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Candidate Q&A – Atlanta City Council District 5 candidate Mandy Mahoney

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Candidate Q&A – Atlanta City Council District 5 candidate Mandy Mahoney

Mandy Mahoney

Editor’s note: Decaturish and the Tucker Observer have published an Elections Guide, a 76-page e-edition featuring Q&As with nearly every candidate running in our communities. To see it, click here. This special e-edition features candidates running for public office in Decatur, Avondale Estates, Atlanta City Council District 5, Clarkston Tucker and Stone Mountain.  There is a PDF version of this, which you can see by clicking here, but due to the format of this e-edition, we strongly encourage you to use the e-reader version.

Decaturish provided each candidate in our local races with a series of questions about local issues. Here are the answers of Atlanta City Council District 5 candidate Mandy Mahoney. The answers have not been edited. 

1)      Why are you running for this office?

I believe our communities should be safer and healthier so residents have not only what they need to survive — but to thrive. I’m ready to serve Atlanta with purpose, experience, and a commitment to equity. Under Mayors Franklin and Reed, I served as the City of Atlanta’s first sustainability director. Prior to that, when the Beltline was only an idea, I worked on making it a reality under the leadership of Mayor Franklin.  I am ready to take the lead on local efforts that address issues in public safety, affordable housing, and transportation infrastructure and investment.

2)      What makes you a better candidate than your opponents?

Voters should support my candidacy because lasting, sustainable change requires effective leadership. I am the only candidate in the District 5 race that will be ready on Day 1 to simultaneously provide necessary constituent services and work in partnership with my fellow council members/mayor to advance the policies and systems change needed to make Atlanta a more thriving equitable place for all Atlantans. My experience in the public and nonprofit sector makes me uniquely qualified to serve District 5 and Atlanta at-large. In addition to my former role with the City of Atlanta, my 10+ years running a multi-state public policy organization has afforded me lasting relationships, knowledge of City Hall’s inner-workings, and on-the-job experience in advancing public policy.

My leadership approach is grounded in the belief that all stakeholders deserve an opportunity to provide input into decisions impacting their lives. Stakeholder input is an important complement to the essential work of policymakers and subject matter experts. I seek out diverse and often disparate perspectives and create processes that are inclusive and respectful of individuals.

3)      If elected, what are your top two or three priorities?

Public safety and housing affordability – with a particular focus on enabling seniors and legacy residents to stay in their homes – are the two most pressing issues to me and consistently rise to the top in my conversations with voters.

4)      In your opinion, what are the most important issues facing Kirkwood and East Lake?

As an East Lake resident and engaged community member, I’ve long believed that public safety and housing affordability are the most important issues facing our neighborhoods. During my time running for office and listening to voters, my perspective has been reinforced.

Everyone deserves a safe neighborhood and community to call home. We need to restore the trust of our community in the city’s ability to keep us safe. Atlanta must invest not only in public safety efforts, but also in our neighborhood infrastructure.  Neighborhoods that are welcoming to all residents and have the infrastructure we deserve are key to both public safety and providing housing for residents. Plans for our neighborhoods should include support for existing residents and use lessons learned to provide a modern path to affordable and sustainable housing. We need partners in the private sector to develop housing, but we must also ensure accountability and transparency that has been lacking in previous public-private partnerships in our city.

We tie housing and public safety together because they are innately intertwined.  No one should be afraid in their home or on their street or around the corner for any reason.  We know that people who are invested in and who feel invested in by their community are more likely to help provide a vibrant and dynamic presence to our city.

5)      What is your current opinion of the Atlanta Police Department and are there any changes you would advocate for if you are elected?

Atlanta’s police force is understaffed, despite authorization for hundreds more officers. We must reevaluate all that we ask of our officers, and ensure they are fully trained and fairly compensated. Atlanta should recruit candidates from partners such as Georgia Perimeter College, Atlanta University Center, and Atlanta Technical College. Police departments that employ a higher percentage of officers with postsecondary degrees have improved crime rates, lower turnover, and stronger police-community relationships.

Police must be adequately trained and meaningfully engaged with local neighborhoods. Data shows that a majority of the public wants police officers who understand community needs and challenges. Best-in-class training and restoring relationships between police and residents is crucial to addressing crime. Programs like the Police Athletic League and At-Promise Youth Centers are important in this work.

