Below is the full unedited transcript of the interview with mayoral candidate Michael Sterling held on March 10, 2017, at the offices of Atlanta Black Star.
Present for interview from Atlanta Black Star: Neil Nelson, co-founder and Chairman of ABS; Andre Moore, co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at ABS; Cliff Albright, contributing writer; Tanasia Kenney, staff writer; Kamau Franklin, Political and Social Editor.
Kamau Franklin: I’ll start, my name is Kamau Franklin, I am the Political and Social Editor here at Atlanta Black Star.
Tanasia Kenney: I’m Tanasia Kenney, and I am the Social Media reporter here at Atlanta Black Star, but I mainly focus on political news.
Neil Nelson: My name is Neil Nelson, and I’m the co-founder of the Black Star, and I’m also the CEO.
Andre Moore: I’m Andre Moore, a co-founder of Atlanta Black Star, and the CTO
Neil Nelson: The other gentleman will be coming to join us in a moment. His name is Cliff, and he’s the political writer. So when he joins us he’ll come in and assume a role in this conversation.
Neil Nelson: So, let me give you a little bit about Atlanta Black Star. Atlanta Black Star was founded actually in May 5 years ago, in 2012. We founded Atlanta Black Star because we saw that there was a void in the local, national, and international media space for narratives by us, meaning by black people, about our interests, and putting our interests on the very top of the agenda. Media sets agenda, media informs narratives that inform values, informs aspirations, goals, and objectives. And so without media in our control that helps to steer society in a direction of our interest, we are left to depend and hope that other people steer the society in a way that benefits us. And quite frankly, historically, that has not been the case, both in this country, this city in particular, and around the world.
And so, part of our objective, clearly, is to play an instrumental role in saying what the agenda is, and directing the societal narrative so that our interests are being heard, and acted upon at every level of society. So that really is the guise, or thinking, that will really guide this conversation that we’ll have about your candidacy, for Mayor of Atlanta. So with that said, we’ll turn back over to Kamau to come out and set the rules and talk about …
Kamau Franklin: Basically it’s a question and answer format, we have some prepared questions that we’re going to ask you and we may jump in and ask follow-ups based on whatever your responses are. After we finish with that, what we plan to do is to transcribe it, to take excerpts of it and publish it as an article, but also have the full transcript available for anybody online who wants to read it. So we’re doing a series of these interviews with all of the Mayoral candidates, so far we think we’re going to get all the candidates of stature, let’s say, to participate in it and through the process of publishing, either bi-weekly or monthly leading up to the actual election, towards the end of it we’re going to endorse a candidate based on what we see as the interest of the candidate, and what we find in terms of their views and everything that relates to a lot of the stuff that Jelani just said around what our work is.
Neil Nelson: I’ve got the first question. In every election there’s always a number of issues and different community priorities. As a Mayoral candidate, I imagine you’re looking at the entire picture, you’re seeing more than most constituents are looking at. And so, from that perspective, the bird’s eye view, what do you see as the top 5 issues that people in Atlanta should be voting on in the coming Mayoral election?
Michael Sterling: I think the top 5 issues – I mean, first, I’ll start with ending the culture of corruption. I start there, because I think that when you have a government that people don’t trust, when you have political leaders that people don’t trust, or people who are working in government that people don’t trust, it actually undermines everything else you do. So everything else you do gets compromised, because “Now I’ve got to question everything you do, because I don’t know what your intentions are.” Right? If I say “I think we need to go down, build some new streets in this area,” “Is he just doing that to benefit his contractor buddy? Is he just doing that to benefit some people who contributed to his campaign?” You know, what is the intent? And then that slows down the entire process.
And when I took over the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency, which was considered one of the city’s most corrupt organizations, it was certainly called the city’s most dysfunctional organization by multiple third-party observers, one of the tools I used in reforming it and changing the culture, I used a book. Stephen Covey’s book, ‘The speed of Trust’. He described trust as the key leadership competency in a new global economy, and I knew that trust was a performance multiplier. So if we all trusted each other, we’re working together, we know what our intentions are, we’re confronting the situations head-on and we’re tackling the challenges, and people know that if they’re coming to me for help, my only intention is to help them, it made everything else I did easier.
So I think it’s critical that we end the culture of corruption because it compromises everything we do as a city, everything we do as political leaders, everything we do as a government. If I can’t do something without constantly having my intentions questioned, it’s going to completely low down our government, it’s going to compromise everything we do. So think we’ve got to end the culture of corruption. I think we’ve got to make sure everybody feels safe in the city. Make sure the families, neighborhoods, communities feel safe.
I gave a speech one time where I talked about some young men who I mentored, who are from Mechanicsville, a kid named Dion. And if you talk to a young man like Dion, who has seen so much in his life, and he’s only 20 years old, I said “When you hear about a shooting in Mechanicsville, it’s just another Tuesday night. But if you hear about it in Midtown, it gets the attention of the entire media to the point you just made the entire press, and all of a sudden, all of the resources go into one particular community and neighborhood. Everybody has to feel safe. And we can do that in the city if we’re more strategic about how we address a growing criminal enterprises, if we’re more strategic about how we address the complex nature of crime, if we’re more strategic about how we address the growing sophistication of some crimes. So I think we’ve got to do a better job of making sure that everybody in the city of Atlanta feels safe in their neighborhoods, in their homes. Think public safety certainly, and the safety of every resident certainly has to be the top concern of a Mayor.
I think we’ve got to do a better job with economic equality. I’ve always talked about the moments that lead me up to wanting to run for Mayor, but one of those pivotal moments for me was I was in my office and Kweku from the Center for Working Families came into my office with their report “The race for equality” I think it’s called “The Race for Equality” or “The Race for Justice” by the Casey Family Foundation. I remember they had these single sheets and they had the full report, and they started handing me the singles sheets, and I remember they handed me a sheet, that said 80% of African-American children in our city live in neighborhoods that have high concentrations of poverty. And I looked at the sheet and said “This number is wrong, that’s not possible,” and they said “Mike, that’s the number.” 80% of African-American children live in neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty.
