Red Blue & You: The Man of This Moment

Andre Dickens may be exactly the mayor Atlanta needs right now.
Johnson Tharon Square 200

It was never supposed to go like this. Many Atlanta politicos had a clear vision for how the 2021 mayoral election would play out: In the general election, former City Council President Felicia Moore would take first place followed by former Mayor Kasim Reed in second place, with a variety of challengers in the high single digits behind them.

The runoff results would be less predictable, but we were all expecting one of the most brutal elections Atlanta had ever seen. Reed’s pugilistic, unstoppable force would come up against Moore’s stalwart, immoveable resolve.

That isn’t what happened, though. Moore did indeed take first place on November 2, 2021 by a wide margin, but then-city councilmember Andre Dickens shocked the city by outpacing Reed by just 600 votes (coincidentally, not far from Reed’s 714 vote margin of victory against Mary Norwood in his 2009 runoff election).

There were few who predicted Dickens’ victory before the general election and fewer still who could have anticipated his nearly 2-to-1 win in the runoff.

Dickens ran a campaign very different than that of his opponents. While the topline issue in every single campaign last year was crime, Dickens came at it from a more hopeful angle than Moore and Reed. He looked at the issue in a more empathetic, aspirational way while simultaneously calling for similar increases to police presence and law enforcement support throughout the city. It was a difficult needle to thread but by doing so successfully, Dickens created a coalition of voters in the runoff from every Atlanta community, including among its leaders. Dickens earned the endorsement of everyone from former Mayor Shirley Franklin, who was a central figure in much of his campaigning, to left-wing activists like former State Sen. Vincent Fort, Sen. Nan Orrock and law enforcement officials such as District Attorney Fani Willis.

Dickens did not just run on a platform of tackling crime, however. He also prioritized issues that this city has been facing for generations such as a lack of affordable housing, access to good jobs and the generational poverty suffered most acutely by African American Atlantans.

Atlanta mayors have tried to tackle these problems for decades, some making more progress than others, but they continue to be campaign hallmarks because so much work remains to be done.

More than any other candidate last year, Dickens articulated a compelling vision for how he might finally be the one to bring the city together and move it forward.

His ambitious agenda, however, became stymied by the single issue that no one saw coming just one year ago – Buckhead cityhood. With about 100,000 residents, the Buckhead community makes up about 20% of Atlanta’s population. It is more than 72% white and 12% African American; Atlanta is 40% white and 51% African American. Buckhead’s median household income is $100,000 versus about $59,000 for the rest of the city.

Fueled by rising crime in Buckhead neighborhoods and a perceived lack of sufficient city services, the movement to secede from Atlanta has picked up a great deal of traction in the last 12 months.

While Buckhead residents are concerned about issues that are no different from any other neighborhood in Atlanta (or major city in the country), what is different is the ability to fundraise and attract the ears of those in power. In an election year, Republican state legislators, none of whom live in Atlanta, have stepped up to support the effort.

Dickens wasted no time addressing this existential threat to Atlanta. He made addressing crime a centerpiece of his campaign with his SAFE Streets plan.

The plan includes installing thousands of new streetlights, bringing new officers into the Atlanta Police Department and supporting community policing to bring officers closer to the neighborhoods they serve. It may not be as punitive as some on the Northside are calling for, but his comprehensive focus on the issue is undeniable.

His entire run for office was based on an optimistic message of bringing Atlanta together – a city where everyone can have a good job, a good home and feel safe walking the streets. Dickens may not be the mayor some voters were expecting to win at the start of the race, but he’s exactly the one we need right now.

Categories: Opinions, Red Blue & You