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 Andre Dickens.
Why did you decide to run for mayor?
Dickens: Yeah, I've always wanted to be mayor of the city of Atlanta since I was in 11th grade. I wanted to serve this city that I love so much being born and raised here. And so I decided right now is the right time for me to run for mayor. Someone that can manage all of these competing interests that we have in the city at this time. This is a critical point, a critical juncture that needs someone with the experience that I have, and so I'm running to make sure that the city is well-run, but well-run for everybody. I want to make sure this city gives everyone a great quality of life. And I think that this time you need a mayor that has inclusivity and capability and integrity all at the same time.
What's the first issue you would want to tackle as a mayor of the city of Atlanta?
Dickens: Yeah, the very first issue that's on everybody's mind is public safety. The crime wave that we have, Right now, make no mistake about it, there is a crime spike. But the goal that I have is to make sure that this is not the new normal, that the city of Atlanta will get this crime wave under control. And so I have a four point plan it's called the SAFE Streets Atlanta Plan that I've published and have done press conferences over so that people know that I have a very serious plan that is a balance between safety and justice. And we're going to be smart on crime to make sure that we resolve the issues, but that we also have 21st century training so that our police officers are capable of deescalating crime and also being racially sensitive.
Let's get a little bit more into that plan. How will you make it work?
Dickens: Yeah. So the S is to surge, to hire 250 more officers in the very first year and to get the 400 officers by the second year. This is going to take an active, aggressive recruiting model to be able to attract officers that are already in other jurisdictions and also to send other officers through training. But they're going to all be trained. Every APD personnel now and going forward on racial sensitivity, de-escalation, and also conflict resolution. The A is to arrest the gang leaders that are preying on our youth. The F is to have a task force that goes out with the GBI to ATF and DEA to get these gun traffickers out of our communities because there's too much gun violence. But we want to have a task force that also deploys specialists to homelessness and mental health cases where people need, they don't need a police for that. We need non-sworn officers to deal with that while our police deal with violent crime. And then the E is to empower APD, to have community-based policing officers getting out of their cars, walking the beat, walking around the gas stations and grocery stores and convenience stores to make sure that there's a presence of officers. Having them live in the city that they serve by being able to give incentives to keep officers able to afford housing in this city. And then of course, youth engagement, lots of youth crime is occurring. And so if we get interventions and activities for you, then we will get this crime wave down.
We know the COVID 19 pandemic really has caused problems with just keeping the city of Atlanta running and all the arms of business moving. What do you think you will do to continue the recovery efforts and help Atlanta move through this phase of this horrible pandemic?
Dickens: Yeah. This pandemic has really costed us a lot, whether that's in lives, in productivity, in our actual psychology, and our health, has really challenged a lot of people personally, but also the government. You look at businesses, most businesses have now hiring signs on them at the airport, and convenience stores, restaurants, everywhere. And the city is no different. Our public works department is down staff, our police department is down—transportation. So your basic city functions are having trouble operating because we have individuals that are not coming back to work and we're giving out incentives now to get them to come. I was the council member that made us go to $15 per hour minimum wage in the city, and we did that without increasing taxes. But now we have to attract people to come to work for the city, just to be sanitation workers, to be able to fill potholes. So, I will be the recruiter in chief. I believe that the city of Atlanta needs a mayor that will be on TV, on radio, going to all places saying, come work for the city that you live in, there's honor and dignity and working for the city of Atlanta and great pay with benefits and also a mayor that you can trust. That's what I'm going to do. I've done it before in business, and I can do that as mayor.
Let's talk about Buckhead, everyone, you know, really concerned about what could happen here. You have people who want to break away from Buckhead, and we just had another incident of violent crime there just in the last week, I'll say. And then you have people who don't think it's a good idea because that money that Buckhead brings to the table is very important in running the city of Atlanta. Where do you stand and how do you plan on fixing this problem of Buckhead wanting to move away?