And what started going on in my head was, that means that there are no resources going to the schools in their neighborhoods, because if you live in a neighborhood that’s concentrated in poverty, and your taxes are allocated based on what neighborhood you live in, they’re not getting the same resources. And then you look at Atlanta’s economic mobility rate, which is only 4 and a half percent, that means if I’m born in poverty in the city of Atlanta, I’ve got a 4.5% chance of climbing the economic ladder. We’re last in that. First in income inequality, the top 5% of earners in our city make over $200,000 a year, the bottom 20% make less than $16,000 a year. That’s a problem. You can’t be a great city, leaving people behind.
And I’m willing to take that message to everybody in our city, I’ve talked about it at a forum with business leaders last week. I said “Our economic health is tied together, we’re going to be a greater city, when we’re not leaving people behind. When people can climb the economic ladder, that is the promise of Atlanta. That you can climb the economic ladder, you can be born in poverty but find your way out, because we’re creating educational opportunities and job training opportunities, and the promise of Atlanta has to become a reality.” And so I think economic equality is absolutely one of those issues we have to address.
I think our educational system is something that absolutely has to be in the top 5 issues. You cannot be a great city without a great public education system. We cannot keep having our kids go to schools where we’re letting our best talent rot, in underperforming schools. I don’t know how else to say it. But there is this incredible amount of talent that is wasted, because … I’ve worked with these kids, I ran the summer programs, the summer jobs program for the city of Atlanta for 3 consecutive summers. I know these kids, they’re smart and they’re bright, and they want to achieve. In many instances some of them are already so far behind that it makes it difficult for them to catch up.
We’ve got to do a better job in our educational system, and the city and the public school system serve the exact same families. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be working together. I understand that the Mayor doesn’t control the school system, but there’s no reason I can’t do things outside of the classroom that can help increase performance inside the classroom. There’s no reason I can’t work with APS to figure out how to re-develop some early childhood educational programs, so that every kid has access to it, every family has access to it, there’s no reason why I can’t figure out how we create some additional tutorial programs in our recreational centers and our public libraries throughout the city, so that kids can go somewhere if they need some additional help. There’s no reason that we cannot work together with the Atlanta public school system, we’re serving the exact same families. There’s no reason we can’t work together to improve educational outcomes for kids.
And, then 5th … I don’t know if this is an issue as much as it is something that I think is important to be a world-class city, I think we’ve got to keep cultivating our arts and culture community. I think we often think of them as an afterthought, as something that’s fun, but I think it’s a critical part to being a world-class city is having a thriving art community, having a thriving culture. And Atlanta is known for its music culture, it’s becoming more known for our family entertainment culture. We’ve got to do a better job of empowering artists throughout the city, they create a culture that is unmatched, that makes people want to come to your city, it attracts people, and it makes your population more intelligent. There’s so much to be found in having a thriving art scene, I actually think it’s a good economic generator for the city as well. Research has shown that when you invest in art you get more on your return investment than you put in. So, I think those are the 5 things that are sort of at the top of my mind.
Neil Nelson: I think it’s really compulsive of the culture of corruption, the arts and cultural community, and I think those two things are interwoven. Because we operate, at least from the philosophical premise, that the DNA of a culture is at least propagated through its arts. And so art can be an instrument for changing the culture, not only for organizations or institutions, but the entire society as a whole. So in your strategy or intent to change the culture of corruption in the government, how do you see media and art playing a role in that?
Michael Sterling: What I think, government has to give more access. It has to be more transparent. And I think we’ve got to do a better job, for example, one of the things I’ve talked about is “how do we have apps that make government more accessible to people?” One of the things that I admired about Boston, they created this Citizen’s Connect app, where you could take a picture of a problem, and then send it to the city, it would get filtered to the right department, and then on your app you could follow it all the way through. That is a technology improvement that allows for transparency, and you know when a problem’s fixed, and you get the picture back when the problem’s fixed, so it’s not one of those “Yeah, we fixed it.” Then you go and look and it’s still not repaired. Sometimes we do that as a city, but it’s one of those you can see the repair done.
So I think the role I see is obviously, there’s got to be more transparency from the city and I think that the media plays a critical role in that accountability. There are times where I mentioned this last week in some private conversation, I didn’t get a chance to talk about it publicly, but there are times where … all of the candidates were invited to do this forum at Ditton’s, and the day before I get a phone call that said “Some of the candidates are pulling out of the forum because it’s not open to the media, and it’s not open to the public.” And I said, “But we were going to livestream the entire event on our phones, so everybody would have access to it.” And I say that because there are times where the media doesn’t pay attention to things that you have to be transparent about. You all have to make decisions every day about what gets coverage, what doesn’t get coverage, you can’t cover every single thing. But as a government, if we’re doing a better job of being transparent, using social mediums, using the technology of the day to be more transparent, then you have access, you have more access and you play a critical role in making sure that the government isn’t succumbing to this culture of corruption.
So I think that there’s got to be this increased transparency and accessibility, so it’s not just about whether something gets media coverage, it’s about what you have access to. So we’ve got to increase accessibility for the media to have access, because you may not pay attention to something, but if you’ve got access to it, then I feel like we’re doing a better job as a government making things available. And then you can make the decisions about holding us accountable, holding politicians accountable, holding the government accountable.
Kamau Franklin: That’s good. Any follow up?
Cliff Albright: Yeah if I can ask a follow up, but first let me apologize, I’m Cliff Albright, let me apologize to everybody for coming late, I had a family emergency I had to deal with. First, I want a point of clarification on your education, which is a particular interest of mine, in fact we first met I think over the choice [crosstalk 00:19:29] opening event. I don’t know if I heard you right when you said “Can’t be a great city without great-” and did you say “Great educational system” or did you say “Great Public education system.”?
Michael Sterling: Great public education system.
Cliff Albright: Because as were seeing now those two are not exactly the same thing.
Michael Sterling: Everybody’s got to have access, that’s … let me not use that word access, because its been twisted recently and the way some folks are using it … every child in our city has to be able to receive a quality public education.
Cliff Albright: So my question is actually, are there any specific lessons and some of thoughts around this whole issue about how the city can support those outside courts related to education, may be related to that whole choice [inaudible 00:20:27]. Are there any specific lessons coming out of that you’ve seen, that you’ve learned, something specific that you see that the city can do to better support?