6)      Violent crime has increased in the city of Atlanta. What should the police department be doing to get crime under control and how do you balance that against calls to reform police departments around the nation?

From Kirkwood to Cascade, every resident and visitor in Atlanta deserves to be safe at work, while shopping, and spending time with family and friends. Neither equity nor prosperity is possible without physical safety. There is no single cure for addressing crime, but there are areas we should prioritize.

We can improve crime by humanely addressing homelessness. Perception of public spaces as unsafe and uncomfortable results in fewer eyes on the streets to deter both property and violent crime. Atlanta currently has a robust network of organizations working to eradicate homelessness, and supporting those coalitions – along with investing in housing affordability and mental health – is an important and tangible action to affect public safety.

Long-term, we must acknowledge crime as a symptom of shortcomings in our education system and economy. City Hall must work closely with APS, employers, and community organizations to address causes of poverty. Until then, Atlantans from all corners will experience unacceptable levels of crime and its effect on the health and prosperity of the city.

Diversion and policing alternatives are essential strategies that are instrumental to Atlanta’s public safety success. When effectively implemented, they reduce crime, advance equity, and save taxpayer money over time. Partnerships with Fulton and DeKalb counties and the court systems are necessary to align strategic priorities and resources. We must go beyond cooperation and move to coordination among public health agencies, nonprofit organizations, and other resource providers.

Fortunately, Atlanta has been building momentum with the effectiveness of the Policing Alternatives & Diversions Initiative (PAD). PAD is based on a national model of diversion programs and is one of seven programs selected nationally to participate in an initiative by L.E.A.D National Support Bureau. I believe there is an opportunity for the City of Atlanta to invest in bolstering PAD Atlanta’s administrative infrastructure and capacity to scale while relying on the subject matter expertise of PAD Atlanta’s leadership and personnel.

7)      Racial justice and diversity have been points of conversation over the last year. What will you do to promote racial justice and diversity in the city of Atlanta?

A black child born into poverty in Atlanta has just a 4% chance of making it to the middle class. This is unacceptable and Atlanta must do more. While we have long viewed Atlanta as the City “too Busy to Hate”, we have also been too busy to address the systemic inequities and injustices that communities of color face.

The city has a responsibility to proactively develop programs and policies that improve economic mobility and shrink the racial wealth gap. Historically, these types of programs and policies have unintentionally harmed the people they were meant to help and exacerbated poor economic outcomes. We must identify approaches for moving programs forward while mitigating these harmful side effects.

If elected, I would focus my efforts on advancing the following programs and priorities:

Invest in community-based businesses: Identify and provide community-based businesses and business sectors that need startup and growth capital to help them thrive.

Adequate affordable housing: Availability of affordable housing is critical, and it is important that gentrification doesn’t force Atlanta’s working class population out of the central city to distant areas that require lengthy and expensive commutes.

Work Source Atlanta: It is an excellent step that Invest Atlanta now houses this program. We must see serious, high-quality leadership and process upgrades so that this agency can serve its purpose of providing critical assistance with job training, vocational programs, and job placement.

Additional, tangible actions that I would take to promote racial justice and diversity in Atlanta include pushing the Mayor’s office to enforce local hiring ordinances; increasing transparency around pedestrian fatalities (which disproportionately affect black residents) and installing mid-block pedestrian crossings; addressing the over policing of jaywalking; advancing affordable housing efforts; and reducing violent crime that communities of color experience at higher rates than white communities.

8)      What do you think of the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and what steps do you think the city should take to help reduce the spread of the virus?

Atlanta has had some strong responses to the pandemic, including various stages of mask mandates. Additionally, the multi-step/phase approach to reopening City Hall has been good for City employees. However, we haven’t fully taken advantage of the opportunities the pandemic has presented by failing to accelerate pedestrian infrastructure. Unfortunately, the City has used the pandemic as an excuse for underdelivering on various services such as waste pick-up and business licenses.

In order to help reduce the spread of the virus, the city should follow the guidance of public health officials, incentivize vaccinations, and ensure seniors and those who are immunocompromised are not put in harm’s way.

9)      Affordable housing continues to be a challenge for people moving to Atlanta. If elected, what steps would you take to promote affordable housing?

