Atlanta, Georgia 2021-10-12 17:56:00 –
The below interview is one of five interviews done with the top five candidates, in terms of polling, in the race for the next mayor of Atlanta.
CBS46 anchor Karyn Greer sat down with each of them one-on-one to talk about the issues plaguing the city and what each of them would do if elected mayor.
This is the interview with Antonio Brown.
What made you decide to run for mayor?
Brown: I grew up in poverty most of my life. My parents were in and out of prison and I really grew up in a broken home with limited resources and opportunities. And I relocated to Atlanta probably over close to nine years now to launch a men’s fashion brand that we successfully launched into Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom’s nationwide, and I was able to pull myself up by my bootstraps and really overcome my adversity, but as a council member, a lot of the adversity I’ve seen in these communities are generational and systemic and have gone on for over 40 years under this same kind of leadership. And I have not seen change, and it continues to become a cycle of these conditions repeating themselves year after year, decade after decade. And at some point, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting something different to happen, and we need something different right now. We need fresh, young, innovative leadership that truly understands the conditions of all of our communities and has the capabilities of creating an inclusive and thriving ecosystem, where no Atlantan is left behind, and I believe I’m the mayor to do that job.
What’s the first issue you will tackle as mayor?
Brown: So, I like to look at it more of what’s my plan for the first 100 days, because there’s several issues we have to tackle. And one thing Mayor Bottoms speaks about is being able to walk and chew gum at the same time as a mayor, and I think that’s incredibly important. On council, I introduced legislation to establish a Department of Public Safety and Wellness. I would want to focus on those efforts as mayor, hit the ground running and be able to establish this department with a commissioner, in which the chief of police would report to a 24-hour non-emergency response unit.
I also authored legislation that Georgia State University is studying right now on a $250 million workforce development bond, because people often talk about the surface-level issues of Atlanta, but the systemic issues are what we have to address, and in order to do that, you can’t be reactive. You got to be proactive. So, if we can create a socio-economic shift in the economic class system in Atlanta and moved those living in poverty into the working middle-class and move our working middle-class into becoming small business owners and entrepreneurs, so that they can create supplemental income and not out here living paycheck to paycheck, then in this thriving ecosystem, everyone is contributing. No one’s asking for a handout, only a hand up, and we’re all building together and growing the city’s tax base so that we can solve a lot more of the complex issues the city’s facing.
You talked about being real, so let’s be real. Violence, a big part of what we’re seeing here in the city of Atlanta. You’ve been a victim of violent crime. How do you plan on tackling that?
Brown: Well, again, if we’re going to have a real conversation, we have to speak about the generational poverty that’s gone unaddressed in this city for decades. Crime, violent crime, has been happening in the very communities I represent. English Avenue, Vine City, Bankhead. Look at the stats. Crime has been happening. And now, because it’s gone unaddressed for so long and the conditions haven’t improved in these communities, it’s spilling over into other communities that may have never seen it before. So, I think that we have to establish a conflict resolution center in the city of Atlanta. That’s something that St. Louis was able to do. We got to get back to community policing, where we’re requiring our officers to get out of their cars, to rebuild the relationship and the trust between police and community. That was something I enacted as a city council member and we were able to reduce crime by 57 percent in four months, but we had to cancel the program because it wasn’t budgeted.
And now, as mayor, I will budget and mandate a city-wide community policing unit. We got to get back to a non-emergency response unit to address our unsheltered population, mental health, substance abuse, our students in school, really creating a pathway for them to be able to have access to resources and opportunities. All of these things are critical when you talk about violent crime, because if we continue to be reactive and just put officers on the streets of Atlanta, like I’ve heard many candidates speak about without even really understanding the functionality and responsibility of police, we’re never going to ever cure the cycle of crime, violent or anything other than that.
All right, let’s talk about the pandemic. We know it’s created really, a tough time for people in the city of Atlanta. How do you plan on helping to ease the burden for people, get us back to a recovery level, and help people that have been hurt so badly by the pandemic?