Michael Sterling: One of the best lessons that I’ve learned is that it starts at the top with the two leaders. Folks have got to put their egos to the side, I don’t know how else to say it. When you are in a position of public trust, it’s not about you, it’s just not. It’s not supposed to be about you. If I am mad at Cliff and he runs the education system and I’m the mayor, I’ve got to figure out how to take that anger … there are times I make decisions in my campaign and ill say to somebody on my team … this may be too much of an admission, ill say to somebody on my team, I’m emotional about this y’all make that decision because I want to tell them not, but it may be the wrong thing to do.
I’m too emotional because I feel a certain way but you all make that call, objectively because I don’t want it to be about my emotions, I think that we’ve seen people suffering because personalities conflict and that’s not okay. We’ve got to figure out as a leader, we’ve got to figure out … I’m entrusted to do what’s in the best interest of the folks of the city of Atlanta, how do I push this to the side and say there are kids who need us and we’ve got to work together for these kids.
I think that gets lost sometimes in our politics. We say it’s not about us, but then we make it about us. I think that it starts at the top. What happens is, the culture comes from the top. You’ve got a culture of cooperation, a culture working together it’s going to be because the leaders of the organization have developed and cultivated that culture saying we’ve got to work together. The opposite is true too. If you’ve got a culture that says that’s not somebody that I’m going to work with right now, the opposite it true. Your whole staff, the entire team, folks in the city will feel like they don’t have to work.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that it really starts at the top. The mayors position is powerful, not only for what it actually does, day to day by an operational perspective, but for the attention it gets, for the pulpit it provides, for the influence of the Mayors office. It’s not something that we should take lightly. It’s a tremendous benefit, it’s also a burden and something that requires you to, often times say, let me take a step back and make sure this is not about me. Make sure I’m doing what’s in the best interest of the families, and the children and the neighborhoods in the city of Atlanta. If I had to pick one lesson, that’s the important lesson.
One of the things that I’ve already started doing, I’ve started sitting down with school board members and asking them, what is it that the city can do more of? What have you already researched about that doesn’t work? How do we share information, how do we work together? If you had to pick two or three things that the city did to support what would be those things. I’ve been meeting with school board members and having those conversations.
Cliff Albright Is there any one answer to the question?
Michael Sterling: It’s been different answers. I mentioned some of the things about having more tutorial services available. Some of the teachers I’ve met with have talked about the hierarchy of needs, and its hard for a kid to concentrate on that when he comes to school hungry, or when he’s worried about something at home. It’s this idea that we can do more to satisfy some of these other issues to help parents get back on their feet. It’s been a variety of different things; challenges that they see their kids face.
I think its important to get that perspective because its one thing to have my perspective on what I study and see, it’s another thing to get the perspective of a teacher who sees the kids every day and knows what issues and challenges their facing. How do we help address those issues and challenges so that when that kid comes in that classroom they are better prepared to learn.
Kamau Franklin: You mentioned a culture of corruption a couple of times and you started off with some of your main … at least the number one thing that needs to be changed. The city’s been run for the last eight years by Kasim Reed, who you work for. How do you think he’s dealt with the culture of corruption in his administration?
Michael Sterling: I think overall, the mayor has done a pretty good job. He brought me on as a federal prosecutor from an office that prosecuted two consecutive governors. Wasn’t afraid to let me look at the books. Everyone who’s worked with me would tell you that when it comes to corruption that is not something I play footsies with, I don’t fool around with it.
He was never afraid to let me take on the challenges. I took over the workforce development agency, it was under two federal investigations, one was civil and one was criminal. There’s been an indictment to come out of that one, it hasn’t gotten as much media attention but there was an indictment to come out of that. The executive director has to resign. I took over that agency, there was no don’t look at this, don’t look at that, I looked at everything. I cleaned everything up systematically to make sure that things got back on the right footing, that we change the culture of corruption.
You have to honestly feel this sense of … when I saw everything coming out, I certainly felt a sense of “this isn’t right.” That wasn’t the type of operation we ran. Rouge individuals will do things in an administration, I don’t think, it may have been complicit, I don’t think the mayor’s enabled anyone. I don’t think that he participated at all, it certainly would be a total shock to me based on the things that I saw, and I sat two office doors down from the mayor.
When I was his senior advisor, before I took over the workforce agency, I dealt with issues … when I was in the Mayor’s office, I didn’t play when I was cleaning up the workforce agency, I didn’t play when it came to corruption. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think there aren’t some additional things we can do to end the culture of corruption or make sure things like this don’t happen in the future. I’ve made some recommendations and some suggestions, I’ve got some things that I’m going to be rolling out in my platform about what we can do to mitigate … it’s always going to be … I indicted and prosecuted, investigated cases of people who were bribing building inspectors. We cannot blame the Mayor for that, or even their superintendent, you don’t know who’s on the take sometimes and who’s getting paid underneath the tables.
There are things that you can do, and I think that we now see that the culture is still there. We’ve got to figure out how do we take additional steps to address it.
Andre Moore: I’m going to bring it back to education. You mentioned about the resource on disparity that occurred because of taxes. Are there any ideas that you might have or the idea floating around about how do you resource gap? Are children born in more impoverished neighborhoods are going to continue to be doomed to a worse education scenario.
Michael Sterling: There are ideas I have, ideas about eliminating barriers to employment. I’ve had discussion like the Atlanta Women’s Foundation about. What are some of the toughest challenges you see? We see so many women who want to get a job who don’t have access to quality childcare, if you can do something to address that issues. That would be critical. That’s something we can do. We can certainly provide more people with the ladder to economic stability through additional workforce training. We’ve got many jobs in the city, little skilled jobs that pay great living wages that are unfilled because people simply don’t have the skills to fill those jobs. There are people who want those skills, who are willing and ready to get those skills. We can do a better job of investing in workforce development solutions, so that people can get the skills they need for the jobs we have available in the city.
We can do a better job of holding people accountable who get tax incentives. If you’re getting incentives through the city of Atlanta through Invest Atlanta; you’re building something new, you’re getting a 20 million dollar tax break, we should have some teeth, something that holds you accountable for hiring local residences who need those opportunities and for helping us pay for some of the training for those residents. I’ve got several ideas … I think you’ve got to … I don’t think that anything I’ve said isn’t tied together somehow, right? You’ve got to get people that pack way out of poverty, and that helps build up neighborhoods and strengthen neighborhoods and strengthen communities and ultimately strengthen the city. I think we’ve got to do a better job of giving people … making sure people know that these opportunities are out there. Holding folks who are getting government money accountable for helping us reach some of these attainable goals of giving people that ladder of opportunity. I think those of some of the things we can certainly do.
