoods, and focus on ensuring that the government is actually serving the interests of its constituents and not the other way around.
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