Brown: Well, for starters, we have to focus on our most vulnerable populations within the pandemic and the conditions in which it’s caused a lot of our residents, and those are our small businesses. Many of them, they started their business not knowing that the pandemic was going to hit. They’ve had to shut their doors. And our small businesses are the heart of our economy. They hire everyday working people. I want to expand our Resurgence Grant Fund program here in the city of Atlanta that provides small businesses and land owners with commercial properties, access to up to $500,000 in grant funds to be able to launch businesses, and through the $250 million workforce development bond, I want to make sure that we’re providing residents access to living-wage jobs, making $20 an hour plus health insurance, providing them access to those human services that a lot can’t afford because they either can’t sustain health insurance, or they don’t have employment that offers them health insurance.
Heard you talk on this next issue a lot, and this is the city of Buckhead that wants to be its own little city and move away from Atlanta. Where do you stand on this issue and what are you going to do to address the concerns of people who want to separate?
Brown: Well, I think the issue is has really been fueled by politics. I think that, unfortunately, the institution of politics in this city has operated to the detriment of its residents, and I think whether you live in Buckhead or Bankhead, we all want the same things. We want our roads fixed, we want to feel safe in our communities, and we want our businesses supported. We want a fair and equitable opportunity to build a life in which we can thrive and prosper in the city of Atlanta. And we want to feel heard. It’s not just Buckhead that doesn’t feel heard. We talk a lot about Buckhead wanting to secede. A lot of the residents that I know in Buckhead, they don’t want to secede. And it just seems as though it’s being really perpetrated by folks that are completely disconnected from the reality of what’s even happening in these communities. And it’s not just Buckhead that’s been left behind when it comes to folks being able to feel heard in this city. It’s tons of communities that I represent that feel like they haven’t been heard for over 40 years.
All right, let’s talk about our schools. A few years numerous schools in Atlanta Public School system have been identified as low performing. In 2019, 13 Atlanta schools were among the state’s bottom 5 percent. What’s your plan to improve the number and get Atlanta Public Schools to a higher performance level?
Brown: Well, the first thing I will do as mayor is hire a chief education officer. I think that’s incredibly important to rebuild the relationship between the city, our superintendent, and our school board. I think that folks haven’t felt supported and they’ve felt disconnected from even the city being a participatory partner in what happens within our school system. And we have to change that.
I also think that we really need to work on early childhood education and really creating programs in which we could start reaching our youth before they get to a point where they’re entering in a gang, or before they get to a point where they lack interest in education, and I believe by having this chief education officer, not only will we be able to rebuild the relationship with our school system, but we’ll be able to start matriculating funds and supporting a lot of the programmatic initiatives from our school system. And last but not least, I created a program called Student Entrepreneurs of Atlanta that I’m going to be launching alongside a summer jobs program for our youth, and it gives our students and our youth in the city of Atlanta access to creative arts, like culinary and fashion design and interior design, and they go through these pathways to learn about entrepreneurship and an entrepreneurial mindset to solve complex problems. These are all solutions necessary to move our kids forward in the city of Atlanta.
All right. Let’s talk about Atlanta continues to be one of the fastest growing cities in the country. We’re already known for our traffic issues. What plans do you have improved the city’s infrastructure to better accommodate a rapidly increasing population?
Brown: So, let’s be clear. Density in the city of Atlanta is incredibly important. We cannot sustain the amount of city services that are required to address a lot of the complex issues that the city is facing, and the only way to do that is through density, but with density comes a greater population of people in the city that are trying to commute. I think that we need to really look at the MARTA board and we need to make sure the board is a true reflection of its ridership. I don’t think anyone on the board right now rides MARTA. That’s a huge issue for me. And if we’re going to reestablish trust with our public transportation system, that has to start.
The other thing is we need to start incentivizing residents to take public transportation. We need to show them that it’s not going to take them an hour longer to take public transportation than it is to drive their own car, and we need to build comprehensive networks of bus rapid transit lanes that will take folks to essential locations throughout the city of Atlanta, and establish a network of bike lanes, so folks feel comfortable and safe that they’re protected if they choose to take alternative routes of transportation. And we’ve got to do something about the BeltLine, we got to get rail on the BeltLine, light rail on the BeltLine, something that residents can be able to commute to and from major locations here in Atlanta, and that’s something that the folks can actually trust in this city.