There are a number of barriers to affordable housing in our city. First, the harmful legacy of residential segregation continues to circumscribe access to affordable housing among BIPOC households which impacts siting decisions for new housing and infrastructure. Second, there are limited private, public, and philanthropic pools of capital available for use in effectively creating and maintaining affordable housing. Financing is often too expensive to maintain naturally-occurring affordable housing. Third, the housing market is booming and driving up housing prices and tax valuations, often forcing middle and low-income households out of the city. Lastly, there are few incentives to create and maintain affordable housing for households making less than 50 percent of the area median income resulting in limited housing options.

I suggest four strategies:

1. Create a revolving loan program to provide capital funding at low interest rates to affordable housing developments within city limits that are applying for Low Income Housing Tax Credits from the state. This will boost the ability to obtain necessary state and federal tax credits and fill the gap in financing affordable housing.

2. The City owns a lot of unused property and land. We should leverage these properties to unlock superb locations to house people, while retaining ownership of the land and facilitating affordable housing development close to schools and jobs.

3. We must have a bias towards action. We must provide clear metrics for all agencies related to affordable housing development and preservation and hold all parties accountable for their responsibility in creating greater access to safe and economical homes.

4. More flexibility is needed in zoning laws. The city also needs to target its affordable housing resources to households making less than 50 percent of the area median income, and ensure that these sources of aid are accessible and flexible.

10)   Do you think Atlanta has done enough to promote safety for cyclists and pedestrians and, if not, what changes would you like to make?

Atlanta can do more to promote safety for cyclists and pedestrians, and I’m deeply committed to making our communities safer and healthier so that residents not only have what they need to survive — but to thrive. I have worked on the leading edge of transportation solutions for Atlanta since 2005. When the Beltline was only an idea, I helped to make it a reality. In my role as Atlanta’s first director of sustainability I launched a comprehensive telework program for city employees and championed alternative commute options in the Sustainability Plan. As president of the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, I led national efforts to advance the transition from gasoline-powered light, medium and heavy-duty vehicles to electric vehicles. I have been a cycle and MARTA commuter since law school and my family has been an all-electric, one car household since 2009. In 2020, I revived APS’s Drew Charter School’s Safe Routes to School PTA Committee to address the urgent transportation needs for elementary students.

Today, Atlanta’s infrastructure is failing residents without access to a car, are disabled, or prefer sustainable transportation options. My vision for Atlanta’s transportation system is that it is “AAA,” serving All Ages and Abilities. Many residents live in a transit desert, and where transit options exist, routes are long and inefficient. As a city council member, I would be a staunch advocate for improving pedestrian, public transit, and cycle infrastructure by repairing existing sidewalks, adding new sidewalk mileage, building new bike lanes and multi-use paths, enforcing existing bike lane regulations, and improving connections between public transit stops. The future prosperity and health of our city depends on a robust and diverse set of transportation options for all residents.

The creation of the Atlanta Department of Transportation (ATLDOT) was a fundamental step towards more thoughtful and focused action on the city’s transportation issues. ATLDOT must now ensure the development of an integrated plan that supports all transportation modes and all residents. The plan should explore innovative transit solutions, tap into community-based ideas to solve local problems, and fully integrate a vision of future land use and development that incorporates sustainable design standards for all public investments.

11)   If elected, how would you work with Atlanta’s School Board to prepare for future growth in the city of Atlanta?

Many Atlantans don’t know that the Atlanta Board of Education is an autonomous, independent school system. For this reason and others, it is essential that Atlanta’s Mayor and City Council have respectful, cooperative relationships with Atlanta Public Schools. Fortunately, a number of our current and likely returning Council Members are former educators and we must lean on their expertise to better understand what the City of Atlanta can do to support the Atlanta Public School system. Educators and school leaders can only do so much when the neighborhoods in which they are set lead to high rates of poverty and crime. The best thing the City of Atlanta can do to support student success and Atlanta’s future growth is by addressing the underlying causes of poverty, health disparities, and racial injustice.

12)   What is your opinion of Atlanta’s current mayor and who will you be supporting in the upcoming mayoral election?

It is vitally important that the next council can work effectively with Atlanta’s mayor and ensure the Mayor’s office acts with integrity. I look forward to carrying out my duties as a member of the legislative and oversight body at City Hall.