Dickens: Yeah, we can't have Buckhead leave. I want Buckhead to know that the city of Atlanta values you and the mayor of the city will be the mayor of the entire city of Atlanta, Buckhead included. I've lived in Buckhead, Southwest Atlanta, Midtown, and Northwest Atlanta. I've lived in all these places and I've been an at-large city council member. And what I know to be true is that every community wants to feel safe and they want to feel valued. They want to get their money's worth for their taxes. So Buckhead is no different in that regard. So my SAFE Streets Atlanta Plan will help save Buckhead some headache by helping this crime wave get down, to not being the new normal. We're going to make sure that Buckhead understands that this city is going to have a great reduction in crime. and also, they're going to have a mayor that will be accessible. One that they can talk to, that will answer the phone, go to their meetings. I have a meeting tomorrow at the Buckhead Chamber. I've been to the Buckhead Hotel Council, Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, Livable Buckhead. I go around the whole city meeting with very different groups, and Buckhead wants to see a mayor that listens to them, and town halls, and comes out, go to a crime scene, go to a community event, be able to feel heard and engaged. And so I don't think that we're going to have Buckhead leave because there's a portion of Buckhead that saying they want to leave, but there's a considerable portion of Buckhead that says I want to stay. I just want this crime to get resolved, and I want to see the city services work for everyone. I'm going to rely on those individuals to continue to boost up the stay in Atlanta. We're one community, we grew together, so we must stay together.
Let's talk schools, your favorite schools, Atlanta Public Schools. We know that for years numerous schools and APS have been identified as underperforming. In 2019, 13 Atlanta schools were among the state's bottom 5 percent. What's your plan to help improve this number and get Atlanta Public Schools to a higher level of performance?
Dickens: Yeah, this is very important to me as a graduate of the Atlanta Public School system and a daughter that attended Atlanta Public Schools. I love our public school system and it is very important for us to work together. You'll see some candidates, and some people say, well, the school system is a separate entity from the city. So they have to make sure that they do better, etc. But I know that the educational outcomes are tied to community outcomes. Unhealthy community, where there's a food desert, where there are limited afterschool activities, where parents don't have great jobs and opportunities to work in two and three jobs, and so they can't go to the PTA meeting, they can't be available for parent teachers conferences. This is where the other 16 hours a day are important that the city government helps. The eight hours a day is when they're in school. But the other 16 hours a day is when the community must embrace these folks, get a grocery store in that part of town, make sure that we have access to afterschool programs that matter, mentorship, continuing to have a parent university where parents understand all of the opportunities that the city provides. When we're going out there, getting these great companies to come to Atlanta, we must not allow those companies to only bring in new talent, but they need to help the untapped talent that is already here. I'll show you a low performing school, when I show you a low-performing community. One that's hungry, one that's filled with poverty that has low social outcomes. And that ends up feeding into the school system. There are no bad schools, it's bad outcomes from the community. So we have to make sure that we grow Atlanta in a balanced way. Our south side must not be forgotten, and we have to really, really dig in deep to support that community.
Atlanta is continuously thought of as a growing area, one that everyone wants to come and move to. So with that comes problems with traffic. What do you plan to do about the infrastructure and to make things easier for folks is trying to get around?
Dickens: Yeah, so Atlanta is so attractive. Everyone wants to come here. You know, people have put out signs and say, "we full." No, no, no, we full, no verb in there. Right. But, it's important to know that when you're attractive, then people want to come here and that's fine. We are growing and we're going to have to be able to manage that growth. And so what I've done is I created the Atlanta Department of Transportation. Can you believe that all of the years that the city of Atlanta has existed, that we did not have a department of transportation until 18 months ago when I created it? I'm the first council member to ever create a department, by the way. And so this department of transportation is making sure that we're aligned on our future. So now projects are actually getting done, like paving, and things in certain roads like Cascade Road, DeKalb Avenue, where we're making a complete street with sidewalks, with bike lanes, and we're also improving MARTA.