Kamau Franklin: So, the next question is from me. As far as I know this is your first run for elected office?
Michael Sterling: It is (affirmative).
Kamau Franklin: It’s been suggested you don’t have name recognition, how do you fight through that perception to make people believe that you have a chance to win the Mayorship?
Michael Sterling: I just thought a perception into reality. I’m not going to pretend like folks in Atlanta know roundly who I am. The way you fight through it, is you have to go and introduce yourself to people. I think that name recognition is good but record is better. I feel like I’ve done … I feel like the more I’m able to share my personal story and professional successes and commitment and dedication to helping people in the city of Atlanta with people, the better I’m going to do.
The responsibility is certainly on being at my campaign to go out and meet as many people as possible and to share that story and to try to increase our name recognition. In 2009, the Mayor started at about 3%. 2001, Shirley, Mayor Franklin, started at less than 5%, so sometimes people who had different jobs that didn’t allow you to be in front of the camera frequently, your name recognition isn’t as high when you start. I’ve got, now, ten months to make my case to the voters. I think that’s what elections and campaigns are about, it’s about introducing yourself, talking to people, telling them your story, letting them know what your ideas are, letting them see who you are as a person. Having the media vet you and ask you the tough, hard questions; what you want to do and where you stand. You tell the truth, you’re suppose to tell the truth. You tell the truth, you make your case, you introduce yourself to people and you hope that in the end you’ve done a good enough job to win people over.
It’s not just a perception, it is a reality. I have low name recognition but I’m going to fight through it by doing everything I can to meet as many people, shake as many hands, go to meet people where they are and just work really, really hard every day to try and get out there.
Cliff Albright: I have a little bit of follow up the name recognition. It’s not just name recognition. Atlanta, the south in general, I argue Atlanta in particular is what we generally think of is a closed society. You have to be in the south for about 30-40 years before you’re considered a “southerner” right. In Atlanta, it might be 50 before you considered a, you know. Even with the two examples you gave about Shirley and Kasim in terms of the race they were at that point, but certainly it wasn’t because of their vocal connections or connections to the machine that they were associated with. It’s a different scenario. With that in mind, how do you, both in terms of campaign but also in terms of if you win, how do you combat that?
It may be even more importantly in terms of if you win. Finding yourself in a situation … concerning that you’re still an outsider, like and outsider going to DC then going to the different realities.
Michael Sterling: I think it’s so interesting because, you have some people who want to paint me as an outsider because that helps with one [inaudible 00:35:22]. Some people say, well he worked for Kasim for five years, and they want to paint me as an insider because that helps with somebody else. I’ll tell you, one of the things I talk … and I’m me with a lot of people who are a part of the institution of old Atlanta, both white and black. I often talk about being a bridge. I came to Atlanta when I was 18 years old for the first time, well for the second time to attend Morehouse College. One of the most historic institutions in the world, certainly one of most historical institutions in the city of Atlanta. I’ve got this connection to Atlanta through my roots as an 18 year old, as a young man, and Morehouse College.
I met Maynard Jackson for the first time in 2001, when I was a freshman at Morehouse. He came to the Glee club Christmas concert on the campus of Morehouse. I had an opportunity to meet Maynard, who was born in Dallas, TX. The last time Atlanta elected a guy who was born in Texas and went to Morehouse as Mayor we did okay. I think that there are people who, their take is based on where they stand politically. I’m either a political hat who has worked for the current administration and has been a part of the problem, or I am an outsider who doesn’t understand the city well enough to run it. The truth is that it’s neither. I am a guy whose life started in an orphanage, who’s like started totally dependent on a public servant. Who has, throughout his career, starting in high school, found his self-fighting and advocating for issues that he thought was important to his community. From fighting for a referendum that high schoolers and 18 years, to help the new black high school get the resources it needed, to being a student on Morehouse campus and taking part in marches to help save Morris Brown, when I was a student at Morehouse College.
Get me the opportunity to be a graduate of two historically black colleges and universities, Morehouse and Texas Southern. Working for the exact same law firm that the President and First Lady worked for when they met each other; being appointed the youngest federal prosecutor in Chicago by the first black attorney general, then coming back to serve the city I love as a 29 year old. I just want people to know my story, and to know that I care very, very deeply about serving this city and being the next Mayor of Atlanta.
I think that at some point, people are going to get tired of these labels and I’m going to do everything that I can to share my story, tell my story and talk to people. I think that at some point you run and you govern differently. I think I have a very unique understanding of that, because I’ve been able to work at a federal level and to work at a local level where you had to touch people individually. You may not need the same people to win an election that you need to govern a city. It is my hope … and go back to where I started, which is, I want to be a bridge. I think that there’s an opportunity here. The average age of an Atlanta voter is 35, the median age of an Atlanta resident is 33. We’ve got a city that’s becoming increasingly younger, we cannot isolate an entire part of the city and say “can you go sit back and wait?” You can’t do that. The opposite is true, you can’t be a young person saying, lets disregard everything that has done and gone into building and making this city what it is. You’ve got to understand that we live in a city we didn’t build and we’re a part of great traditions that we didn’t create, you’ve got to be a good steward of it.
I mentioned this when I talk to a lot of people who are a part of the fabric of the city, or talk about being a bridge and saying “look, I am somebody who embraces the future but respects the past.” I understand that we’re in a critical time in this city’s history and if I’m Mayor we’re going to figure out how to all work together. You’re going to have someone who is willing to listen and pay attention and is going to do everything he can to make the best decisions for the city moving forward. You will have somebody who respects the institution, respects the paths but embraces the future and says, “we’ve got to make sure our city is sustainable for the next 40-50 years and that we stay a great city and there are things that we have to do to address those critical issues, so that’s how I address it.
Cliff Albright: In 1990, the city was 60-70% black and now about 50%, what policies do you plan to enact to incentive the reversal of the trend of black people leaving the city, and you live in Summerville, the community has gone through some transitions.
