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Atlanta Mayors Discuss Howard Impact, Time in Office

The current and former mayors of Atlanta share achievements, regrets and encouragement for Howard students pursuing politics and leadership.

Kasim Reed knew he wanted to become the mayor of Atlanta when he was only 13 years old after meeting his mentor, Howard alum and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, who at the time served as ambassador to the United Nations. 

Reed credits much of his preparation and success as mayor to the foundation he received at the Howard University School of Law.

“Howard prepared me to be mayor because it gave me the opportunity to practice falling without failing [and] to have difficult times matched with the support of people who I always knew genuinely cared about me and were rooting for my success,” Reed said.

Before serving as the mayor of Atlanta from 2010 to 2018, Reed practiced law at an international firm and served as a member of the Georgia General Assembly for 11 years. Throughout his career in politics and public service, Reed has engaged in state and local politics.

He shared that he was drawn to local government because it provided him an ability to get things done quickly and to have an impact on his community. 

“The mayor of Atlanta plus eight votes could do almost anything within the city,” he said. “If you contrast that with what it takes to get anything done at the national level, that means that mayors have breathtaking power.”

Reed discussed the success of his administration in increasing Atlanta’s public safety and reducing crime. He emphasized the power of mayors in democratic cities to combat the conservative efforts of state legislatures. 

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“I was a mayor in a democratic city surrounded by a sea of red and it did very little to stop my agenda,” Reed said. “Never let the excuses of outside forces stop you from achieving the goals that you set when you’re in a position of high office or high achievement.”

Reed said he regretted his approach to combating the harmful effects of gentrification on long-term Atlanta residents.

“As a result of the success we had in attracting people to the city, it became a less affordable place for people that called it home for their entire lives,” he said. “I would have liked to have done more [for] housing affordability and housing creation.” 

Six years later, current Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens is informed by the legacy of his predecessors, yet continues to blaze his own path in his approach to prevent harmful effects of gentrification. Dickens said he has prioritized increasing affordable housing in the city.

He also said that he is well on the way to achieving his goal of creating or preserving 20,000 affordable housing units by 2030.

“We’re well on our way with a little over 9,000 affordable housing units going towards my 20,000 unit goal, in just a short amount of time as mayor,” he said.

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Similar to Reed, Mayor Andre Dickens knew he wanted to become the mayor of Atlanta at the young age of 16. Growing up in Atlanta public schools, Dickens said he saw firsthand the needs of his community and sought to create the change he knew was needed.

“I was born and raised here in the city and I love [Atlanta] so much,” Dickens said. “I wanted to be a part of its growth and serve it.”

In addition to prioritizing affordable housing efforts, Dickens expressed his long-term commitment to increasing public safety. 

“I grew up in Atlanta in a time when we had a lot of crime spikes — even though we were a successful city, we always knew of the dangers of violence,” he said.

According to Dickens, in 2023, Atlanta had the third-highest drop in violent crime of any city in the nation and a 21 percent decrease in homicides. Dickens credited the success in crime reduction to the collaboration of both policing and non-policing strategies, as well as positive engagement with Atlanta youth.

“I always said that if we can bring down youth crime, we can bring down crime overall,” he said.

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Dickens shared some of his youth engagement strategies, including a 2023 summer job program called Midnight Basketball, which employed 4,000 young adults between the ages of 14 and 24, paying them $17 an hour. Dickens also instituted the Mayor’s Youth scholarship program, which gave every graduating senior who applied last year $4,000 to attend college.

“We’re really committed to the youth and that’s important to me—education and youth opportunities,” Dickens said.

Dickens also stressed the importance of collaborating with other local government and non-government partners. Regarding public safety, Dickens said he works alongside the district attorney and Atlanta sheriff’s office, as well as non-profit organizations in “public-private philanthropic partnerships.”

“Atlanta is a group project,” Dickens said. “We work well internally as a city government, using the whole of government to solve a problem, and we work well with our state, federal and local partners.”

Using his experience in business, Dickens also promotes economic mobility through collaboration with businesses seeking their stake in the city.

“My business experience tells me that we can do stuff together and solve big problems if we allow the business community to come in and help us, but we put parameters on what they’re doing,” Dickens said.

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At the beginning of March, Dickens pressured Microsoft, who promised to create 15,000 jobs, for clarity concerning the development of a corporate campus on Atlanta’s westside. Dickens called for Microsoft to end the indefinite pause that resulted from the pandemic or give the land back to the city.

“When we partner with businesses, we intend to hold them accountable,” Dickens said. 

Dickens also emphasized the success Howard University breeds, which he believes Atlanta has benefitted from for decades regarding local leadership and alumni contributions. He hopes to see the pipeline continue.

“Be a student of the history of the past and the greatness that comes, and then you step it up,” Dickens said. “I stand on the next step and want to use the leadership that [Howard-bred leaders] provided to do that, so somebody that graduated from Howard, in a few short years, will come to Atlanta and they’ll stand on my shoulders and lift people up that way too.”

For young people interested in pursuing politics and local leadership, Reed offered advice on early proactivity.

“Most highly successful people start making their important impact early,” Reed said. “So, while you have all of your abilities, use them, use your time.”

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Willie White III, a sophomore political science major from Blackshear, Georgia, currently interns at the African American Mayors Association (AAMA).

“It’s been inspiring to see the amazing work [Black mayors] are doing in identifying problems in their communities and enacting different solutions that are going to make an impact,” White said.

Admiring the close proximity mayors have with their communities and their potential to make significant change, White said he is heavily considering running for mayoral office in the future. 

With the upcoming national election, White urged young voters to consider the importance of local elections in affecting their daily lives and the lives of those in their communities. 

“If we don’t look more into who we elect on our local level, we are really going to miss out on a lot of different changes that we can see in our own communities,” White said. “As young voters, it’s important for us to stay united in making sure that we’re holding every single politician accountable — not just in presidential elections, but our mayors as well—in making sure that they are actually making a positive change in your community.” 

Copy edited by Jalyn Lovelady

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