Atlanta’s New Mayor Dickens Seeks to Bring Unity to City Riven by Conflict
(Bloomberg) -- Andre Dickens, who pledged to run Atlanta by curtailing crime and improving services, was sworn in as its 61st mayor on Monday, promising to restore a sense of community to a city facing a revolt from its wealthiest neighborhood.
“Each mayor has had their burden,” Dickens, 47, told a crowd at Georgia Institute of Technology, his alma mater. “Mine is to bring us together.”
The largest city in the U.S. Southeast, like others in the nation, has suffered through a wave of violent crime during the pandemic. There were 158 murders in Atlanta last year, one more than in 2020, which had the most since 1996.
The new mayor said during his campaign he would hire 250 new police officers in his first year, improve street lighting and security cameras across the city and form a task force with state and federal law enforcement to address gun trafficking.
He also promised to build or preserve 20,000 units of affordable housing in eight years and to expand a city zoning program that requires new developments to include affordable housing. Dickens also plans to audit all customer-facing city programs, with a goal of making them easier to use.
Dickens’ most immediate challenge, though, may be a secession movement in Buckhead, a wealthy, north side neighborhood where 74% of residents are White, in a city with a majority Black population. Spearheaded by a recent New York City transplant named Bill White, the idea gathered momentum during the pandemic crime wave.
The proposed split could devastate the city’s finances: Buckhead accounts for $14.1 billion –- or 41% -- of the $34.7 billion Atlanta collects in real estate taxes each year. Supporters say that Atlanta will save money on services it would no longer have to provide to Buckhead, like policing.
Critics, including Democrats and business leaders, have assailed the movement as both financially and socially destructive. Some have also criticized it as racist, an allegation that gained traction on Jan. 2, after White shared a Twitter post from a white nationalist and anti-Semitic group that equated majority-Black cities with crime and “carnage.”
White deleted the post after an outcry from civil rights leaders and city officials. In an interview, White said he retweeted the original post because “I thought it was pretty interesting.” After about 24 hours, White says he saw the comments and realized it was a white nationalist group.
“I deleted it, and then I went on Instagram to explain it,” White said. “I was going too fast. I was retweeting an article. I don’t agree with these people. I don’t know who they are. I took it down. It’s an honest mistake.”
Buckhead’s secession would require Georgia’s Republican-dominated legislature -- historically at odds with the state’s Democrat-led largest city -- to pass a bill putting the measure to Buckhead voters. And it has already become a political football, particularly in the Republican primary for governor.
Former President Donald Trump has endorsed David Perdue, who lost a re-election bid for the U.S. Senate a year ago, and is a supporter of a referendum on Buckhead cityhood. Perdue faces incumbent Brian Kemp, who has drawn criticism from Trump for Kemp’s refusal to overturn the state’s 2020 presidential election results.
Kemp has not said where he stands on the Buckhead issue. The Democratic candidate, voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, opposes the secession movement.
Dickens, who ran a technology non-profit and is a former city council member, edged out former two-term Mayor Kasim Reed for second place in a Nov. 2 mayoral election, then handily beat City Council President Felicia Moore in a runoff later that month.
He succeeds Keisha Lance Bottoms, who decided against running for a second term.
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