Our pick: Ceasar Mitchell
Just because the title is "president" doesn't mean it's actually a powerful position. Though officeholders would quibble with the argument, the only official duties are setting the agenda and making committee assignments. And as much as CL would love to see Atlanta elect its first Socialist Workers Party City Council president, the contender Rachele Fruit, who's been virtually invisible during this contest, is not the one. The incumbent Mitchell, who political observers predict will mount an actual campaign for the mayor's office in four years (hence the endless emails about fundraisers), has kept the 15-member body from falling apart. And his smart assignments have included appointing Councilwoman Felicia Moore, the body's most vocal penny-pincher, as head of the finance committee. Send him back. www.ceasarmitchell.com.
Our pick(s): Mary Norwood and Aaron Watson
It was the biggest surprise of the quietest election season in recent memory. On Aug. 30, the last day of qualifying, Mary Norwood, the pugnacious Energizer Bunny of Atlanta politics, announced after a relatively quiet four years of hosting flower shows and enjoying the simple life that she wanted to return to City Hall. And not just any old seat, mind you, but the same one she left behind to launch an unsuccessful bid in 2009 for mayor, which she lost to Kasim Reed by only 700 votes.
Jaws dropped. Incumbent Aaron Watson, who until qualifying had no real serious competition, now faces a tough challenge. Not only is Norwood a tireless campaigner, but the Buckhead businesswoman also boasts a strong fan base. Norwood's eight years on council as an at-large councilmember doubled greatly as a long-running stealth mayoral campaign. By traveling across the city and holding town halls, she cultivated an image as the elected official who was everywhere and would always listen. And people remembered her for it. (In 2009, we opted not to endorse Norwood for mayor because we decided she was ineffective as a councilmember. It is worth noting, however, that she scrutinized the watershed department and raised hell about McMansions.)
Since joining Council in 2009, Watson, a Morningside accountant and lawyer who has helped lead the Atlanta Public Schools board and the Atlanta Housing Authority, is arguably Council's biggest advocate for increased transit and bike projects. The sustainability advocate, who CL endorsed in 2009, is currently studying parking fees that could raise cash for transportation projects and pushing legislation to help boost urban farms. He also supported a mixed-use development near Lindbergh thought to include a Walmart. But compared to Norwood, he's had a more low-key presence. Watson's a key Reed ally, though he tells us that's largely been because he agreed with the mayor's proposals, including pension reform and the stadium deal. Reed's supporting him, which has made some consider Norwood a protest vote against hizzoner.
Voters are lucky in this instance because both candidates are qualified.
Yet after much debate CL is divided. Voters must ask themselves whether they want someone who will be a citywide councilmember — a big-picture thinker and coalition builder — or someone more focused on the day-to-day realities of living in Atlanta. Will Norwood be effective as a councilmember, especially if there are enough votes to shut her down? Will Watson, who boasts a tidy résumé and is studying big ideas, push back?
Pick Norwood if you're looking for a independent-minded councilmember who will likely try to juggle citywide policy while also fielding calls about potholes and missed trash pickups — and potentially be laying the groundwork to run for mayor in 2017). But she runs the risk of being ineffective. If you want a smart elected official who will push for sustainability and tackle complex initiatives, Watson's your man. www.marynorwood.com, www.aaronforatlanta.com.
Our pick: Andre Dickens
Four years ago, H. Lamar Willis was fined $25,000 by the Secretary of State for misrepresenting his scholarship foundation as a nonprofit. Atlanta's ethics board also slapped him with $3,500 reprimand for accepting charitable donations from people engaged in business with City Hall. Still, Atlanta voters re-elected Willis to his citywide post in 2009.
Fast-forward to today and the three-term Council veteran, Reed ally, and attorney faces voters with yet another scandal hanging over his head. In early October, the Georgia Supreme Court ordered that Willis be disbarred after depositing $30,000 from a personal injury settlement into his personal bank account instead of giving the cash to an injured child he represented as a client.
Willis acknowledges most of his wrongdoings and attributes them to a tumultuous divorce along with a battle with depression. But he also says his public record — which most recently includes leading efforts to wrangle Downtown's myriad plans and proposing amendments to the PARKatlanta contract — should be strong enough to get him considered for re-election.
Deal will skate. You heard it here first.
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