Thursday, October 29, 2009

My non-endorsement for mayor

I thought making a decision on who I'd vote for mayor was going to be difficult.  Well, it was until I actually looked into it.  Let me explain...

I started this election out with a certain point of view.  I worked at the State Capitol in 2004 and 2005 for a state senator representing Atlanta.  I got the chance to meet Kasim Reed a few times, although I'd be surprised if he remembered since my direct involvement in politics since then has been minimal.  I came away with a positive impression of Reed.  I thought he was indicative of a newer model for black politicians - simply compare Reed's accomplishments and style with Senator Vincent Fort.  Reed actually gets things through the legislature, while Fort mostly gets press attention. 

I think Reed was a great senator, but I never came away from him thinking that he was particularly visionary or dynamic.  He is a solid legislator and a good politician.  I am not particularly sure why he wants to be mayor, or what drives him for this particular position.  I also have concerns that he has spent too much time in legislative politics, which kind of adjusts your expectations towards inertia and status quo.  After a while at the Georgia General Assembly, you kind of get used to nothing happening and adjust your expectations accordingly. 

I have only met Lisa Borders in passing.  I was introduced to her once at a function.  I've seen her at City Council meetings.  I've read about her getting broken into, and I know all about her connections to "big developers," as well as her family ties.  I don't think she has done much as Council President, although it isn't the sort of position where you can get much done.  Despite making it her pet project, Cathy Woolard couldn't get the BeltLine very far off the ground until the Mayor decided it was important.  The BeltLine wouldn't have happened if it weren't for Woolard's support, but the position of Council President is terribly impotent. 

Among the things I like about Borders are that she has executive business experience and the confidence of the business community (which is necessary to get anything done as mayor).  She has lived in the city, and has personal experience with crime.  I don't think this necessarily makes her more qualified to deal with it, but at least she is more likely to get what people are talking about. 

So I approached the race with the following ideas:

  • Mary Norwood was out of the question.  She has done a remarkable job campaigning, and I'm very impressed with her ability to garner black support, but I think she is a light-weight when it comes to policy ideas.  She has a history of jumping on silly cause-du-jour issues, and her website only has two items in the "issues" section - police and finances.  This micro-focus is the sort of thing that would be better suited to a council person chairing the appropriate committees, not a mayor who has to handle everything. 

  • Kasim Reed has done a great job for Atlanta in the legislature.  He is smart and capable, but he doesn't seem to have much connection to or history with large swaths of the city.  I've met him, he's capable.

  • Lisa Borders has corporate executive experience, but hasn't accomplished much.  Many of my professional and political acquaintances support her.  I hear good things about her intelligence and her ability to work with the business community. I don't know her, although I know plenty about her.

I haven't had the chance to get to any mayoral debates or forums, despite how many there have been.  A lot of the time I have had class, and other times I have had prior engagements.  I have also been unenthusiastic about the race in general.    I'm a bad citizen.  From a distance, my impression has been that Mary Norwood has been a better campaigner, and that Lisa Borders has been more ham-fisted with her attacks than I expected. 

The focus on the perceived Republicanism of Norwood and/or Borders is annoying, although at least Borders didn't "forget" whether she voted for George W. Bush or not.  At least Borders hasn't apologized for having connections with high-powered Republicans like Tom Bell, while Norwood has been less than convincing (to me at least) with her record on attending the state GOP convention.  I don't care that much about whether either is a Republican, although I am a fairly partisan Democrat in all honesty.  I'm more annoyed that Norwood can't just be honest about it.  [UPDATE: The more I think about it, you can easily suggest that Borders isn't being honest either.  At the end of the day I guess it is a judgment call on whether you believe the candidates.]  Additionally, her mantra to make the city work for "all of us" strikes me as divisive.  It implies that there is some area of the city where city hall is working, at the detriment of other areas.  I think all areas are equally unserved, and if anything the area that Norwood (and myself, to be honest) hails from has no room to be complaining.

I have tried to keep an open mind as to whether I will vote for Borders or Reed, and have at times thought I'd end up voting for both candidates.  Last week I decided it was time to make a decision, but that I needed to know more.  I figured this would be a lengthy process of reading all the new stories I'd just skimmed earlier in the year, etc.  I started with the basics, though - the AJC/LWV Voter guide, Creative Loafing's endorsements, and the candidate web sites. 

After that, I didn't really feel the need to do much more digging.  Kasim Reed's issues page has rather generic paragraphs, with fairly simplistic ideas.  Lisa Borders has specific ideas about how to address situations.  I was surprised by the difference in how the two candidates approached the issues, at least in how the decided to present it in a website. 

Reed's ideas and website felt like the sort of site a politician has because he figures he needs an issues page.  "People are concerned about crime, so let's have some more cops."  I have continually been unimpressed with the depth of his policy ideas, especially when it comes to the APD.  This is probably a deal-breaker for me.  I'm sure he has spoken at length in some forum about this, but in everything that I have read his ideas about the police don't get much further than "more cops".

Border's web site addresses specific ideas with actionable items.  "Here is a goal, and here is how we are going to get there."  I like the idea of focusing on "basic city obligations" as a mission, because it gives a solid rubric to judge spending decisions against.  I also that her "attract new business" section includes examples of when she has actually done so (with the WNBA Dream).  Finally, I find her platform relating to the APD to be more comprehensive than Reed's.

One big difference I noticed is that Borders basically says that we need to raise taxes.  She calls it finding new revenue sources, but a lot of it is about using different kinds of taxes than sales and property taxes.  Reed has a section on Tax Relief. 

I personally don't have a problem with high taxes, per se, but I believe you better be providing a quality product for what it costs.  Atlanta currently isn't.  My impression is that Reed would try to keep taxes about where they are, but I'm doubtful he'll do much to improve city services.  Borders may increase the tax burden (although mostly on daytime officer workers, and tourists), but I have more faith that she'll be able to actually reform the city's financial and managerial operations.

The hardest part of making a decision was Reed's history of success at the state legislature.  He really has gotten some difficult things through the Capitol, and I believe he could be helpful advocating for Atlanta.  However, he was unable to get anything done regarding MARTA or a local transit funding mechanism when he was actually there last year. 

I think these are both capable but flawed candidates.  I would be satisfied with either Reed or Borders as mayor, but I'm not excited about either.  I haven't seen any indication of malfeasance on part of either of them, and both seem intelligent enough for the job. But, you gotta vote for one of 'em...

I will be voting for Lisa Borders because of she has presented a clear blueprint for how to begin turning things around.  I trust her experience with the business world more than I trust Reed's experience with the Georgia Legislature, and the details of her platform indicate that she is more in tune with what Atlantans need and want from city government.


  1. Thank you for doing this. I'm new to the City (but not the Metro area) and have found all of the candidates to be equally blah.

  2. Wow, that was definitely the most comprehensive approach to assessing the candidates that I've ever seen (says a lot about the people i know).

  3. I'd like to point out one specific area where Reed has thought more about root causes of crime. He has wholeheartedly advocated for the re-opening of recreation centers across our city because he understands that when young people have safe places to go, that means they're less likely to get into trouble. That says a lot more than just "more cops" to me. It says he understands the need for education, opportunity, etc.

  4. Yeah, I am familiar with that particular idea (the recreation centers). I just think it isn't enough. I'm talking about changing the organizational structure and culture of the police department, about being willing to commit more funds to increase pay, about challenging the police department to find better techniques for policing neighborhoods. Rec centers doesn't cut it.

    I don't think Borders is suggesting everything I'd like to see done, but I think she is further along that path than Reed.

  5. I voted for Borders. Oh well.


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