We're going to expand MARTA. My goal is to make sure that MARTA is free for everybody. That's going to be great for equity and great for the environment and the way you start that is with our senior citizens first, and our school kids, to be able to go where they need to go for free. That will get people out of their cars because cars is what causes traffic. And so we have to make sure we get people on the sidewalls, on bicycles, on rapid transit, and then the city of Atlanta will feel like a major city where we can get around in numerous ways of mobility versus everyone being in cars. So I think that transportation is vital. It's not just about getting you where you're going each day. It's about getting you where you're going in life. Opportunities come from a better transportation grid.
And no gridlock.
Dickens: And no gridlock.
Housing market. Many low-to-middle income Atlantans virtually have no shot at entering the housing market as prices, you know, have skyrocketed, especially during this pandemic. What are you doing to make sure there's an affordable housing unit for all residents of the city of Atlanta? Some type of affordable housing?
Dickens: Yeah, we have a problem in the city of Atlanta that housing is becoming too unaffordable. I remember saying in 2013, that what's affordable today may not be affordable tomorrow. And there were communities that were saying, "I don't need any more affordable housing, we got all this section eight" and stuff, and I kept saying that it's coming, so many new people are moving here, and the housing cost is increasing. Since 2010, the cost of housing units have gone up by 50 percent, but working folks, their income has only gone up by 10 percent. So affordable housing is about housing and affordability. How much can you afford? So eventually a lot of people end up being cost burden as the cost of housing goes up. So what I want to do as mayor, is I want to build or preserve 20,000 units of affordable housing in eight years, that's 2,500 units a year.
We have Bankhead, the old Bankhead Courts, Bowen homes, Hollywood Courts, North Avenue, Inglewood, all of these places. It's just vacant land. We can build mixed income communities, mixed use community, where the janitor, the school teacher, and the superintendent can all live in the same neighborhood and have their kids go to the same schools. And we also be able to go to the same grocery stores, but pay different rents based on their income. Some will pay for mortgages, some will pay for rent, we'll have seniors living there. We've done it before. We've done it in turning Techwood, into Centennial Place. We've done it in terms of West Highland, coming from Perry Homes. We can continue to do that, but we have to have a mayor that's really intentional about making sure that we stay affordable. And the other thing that we'll do is, we'll incentivize to make sure that our seniors have their taxes frozen, that we won't continue to have these seniors pay higher and higher taxes when they may not even have a mortgage. Someone next to a "Mrs. Jones" builds a $500,000 house. Her appraised value does not need to go up just because people move next to her, and now she's bearing the brunt on fixed income, having to pay more. We will take care of that problem to stop gentrification so that these seniors can age in place and enjoy this thriving Atlanta while they're still here.
Let's do a lightning round right now. Just give me the first answer that comes to mind on these questions. What's your favorite restaurant in Atlanta?
Dickens: I like Spice House.
If you could pick one activity to do with your family in the city, what would it be?
Dickens: Walk the BeltLine.
Which team will win a championship next? The Braves, the Falcons, the Hawks, the United or the Dream?
Dickens: Can I say just please God, anyone of them?
Dickens: Please anyone.
Give me one.
Dickens: All right, the Hawks man, Trae Young
What's the first thing that comes to mind when I say Atlanta?
Great. Now I'm going to give you 30 seconds to make your best pitch to voters. Why should they elect you to be the next mayor of the city of Atlanta?
Dickens: Yeah, I'm a native of Atlanta that loves this city, and love to me ought to look like something, and for me it looks like service. It looks like work. I'm an engineer. So I like to solve problems and fix things. And the problems of the city of Atlanta needs some specific attention. Someone who knows how to get things done, but also knows how to do it in an inclusive way. Bring people together. I draw circles, I don't draw lines. I know how to bring folks together to solve these problems. And we're going to need everyone at the table. And that's why my experience as an engineer, as a nonprofit leader, as a city council member, as a father, as a deacon of a church, I bring so much to bear. And my care for the city of Atlanta will always make you proud. Integrity is at the hallmark of all that I do, all that our government will do, so that we will make sure that we run it ethically and professionally each and every day.