13)   What in your view could be done to make city of Atlanta’s government more transparent and responsive to the people it serves? 

Trust requires three things: competence, follow through, and benevolence. Residents and businesses do not believe that the city can competently produce quality work. They see results, they ignore empty words and promises. They have come to expect that the city will deliver late or not at all on their plans and promises. They also believe that decisions are made based on favoritism and not in the best interest of the community. Trust in the city is not waning; it has been shattered.

In life and business, the most effective way to rebuild trust is to bravely and transparently acknowledge fault and then find meaningful ways to follow through on promises. It is no different for the city. It will be critical for the next mayor and city council to take responsibility and move into action to improve the most basic and important city services – 911 response times, waste collection, and pothole and sidewalk repair.

I believe the Office of the Inspector General is an important function in the City. As a council member, I will ensure we retain that office and fully staff and resource it in the next mayoral administration.

At the district level, I will implement participatory budgeting on day one. Currently used in District 2, participatory budgeting establishes a process for the residents and business owners in the district to transparently and democratically select how the district’s discretionary funds are used. I will use stakeholder engagement processes that go beyond the NPU and neighborhood association level using a mixture of on-the-ground and online tools. I will work with city planning to evaluate and score the suggested projects. This makes an immediate impact on the highest priority needs in a neighborhood by neighborhood choice. As demonstrated in District 2, this process also dramatically restores community trust.

14)   What do you think is Atlanta’s greatest strength?  

Atlanta’s greatest strength is a willingness to reinvent ourselves.

15)   What do you think is Atlanta’s biggest challenge?

Just as it is our greatest strength, Atlanta’s willingness to reinvent ourselves is our greatest weakness. As a result, we fail to learn from the lessons of the past and have become one of the most income unequal cities in the United States.

16)   How would you address what you believe to be Atlanta’s biggest challenge?

Atlanta can be too busy to consider equity and a range of opinions before we make decisions. Too often Atlanta operates by “Ready. Fire. Aim.” We need to put more thoughtful processes in play and elevate the level of quality in both our processes and services across the board.

17)   What is your opinion of MARTA and if elected what will you do to promote transit in the city of Atlanta?

We need a highly effective partnership between the City of Atlanta and MARTA from both a design and a funding perspective. MARTA and its board of directors should work very closely with the City of Atlanta to allocate funds for city projects. Likewise, the city needs to vigorously engage MARTA on its requirements and advocate for the Atlanta-RegionTransit Link Authority (ATL) as an essential resource for transit.

The agreement between the city and MARTA provides for a liaison position to ensure flow of information and coordination on project substance and schedules. This position should formally report on a quarterly basis to the mayor and city council on project status and, in cooperation with city and MARTA finance staff, on the status of tax revenues and project expenditures. The liaison should develop an ongoing process for joint engagement between the city and MARTA for regular updates of project plans in conjunction with ongoing planning processes.

The city should create a formal set of criteria for MARTA board membership which would include experience in public administration or public service, background in finance or transit or transportation and some level of engagement in community service. The city should also establish an ongoing process for communicating with MARTA board members that includes periodic updates from the City of Atlanta board members as well as regular briefings on new and evolving policies that impact transit decisions for board members. This should include not only transportation issues, but also city development goals that may be influenced by MARTA transit decisions.

18)   If you are elected, what will you do to support the business community in the city of Atlanta?

The most immediate challenge for Atlanta’s business community is a safe and healthy environment that supports the industries hit hardest by the pandemic. This will require clear, consistent, and transparent public health policies that follow federal guidelines to assure we are following best practices. I believe these policies must be free of politics, and they must make clear the trade-offs and cost-benefit analyses that underpin their development. These policies will encourage the business community to bring employees back into the office and also support the retail, restaurant, and convention industries by giving residents and visitors the confidence to re-engage in Atlanta’s cultural scene.

Atlanta is a real estate town and a global transportation hub. These central industries have been permanently altered by the pandemic. As a result, Atlanta now has many underperforming and obsolete buildings. With the assistance of City Planning and Invest Atlanta, we can harness some of the economic horsepower generated by our population growth and help shape a brighter future for our city. The city must effectively partner with organizations including the Metropolitan Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Central Atlanta Progress, the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Georgia Restaurant Association, and others to understand and address the needs and concerns of this community.

