Andre Dickens is running for mayor of Atlanta.
Candidate website: andreforatlanta.com
What is your current job (include the name of your employer) and list any significant memberships in public service organizations?
Chief Development Officer for Techbridge
What is the biggest issue facing your constituents and why are you the best candidate to address it?
There are three main issues I plan to address as Mayor: First, we are in a crime wave, and we need an Atlanta where everyone feels safe. That’s why I’ve come up with the SAFE Streets plan which you can read more about at SafeStreetsAtlanta.com.
Second, Atlanta has the highest rate of income inequality in the nation, but we can address this through both an aggressive affordable housing policy and by making jobs a priority at city hall.
Lastly, we need to address our infrastructure and transportation issues. Transportation is about getting you where you are going each day as well as getting you where you are going in life, and I plan to make public transit in Atlanta free by 2030.
How do you define “affordability” in housing and what is a specific tactic you would use to improve it?
Affordability is about providing a diversity of housing options for our diverse community. I am proud to have already been a leader on affordable housing, both in policy and in practice. I passed two affordable housing bonds totalling $140M, authored the Beltline Inclusionary Zoning ordinance that requires new rental developments to provide affordable housing units, and launched the Beltline senior housing rehab program that helps legacy residents make much-needed repairs to their homes. We’ve seen how well these programs work; we just need to keep funding these initiatives and expanding their reach.
We need to build or preserve 10,000 units of affordable housing in the next four years, and I will hire a Chief Housing Officer to oversee those efforts. They will be tasked with pursuing more affordable options especially around our transit centers, but also with preserving affordable homes through senior property tax freezes and no-cost renovations.
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?
I’ve been committed to ethical governance and believe that we must have a government as good as the people of Atlanta. While serving on the City Council, I’ve led the charge for the most sweeping ethics, procurement, and transparency reforms in recent Atlanta history. We’ve created government purchase card regulations to ensure accountability in how government officials spend discretionary funds. We’ve established the Independent Procurement Review Office to provide mandatory independent review of all procurements over $1 million, helping to ensure transparency and fairness in government contracting. We’ve worked closely with the City Ethics Office to review existing practices and create a set of recommendations and policies to ensure that tax dollars are spent with integrity, and oversight. I would like to build upon these efforts and resolve to remove the cloud of corruption from City Hall.
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?
2020 reiterated the power of individuals to come together. We’ve had to persevere through COVID shutdowns and in the midst of that pandemic come together as a nation to reflect on racial justice and police brutality. We’ve seen how the bonds of a community help us get through those times, but also how our leaders need to engage and listen to the community to better understand their needs.
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 voted to postpone the vote on the public safety training facility in order to engage further with the public and the affected communities. In the future, that engagement needs to happen early and needs to happen often. We should not need to postpone votes if the engagement and outreach was done appropriately from the beginning. We always have room to improve our processes. In addition, it’s important for us to learn how to engage deeper with the community, especially for those who don’t typically interact with the government in that way. We need to ensure that the outreach and engagement extends to the entire community.
Do you support the Atlanta public safety training center’s location on Key Road in DeKalb County? Why or why not?
Voters and elected officials are demanding better training of our public safety officials, particularly police officers. Our current facilities are failing us. The facility as adopted provides the city with the best opportunity for comprehensive and modern training for new and existing police officers in a myriad of areas – specifically conflict resolution, recognizing implicit bias and community policing. Our firefighters currently train in vacant city parking lots. The lack of facilities and training environments have put a damper on recruitment and retention. This plan changes that.
I am confident at this time that we have put in the appropriate guardrails and this proposal is a worthy compromise that will protect our city’s tree canopy, increase public greenspace, improve public safety, and advance criminal justice reform in our city.
As Mayor, I’ll hold the Police Foundation accountable for the promises they’ve made to the city.
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 turn to a wide range of experts to understand and address the issues in front of me especially as it relates to crime. I’ve interacted with current and former elected officials, public safety officials, community leaders, and other stakeholders to receive a diverse set of opinions and advice on how to best approach crime in Atlanta. I find that it’s important to hear from a variety of sources rather than limit my information to a single source.
What are some areas of opportunity for the mayor’s office to work in partnership with the Atlanta Public Schools superintendent and board?
There are two main areas I hope to partner with Atlanta Public Schools. The first is through workforce development initiatives I plan to implement through a new Atlanta Department of Labor. We need to invest in our future generations and that starts with job training and apprenticeship programs for those in our public schools. The second area is in wraparound and after school services in the school. Many of our students need a safe place to spend their time after school hours, but there aren’t always resources available to provide these wraparound services. I hope we can come alongside the schools and allocate resources to help provide these services.
Describe how you envision Invest Atlanta operating under your administration. What changes, if any, would you implement?
Invest Atlanta can be a partner in reaching many of the goals for my administration including affordable housing, workforce development, and addressing income inequality. Most importantly, a new Atlanta Department of Labor would ensure that the economic development proposals coming through would include estimates for job growth for current Atlantans. Atlanta has seen economic prosperity, but we must ensure that the prosperity is shared by all. We cannot simply measure our economic success by the number of office buildings in Atlanta, but by the number of Atlantans in those buildings.
Explain your leadership style and how it would best serve the people of Atlanta.
I’m an engineer by trade and take a data driven approach to problem solving. I intend to bring that model to City Hall. I like to gather information from a diversity of sources to ensure that I can get opinions from all sides of an issue. Leaders need to surround themselves with people who can challenge them and push them to make more informed decisions.
Anything else that you want to share for voters who may be undecided?
I’ve dedicated my life to improving our city and serving its residents, and I’m running for mayor to ensure that our government works for everyone. Atlanta is facing many unique challenges, but I was made for this moment. From my training in engineering and economic development, to my experience as a small business owner, to advocating for diversity for one of the country’s leading universities, I’ve been preparing to lead our city forward. Please visit AndreForAtlanta.com to learn more.
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