Michael Sterling: Well, for one, you’ve got to make the city affordable. One of the reasons that … I’ve got buddies who are good friends of mine who wanted badly to live in the city of Atlanta but there are two reasons that I know … I know this is antidotal, but the two reasons that I know of personally of people who have decided their not going to live in the city. One was, they couldn’t afford it, they could go and find a more reasonably priced house or apartment, location in Smyrna or Cobb County, south Cobb or Clayton county, Riverdale, they could find something that was a little more reasonable and that they could afford. Or, they had children and they didn’t think that those kids were going to get the great public education that every child deserves. They had the money, so they decided they were going to live in Alpharetta, or Decatur.
I think that those are two things that we have to absolutely address, we have to make in-town living more affordable. These developers who keep making so much money building all of these terrific properties in the city have to do a better job of working with us to make housing more affordable. There are a lot of … and I will reveal some of the things that I’d potentially be willing to do, but there are a lot of sticks and carrots that the Mayor and city can do to bring developers to the table to make them partners and make them a participant in the affordable housing process. I’m willing to work with developers, but they have to be a participant. You cannot keep benefiting so much from the city of Atlanta and everything that we’re doing while displacing people over and over again and then not coming to the table and being a part of the solution. They’ve got to work with us.
We’ve got to do a better do a better of making living in the city affordable and we’ve got to do a better job of improving educational outcomes. I think if we do that you’ll see that we may be able to stabilize people leaving the city and start to attract and bring more people back in.
Neil Nelson: So you can’t share one of those sticks and carrots? … nothing (laughter).
Michael Sterling: I mean … let me try to give a hypothetical. If I’m Mayor and I woke up tomorrow and I said we’re not doing anything else on the belt line until you come to the table to talk about affordable housing, I’m not doing anything. We’re not going to have a meeting, we’re not going to have a conversation, we’re not going yo do nothing. I’m not going to do nothing on the belt line until you all come and have a conversation with us about affordable housing. Developers would go crazy! They would … my point is that there is a power … that’s not to say that’s something I would do, but there’s a power in the position, right. To say that, “look, y’all, there are these … having people displaced is as much of an urgent issue as it is having more development and more neighborhoods built. These this aren’t separate, they are together.
You cannot keep displacing people. There are other ideas I have about capping people’s taxes who’ve invested in this city long term. If you’ve lived in your neighborhood while it was struggling for 10 or 15 years, there may be an opportunity for us to cap your property tax so that you don’t get taxed out of your neighborhood, because you’ve already made that investment. I think that there are things that we can do to keep people, both from an operational perspective, but certainly from the pulpit perspective. To say, you all are going to come to this table and we’re going to have a conversation.
I want to believe that most of these developers are reasonable people who, if asked, would play a participatory role in helping us provide affordable housing [crosstalk 00:46:06].
Kamau Franklin: The success lied in moving people out and building condos and building houses that cost a lot of money. How does that, in policy, look like in terms of you taking on a development class? [crosstalk 00:46:25].
Michael Sterling: I agree with you, but I think there’s a certain appeal you can make to their interest. There is an economic interest involved in making sure people aren’t displaced.
Kamau Franklin: Would you require them to build a certain amount of affordable housing? What is it in your tool belt that you’re going to say to developers that they have to do in order to continue developing in Atlanta?
Neil Nelson: And to add to that too, that the current Mayor is not doing?
Michael Sterling: I don’t remember the exact piece of legislation that was passed but I know that one of the biggest, sort of issues, were what was considered affordable. I would revisit what we consider affordable housing. Rather, that’s 80% or the median income in the area to whatever it is, I would revisit what we consider affordable housing and work with people who are experts in this particular arena to say what is that we actually consider affordable? That’s one thing I would do, I’d revisit what we actually consider affordable housing.
Neil Nelson: What’s a revisit? People throw that out all the time. Revisit doesn’t necessarily mean that’s there’s a commitment to lowering it or making it a significant …[crosstalk 00:47:41].
Michael Sterling: Well, I don’t want to commit a number without understanding, without working with … I’m not going to pretend to be an expert at something I’m not an expert in. I would work with affordable housing advocates, affordable housing organizations and say “lets come up with a number,” but I don’t think the 80% of AMI is the right number, which is why I say I would revisit it. It’s too high. I would revisit that number.
Atlanta has always had this tradition where our scenic institutions, black and white, for the greater good of the city come together and, particularly government and private entities, and say these are the priorities. I just don’t think that affordable housing has been at the top of the list. I think that if it is, and if, as Mayor I’m working with these private institutions … you have different abilities to influence different developments, right. You control the zoning, the permits, the building permits. They’re all sorts of things as Mayor to give developers a carrot and say I’m willing to make some concessions, and those things get vetted out in negotiations. My point is that, I’m willing to bring them to the table to have those have those negotiations. To say it is a priority to my administration that we not displace people, it is a priority to my administration that we do a better job of providing adequate, affordable housing even as you keep building these units. We’ve got to make sure that in-town living is a reality for more people, as opposed to people who feel like they’ve got to go to a suburban city to find affordable living.
Neil Nelson: It’s interesting, because my sister just called me yesterday, she’s looking to buy her first house, she 25. She noticed that one of the supporting agencies offer you more financial resources if you buy a home outside the city, opposed to low income. That’s an interesting kind of [crosstalk 00:49:56].
Michael Sterling: Wait, say that again.
Neil Nelson: I don’t know if it’s a private or public entity, but they offer more finance resources and support in buying your first home, if the home is not located in the city of Atlanta.
Michael Sterling: Interesting.
Neil Nelson: Yeah, so that was interesting position [crosstalk 00:50:21] (laughter). One of the things that we look at, the issue, as you mentioned that’s being going on with affordable housing in Atlanta. It has to do, not just with the leadership, but with the people who are being effective. What kind of mechanism or organizations can the Mayor, in this case you, help foster among folks that are low income [inaudible 00:50:51] communities to organize to have the poser themselves to engage with private investors. As a Mayor, you’re going to be there for a limited period of time, and how long that may be. After you’re gone, and your best work is done, others can come in behind you and trump what you’ve done (no pun intended) (laughter). How do we build capacity in the community, from the Mayor of it, so that they’ve there to fight the battle after you’re gone?