Public-private partnership is essential to accomplishing our goals, and my career leading cross-sector work puts me in a position to support the best our business community has to offer while ensuring our most vulnerable residents aren’t left behind.

19)   If you are elected, do you promise to conduct yourself in an ethical and transparent manner? How would you work to promote ethics and transparency in government?

Not only do I pledge to conduct myself in an ethical and transparent matter, I am committed to implementing the use of 21st century transparency and tracking tools.

My office will work to not only be an advocate for my constituents’ needs, but also to hold departments accountable for service quality and effectiveness. I will embrace the city council’s oversight role by actively participating on the standing committees responsible for reviewing and approving departmental budget requests and progress against work plans. It is imperative that these committees not act as a rubber stamp for the mayor’s budget or project advancement. Instead, they must operate independently, transparently, and with the public interest as their top priority. I will ask tough questions of departmental leadership, and continually challenge them on budget requests and procurement procedures. In my experience, tough questioning can serve as an effective means to improve the transparency of decision-making.

I will maintain an active dialogue with constituents on current policy issues, and I will ensure district residents are kept informed of the status of service needs or requests. I will also use participatory budgeting to create a forum for transparent and democratic decision making about how the district’s discretionary funds are used.

I will pursue the use of online reporting and tracking tools, similar to the ATLStat platform used by Mayor Franklin’s administration, to ensure constituents’ concerns are captured and to keep them informed on progress toward issue resolution.

More information about voting in the Nov. 2 election: 

All elections coverage can be found at Decaturishvotes.com and Tuckerobservervotes.com.  

Election Day is Nov. 2. Early voting will begin on Oct. 12 and will end on Oct. 29. The voter registration deadline is Oct. 4. To register to vote, click here.

To see a list of important dates in the 2021 election year, click here.

Voters in DeKalb County are eligible to apply for an absentee ballot as of Aug. 16. 

To apply for an absentee ballot:

— Visit the Georgia Secretary of State website.

—  Complete the absentee ballot application using the state’s official paper form. Use black or blue ink only.

Applications can be mailed to the county elections office at this address: DeKalb County Election office, 4380 Memorial Drive, Decatur, GA 30032-1239.

Applications can also be submitted by fax, 404-298-4038, or email, [email protected].

Voters may send an absentee ballot request for multiple people who live in the same household in the same envelope or email.

If an absentee ballot is not mailed to you, call DeKalb Elections office, 404-298-4020. You may still vote in person, either early or on Election Day.

An absentee ballot application must be received by Oct. 22.

In accordance with SB202, a new voting bill signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in March, a copy of a voter’s ID is required to apply for an absentee ballot. A Georgia driver’s license, Georgia state ID, Georgia voter card, U.S. Passport, U.S. military ID, employee ID issued by any branch of the federal or state government, tribal ID, or a document verifying a voter’s name and address – including a paycheck, utility bill, or bank statement – are accepted forms of ID.

Early voting begins Oct. 12 and ends Oct. 29. The hours for early voting are Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. There will also be weekend early voting on Oct. 16, 17, 23 and 24. Call your elections office for hours.

Beginning Oct. 12, you can participate in early voting at the following locations: 

– Bessie Branham Recreation Center (2051 Delano Drive NE, Atlanta, GA 30317)

– Lynwood Recreation Center (3360 Osborne Road NE, Brookhaven, GA 30319)

– Berean Christian Church – Family Life Center (2197 Young Road, Stone Mountain, GA 30088)

– DeKalb Voter Registration & Elections Office (4380 Memorial Drive, Suite 300, Decatur, GA 30032)

– Tucker-Reid H. Cofer Library (5234 LaVista Road, Tucker, GA 30084)

– Stonecrest Library (3123 Klondike Road, Stonecrest, GA 30038)

– County Line-Ellenwood Library (4331 River Road, Ellenwood, GA 30294)

– Dunwoody Library (5339 Chamblee Dunwoody Road., Dunwoody, GA 30338)

For the most up-to-date and accurate information regarding early voting times and locations, visit Decaturishvotes.com and Tuckerobservervotes.com or call 404-298-4020.  

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