The 38-year-old Underwood Hills resident and Georgia Tech administrative staffer is running on a campaign of economic development, safer neighborhoods, and improving ethics at City Hall.
"I love Atlanta," he tells CL. "I was doing Atlanta vs. New York City battles with friends back when Atlanta was a very small town compared to New York. I lived here for all but four-and-a-half years of my life."
Dickens, who has served as president and vice president of his neighborhood association and representative to the area's Neighborhood Planning Unit, says his election bid has been a dream since attending Benjamin Mays High School.
"[It's] about making Atlanta better for my daughter and other children - growing Atlanta while protecting the heritage of Atlanta," says Dickens. I want to preserve the hard work of folks like [my mother] but also have smart growth for the Atlanta of the future, which is rapidly approaching."
After graduating from Tech with a degree in chemical engineering, the former Adamsville resident worked in sales for both an oil and plastics company, jobs which took him to Texas, Indiana, and California. In 2002, he and his sister-in-law started a furniture retail business.
That same year he returned to Atlanta to help his ailing mother. His in-laws followed and so did the furniture company. At its height, the business boasted two locations in metro Atlanta and employed 20 people. But the effects of the metro area's housing slowdown soon rippled into related industries, including furniture, and in 2010 they closed the business. "[People] weren't trying to decorate their house, they were trying to keep their house," he says. "People's couch money went to the mortgage."
He returned to Georgia Tech to serve as the assistant director of outreach initiatives for the Office of Institute Diversity. In addition to his adviser work, he is studying at Georgia State University for his masters in public administration with a focus in economic development.
"The engineer in me wants to solve problems," he says. "The spirituality in me hates to see inequality and struggle that doesn't seem like it will end. But service is why I'm running. I'm trying to make it a better place. Good, effective leaders are good for the growth of the city and I'm an effective leader."
Dickens says that his expertise as a former business owner could help City Council with boosting economic development. "I'll use my experience as a small-business owner," he says. "How do we bring jobs here and retain small businesses? How do we help keep businesses in business?"
He thinks the city could provide resources to help new and emerging companies succeed, particularly in struggling communities, as well as bring together the city's various business incubators and other nonprofit organizations.
In addition, Dickens wants to boost neighborhoods. The candidate, whose home has been burglarized twice, would like to see a stronger focus on community-based programs and more cooperation between the police and neighborhoods. He also wants more efforts to eliminate blight, noting that the built environment plays a role in crime levels.
"We need to maintain what can be maintained but we need to tear down what can be torn down," he says, adding that Tech students are coming up with innovative ways to try and make use of abandoned buildings.
On ethics, Dickens says he wants to continue the push to make City Hall more transparent by strengthening ethics laws and increasing public participation with technology.
Dickens and Shelitha Robertson, a former city attorney, are competing for the citywide seat against Willis. The two-term councilman managed to trump Robertson in the 2009 municipal elections even with various ethical woes, including failing to properly register a scholarship foundation he operated and which accepted contributions from current or potential city vendors. The councilman could also be stripped of his legal license by the State Bar of Georgia over several ethical violations related to his private law practice.
"H. Lamar has to explain his personal and professional record," Dickens says. "I don't have to explain his record. That's not going to be my job. I think I'm a better candidate and I'll let the voters decide that. He'll have to explain those things that are out there."
Dickens and Robertson have yet to file campaign disclosures. According to filings, Willis hasn't raised any money in the last reporting cycle and has no money on hand.
NOTE: The post has been altered to correct two errors. Dickens returned to Atlanta in 2002. In addition, he works as administrative staff in the Office of Institute Diversity.
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