Michael Sterling: That’s a good question, I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective. I do think that there are organizations who are already empowered to do that. One of the things that I’ve learned is that when you have the Mayor’s ear it gives you more influence in the community. It is important to me to work with organizations who already advocates to the spaces that I want to go in.
If I want to go and press affordable housing, I don’t think I just go and sit at the table with developers, I think important to go and talk to the people who have been doing it for 10, 15 and 20 years who understands that space. If you give them … developers know that these folks have their ear, they’re more likely to sit down with them. If they know that you can call and they pick up the phone, then when they’re having conversation … the nature of that conversation is different from my experience when they know that they can pick up the phone and call me and it’s going to impact how I feel as a Mayor.
From a long term perspective it’s something that I have to think about. There may be opportunities to create … like you have the downtown improvement district, you don’t see that a lot in our other neighborhoods. There may be an opportunity for people to put a little money back into it a little bit, not a lot, but put a little money in it so that you can have an organization that advocates on your behalf. Just like how you have the downtown improvement district who gets a portion of the … folks voluntarily agree that you can raise our taxes a small percentage and that gives that organization a steady stream of resources and money to go and advocate for them. We may need something like that in some of our more challenging areas where they have a pot of resources and funding so they can go out and advocate.
There may be an opportunity to do that, and it may not be through an improvement district. It may be through some social impact bonds, or they may be another way to do it. Some sort of private, public investment. I do think that, it’s always important to have some … as I learned as somebody that’s running for office and campaigning, you can’t get your message out if you’re don’t have any money. You got to have some resources there to back you up, I think that’s going to be critical. Those organizations have to have a long term financial strategy to be effective advocates.
Cliff Albright: I think the issue you just touched on is the elephant in the room, right. It kind of goes back to the earlier question about name recognition and flexibility and all that. At the end … and just to give a little context, because you mentioned changing, revisiting the definition of affordable, that very issue is debated heavily at the time the belt line was being composed. The push back comes from the real estate developer community, which also is a heavy contributor to all of these elections.
The point that you just made that you’ve got to have money to run becomes one of the very reasons why some of the things you just said you’d like to revisit don’t happen. With that in mind, in this notion of developments in their interest, what we’ve seen is, they put their money where their interest is. To what extent, and some of this is in public records so we can pull the campaign finance reports, to what extent are you looking at them?
Michael Sterling: I can’t tell you, I don’t get any money from developers (not yet right) (laughter). The people who get in my campaign, I give them a nickname, they are true believers. There’s no reason to support me unless you really just believe that I’m the best person for the job, that I’m the right candidate. That you’ve known me long enough to know that I’m going to go out and fight for things that are right.
When you look at my campaign contribution list, you see a community of people who are just pouring their support. People that I’ve encountered throughout my life who are willing to invest in my campaign. You don’t see city vendors (not yet). Maybe when they believe I have a chance of winning. People who are invested in my campaign weren’t invested in it for any superficial reasons, they’re not invested in it because I’m a front runner, or because I raised the most money. They’re invested in it because they’ve looked in my eyes and they know that I will do the right thing if I become Mayor.
To me, there is a certain advantage in that for right now. I love being the underdog. The folks who are helping me aren’t developers … those folks don’t even believe I’m going to win yet. People who are helping me and are putting money in my campaign are people who believe in what I’m saying, who believe in my vision for Atlanta, who have known me personally and know my character, know my integrity, and know that I’ll do exactly what I said I’m going to do. Those are the people who are investing in me right now. By the time those folks start giving to my campaign I probably won’t be paying them any attention, because it will be after I’m already winning.
Cliff Albright: But you won’t turn it down?
Michael Sterling: No I won’t turn it down (laughter) … that’s real, right. You bring up a [inaudible 00:57:46] point, that is a very good point. Folks who contribute to campaigns have couple of different reasons to do it. It’s not a pay for play, but they want to be able to influence and have their voices heard. I’ve been encouraging my friends, even those who can’t do a lot to say look, folks are going to be … give $5 or give $10 or do whatever it is that you can do because you’ve got … money and politics is one of the worse things, it does give people an imbalanced influence and an imbalance connection to public officials in a way that the ordinary citizen doesn’t have.
Neil Nelson: Capitalism is based on the idea that whoever capitalizes the most has the most influence. Capitalism and democracy will always have that kind of relationship where more capital, the more influence. I think that the question really is that, the kind of thoughts that you’re talking about doing like changing the culture, coming equality, educational system, arts and culture. These things don’t get changed in the normal course of doing business in a city like Atlanta. They have to have support, ground swelled organizations that are the front line battling it out building the support, organizing people. Levering those organizations to then come to power with the Mayor and others that’s saying “look, here are the agenda that must be met, or else,” and really or else.
It’s not the Mayor going in by him or herself and saying lets negotiate, I have an agenda kind of thing. Ultimately, the Mayor’s job is manage the various interest in the community. If the people don’t have enough organizational support, intelligence and institutions to come to the Mayor and be as forceful and as strong as private investors and equity holders, they will never have the same voice.
Michael Sterling: I think it works the other way too, though. I think if those organizations see a candidate that could be an ally on some of those issues they want to address. It doesn’t have to be a, “I’m in office now, I’m managing these interest,” it’s that you ran on this platform, we supported you because you told us that you would be in ally. We helped get you elected so certainly I think that … there are two things that influence politics, there’s money and there’s people who can get out and help you get votes. If you’ve got somebody who can get out and get you a bunch of votes, you’re going to listen to that person.
A lot of organizations who have these various interest, who are going to need to step up and get people to vote and say, this person is an ally of ours, they have an understanding of the issues that are important to us. For me, that may be … one of the things that I really do try to hone in on is to, when I talk about economic equality, that is not just a poor person’s issue. That is our collective economic health as a city tied together. A strong city gives people opportunities for economic achievement and mobility.
I’m willing to take that, but there are organizations that fight for that and if those organizations I see and like somebody who can be our champion, when I’m elected you don’t have to worry about coming to me with a list, that’s already on my agenda. That was what I ran one, something I was passionate about, so now we’re just working to solve the problem. We’ve gotten past the point of acknowledging the problem now we’re saying how do we work together to solve them.