What about the housing market? Many lower to middle income Atlantans virtually have no shot at entering the housing market as prices have skyrocketed over the last year plus, let’s say. What are you doing to make sure there is affordable housing for all residents of the city?
Brown: As mayor, the first thing I will do is remove the office of Housing and Community Development from within the Department of Planning, and I would create a separate entity where there’s a direct focus, and I would re-establish the position of the chief housing officer, so that they can start coordinating with all the city agencies and create a master plan for affordable housing development in the city of Atlanta. I also called for, as a city council member, the evaluation of the 758 acres of vacant land. I think we need to have a citywide auction where we start auctioning off for a dollar, some of this land to start leveling the playing fields, because we talk about generational wealth building, but the closest thing that we, as residents in this city, have access to when we talk about wealth building is ownership, and that’s either home ownership or business ownership. And we’ve got to ensure that folks have that access.
And for our developers in the city of Atlanta, I’m going to do two things: I’m going to expand the affordable housing permit fee waiver program that I established as a city council member citywide, and ensure that everyone has an opportunity to participate, and I’m going to require of our developers, based on an incentive fund program we’re going to put together, that if you develop in the city of Atlanta, you are required to develop at minimum 30 percent of affordable housing with every development in the city.
I’ve heard that before. Is that working?
Brown: Well, let me tell you. It is working and it will continue to work. They’ve never said 30 percent before. The reason why is because land costs are so high that it makes it very difficult for developers to develop that amount of affordability, but with the permit fee waiver program that I created, it incentivizes developers. So, if they were originally planning to develop this amount of affordable housing, if they increase their affordable housing digest within their development, we waive the permit fees and create an incentive for them to build more affordable housing. So, there are pathways to it. We just got to be innovative and have ideas and think outside of the box, something that this city has failed to do for a very long time.
All right, let’s have a little fun here and do a little lightning round. So, first question is, what’s your favorite restaurant in Atlanta?
Brown: Green Sprouts. I’ve been vegetarian/vegan for about five years now, so that’s a really good one, and Cafe Sunflower on Peachtree.
Love Sunflower. Love them. All right. If you could pick one activity to do with family and friends in the city, what would it be?
Brown: I enjoy the aquarium. It’s in my district and it’s only so many times you can go look at fish, but they always seem to have a new kind of exploration set up there. So, I really enjoy the aquarium.
Which team will win a championship next? This is kind of easy, probably. The Braves, the Hawks, the Falcons, United, or the Dream?
Brown: Well, we know United is going to probably win, but I have hope and faith in the Falcons. I mean, I think folks have lost some faith, but I believe that they can get it together and really win some championships for the city of Atlanta.
And you know your Braves just did a division win?
Brown: Oh yeah, no, I know, but that’s kind of expected—I think we need to get some of our other teams to that place, so.
I agree. I Agree. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say Atlanta?
Brown: I think of Ludacris and I think about his song Welcome to Atlanta. And I think about just when I first moved here and just what that really meant for me and how much my life has changed since I’ve been welcomed to Atlanta, so.
All right. 30 seconds. Give us your best plea for why Atlantans should vote for you.
Brown: Yeah. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again and I believe that we are standing on the precipice of either being this great international city we talk so much about, or unfortunately, becoming a city we don’t recognize. And I believe, as mayor, the only mission that’s going to truly address these issues is by creating a socio-economic shift in the economic class system in Atlanta, where we begin to move those living in poverty into a working middle class and really supporting and lifting up our working middle-class. And there’s no other candidates speaking about this.
If we don’t truly, finally address the issue of generational poverty in this city, then we will find ourselves repeating the mistakes of the past. I know that there’s a lot of things that folks have said about me, but at least voting for me, you know you’re voting for someone that truly represents the interests of the people and not a political interest and not a corporate interest, but the interest of the people.
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