Neil Nelson: I wanted to make a point about the other way as well, that organizations can help elect a mayor that shares their vision, shares their issues. Are you helping [inaudible 01:02:21] currently dealing that support network?
Michael Sterling: Certainly, when I was over the workforce agency I had 29 different organizations who were on my board of directors. A lot were private businesses and a lot were non profit, labor unions, varying organizations. Certainly I’ve got record of a number of different organizations and I try to identify organizations I’ve spent a lot of time talking to. For example, Atlanta Women’s Foundation were dealing with issues and challenges women are facing in our city and saying what are those important issues with you?
I do the same thing with multiple different organizations, you want to find out what are the most of the important issues that most are dealing with and facing. I’m absolutely doing that.
Kamau Franklin: We’re going to move on soon, I think we’ve covered under the sections of course, but I want to push you just one more time on this affordable housing and gentrification because I think we’ve reached a point where this is the critical issue in this city. The issue of gentrification, particularly for black folks being pushed, and medium income people being pushed out. This is an issues that probably can’t be dealt with by having conversations with developers and hoping that they share the larger interest of the city. It seems like, they’ve shown over the last 15 years where their interest lie and how they like the city to move because they’re going to get some more money in their pocket.
So, with the power that you have as the Mayor of this city, how would you use this city’s resources, the city owing housing stock. The city has other resources that it could put to use to maybe offset some of the challenges that it’s going to face with the developers. How do you as the Mayor use those resources to increase the housing stock and do a [inaudible 01:04:24] gentrification if you see that as a major issue that the city is encountering? I want some policy points that you think [crosstalk 01:04:34].
Michael Sterling: No, no I think that’s fair. I mentioned earlier that I’m not going to the table to pretend to be the housing expert. I do think it’s critical, I think it’s important enough that you’ve got to spend the time working with organizations who understand this from a policy perspective. For me, I think part of what has happened is that there has been no push back, right. It’s almost like we’re waiting until it’s at a critical issue to even start addressing.
We just passed this new housing affordability ordnance, last year. Where was that at four years ago, or eight years ago when the development started happening significantly in the city? We had accounting partners who had no affordability requirement for companies who were building significant stock in the city of Atlanta. Developers had a way to bypass the city, they could go to the county development authority, get an incentive package and there were no affordability requirements.
I think that for a large part of the time there was no push back at all. The first step to me would be having some sort of push back from the Mayor’s office, which becomes the most powerful seat in the city of Atlanta. There’s got to be a push back that says this is a priority for my administration. Can I walk you through the policies that I will implement, no, but I’ve got an idea. I’m willing to work with developers, I’m willing work with housing advocates, I’m willing to sit at the table and say lets develop this policy.
Candidly, I’ve looked at the issue. I’ve looked cities like Chicago and New York, looked at the Arts District in Los Angeles. I haven’t seen anything that has successfully revolted or stopped this gentrification issue. We’re going to have to be creative and imaginative about how we do it. I haven’t seen in done in a comprehensive, meaningful way in any city that I’ve studied, which is why I say to you I can’t give you the policy right now. I don’t know what the answer is but I’m willing to work with people to find it.
Tanasia Kenney: On your website you said on your years of federal prosecutor to work law enforcement on smarter ways to tackle crime and develop a larger public safety team that includes social service and programs that a proven to reduce crime and increase neighborhood safety. Can you tell us specifically what policies you plan to put in place to reduce crime?
Michael Sterling: One of the things that I want to increase and invest more money in is our community oriented policing section. The city of Atlanta has a community oriented policing section, which works with various communities, particularly communities that could often times be targets of crime, to work with neighborhood organizations. I think we’ve got to invest more money in it. One of the polices that I’m absolutely going to promote is that cops that are going to the academy, or trainees who are going through the academy, before you start to work a beat in our city, you’re going to have to attend a certain number of neighborhood meetings for every neighborhood organization NPU within that particular area.
I want us to have a much more intergrade community oriented policing section and I want our police officers, before they work a beat, to know the fabric of the neighborhood they’re working with. That is going to become a requirement in our academy. You’ve got to go to neighborhood and community meetings and work with different organizations before you step got in a patrol car or patrol a neighborhood. You need to know who’s in that neighborhood, who the neighbors are. That will certainly be something that I will promote.
The Weed and Seed program, which was eliminated by the federal Government a few years ago is something that we may be able to implement at a local level. You target those high repeat offenders, which has been a problem for this city. There were cases that I looked at where somebody had committed a crime 45 times in our county and a lot of those repeat offenders were responsible for the majority of crimes that were happening in our city. We can do something to specifically target those repeat offenders, but at the same time do more integrated work in the community as it relates to …
I mentioned, everything I talk about is integrated so I think that you’ve got to go in and have that workforce development training program. We’ve got to do more of providing an economic ladder, that includes a reentry program that gives people the opportunity after they’ve been incarcerated to be able to go and find that good job. One of the studies I’ve looked at is the Manhattan Institute, which says that a rapid attachment to work is the quickest way to stop recidivism from happening. I think that’s got to be a part of our program.
I would do a couple of things. One, I would work with jurisdictional partners because I think that we’ve got criminal enterprises that are developing and they don’t understand political boundaries. It’s Atlanta, East Point, College Park, it’s Cobb. We’ve got to do a better job or integrating some of our resources and working with jurisdictional partners, particularly to tackle some of these criminal enterprises that we see developing. It’s got to be across not only our city partners, but our county partners, it’s got to be with the federal government as well. They’ve got a [inaudible 01:10:50] of resources that we could use.
That’s one thing, that other thing is, as a city when we deal with our public safety initiative, because I feel like its integrated, I’m going to have parks and recreations a part of my public safety team. I’m going to work with development as a part of my public safety team. I’m going to have public works a part of my public safety team because I think you can target areas of light that attract crime. I think we can do things that you’re [inaudible 01:11:17] that reduce crime particularly among out of school young people, young people under the age of 24. I think you can do things and get people ladders to work that will prevent crime.
When I think about public safety, and it’s not just my opinion, when you look at the presidents report on 21st century policing the very first outline, the law enforcement guys say “this is our presentation,” but if you’re going to actual tackle crime you’ve got to tackle things like poverty, education. There’s has to be comprehensive approach. Those are some of the ideas that are peculating and of the things that I would absolutely do. I would 100% have a cross-functional public safety team, absolutely have a partnership with jurisdictional partners to tackle some of those more complex criminal enterprises that we see developing throughout our region.
Something like the Weed and Seed program and have this requirement that officers visit neighborhoods and go to organizational meetings before they start patrolling. So those are some of the things that I would do.
Tanasia Kenney: Would you think about maybe implementing a citizens review board? Say if any kind of police shooting or any complaint of excessive force comes against an officer, put a board in place to investigate those things, because we know in today’s climate when those things do happen the department investigates itself and things don’t really get done. Is that something you would [crosstalk 01:12:57].
Michael Sterling: Yeah, I mean, we have a citizens review board in the city, which I absolutely support. The guy who runs it, his last name is … I was going to say Lewis Reed, but that’s the guy I just read about who ran for Mayor in Saint Louis. His last name is Reed, and he’s the executive director. I think they do a pretty good job holding police accountable. I would certainly look at opportunities to strength it.
One of the benefits of being a formal Federal Prosecutor is that, I not only worked with organizations, law enforcement, Secret Service, DEA to investigate and fight crime, we also held local police accountable. When local police wouldn’t take the action we would prosecute them. We prosecuted a really tough case in our office of John Berg, who had spent years of torturing black suspects. The statute of limitations had run on what he had done. We found a way to go back and charge him with obstruction of justice for lying in civil deposition, we were able to hold him criminally accountable for those actions. I think that is the benefit of coming from the law enforcement background I come from. I’ve got this experience of working to actually prosecute and investigate crime, but also there was a part of that which held local police accountable when they crossed the line into excessive force. And, doing things under the color of law that could hold them criminally accountable
Kamau Franklin: A hotly debated topic right now, is decriminalization of Marijuana, and the idea of over policing happening not just in Atlanta but in a lot of large cities. What is your position on decriminalization and how do you feel about the issue of tackling crime heavy handedly with police as well as some of the other things that you mentioned earlier? But first let me know what your position on decriminalization … [crosstalk 01:15:08]
Michael Sterling: I don’t extraordinarily progressive now, it was progressive ten years saying marijuana should be decimalized. You’ve got 24 states that have now legalized it in one form or the other. Georgia is conservative Republicans, where constitutional majority of conservative Republicans have decriminalized, have legalized marijuana at least in one form. I don’t think credibly progressive or bold to say that I support decriminalization.
Kamau Franklin: You want to go further you want to say something about heroin [inaudible 01:15:42] (laughter).
Michael Sterling: I’m not ready to go there (laughter) [crosstalk 01:15:47]. Ten years ago when I was a student in law school or 15 years ago when I was a student at Morehouse, when we were looking for legislators and folks to be progressive my friends were [crosstalk 01:16:07] (laughter) folks to be progressive on marijuana issues, nobody was there. Now it’s like everybody is jumping on, it’s not just me. Clarkson County has decriminalized it, it’s not we would be some sort of extraordinary leader. I support the decriminalization, I don’t think that we should be wasting our resources and time going after people for petty marijuana cases. I think there’s a much more efficient use of police officers, so yes, I support decriminalization.
Kamau Franklin: Let’s move on the business and job sections, I think we’ve covered the inequity issues. So Jelani(Neil) you have that [crosstalk 01:16:51].
Neil Nelson: Yeah, sure. One of the things …we talk about inequality, we talk about being the environment of the that has [inaudible 01:17:03] to itself, which you mentioned earlier. A key part of that is business, so I want you to understand that we’re not picking on business when we talk about investors and sort forth but clearly this is essential to the growth of anything. I think you said that you would invest in small business start-up’s to invest Atlanta and you will develop a venture capital fund utilizes the city’s economic development arm that provides access to capital, necessary resources to protect start-up’s and small businesses. How much will do expect invest and what are your other ideas to nurture and attract small business opportunities for black businesses in Atlanta in particular?
Michael Sterling: That’s good question. I don’t know if I’ve arrived at a number specifically, it certainly depends on the economic environment and there are a lot of variable that goes into what’s feasible and not feasible. The two biggest barriers that small businesses face, or entrepreneurs face is access to capital. To the extent that we can eliminate that barrier for somebody who has a great idea, great business plan, we can eliminate that barrier … particularly true of women entrepreneurs and minority entrepreneurs.
You see that we have a much more difficult time accessing capital and I think the city can play a critical role. I always give the example of, there was the small business back in the 60’s that the city decided to invest in and it became Delta. That was just a small business with an idea about the future. If you look at the integral role that’s played in what Atlanta is, you never know what their next idea is. You never know when someone is going to have that next idea that leads us into the future as a city. I think if we’ve got a culture as a city of investing in small business we will the future.
I’m not avoiding your question, I don’t know what the number is yet. I don’t know what’s feasible, I don’t have to the book in Invest Atlanta but I do think we’ve got to do a better job through Invest Atlanta of … we do a lot of relocating businesses, we’ve got to do a better job of growing businesses and investing in businesses. Access to capital is critical, that’s one thing I would make sure we’re doing, particularly for black owned business and women entrepreneurs. I’m trying to remember the second part of the question.
Neil Nelson: The idea was really about if there was any particular amount that you had in mind, and then ideas of nurturing them[crosstalk 01:20:07].
Michael Sterling: Yeah, the second reason, if access to capital is the first reason. The second reason is people just not knowing how to run a business. Having a great idea but not having access to the mentorship, the guidance, the counseling to know how you move a business forward.
You may have a guy who’s a tremendous chef who’s got a great idea for a restaurant but you’ve got to know how to run that business in a way that makes it profitable and that benefits everyone. Making sure we’ve got a quality team at Invest Atlanta, even if its just a branch of it, a team of mentors … you see it at the … I got the idea first from Atlanta Tech Village, you see it happen at Atlanta Tech Village where they’re these available mentors who sit downstairs and you can go and just talk to them. That’s a part of the fee you pay to have Atlanta Tech Village and they make these mentors available and they give you this tremendous advice.
I sat down and talked to one of the guys and asked him, what is some of the advice you’re giving some of these people. He walked me through what he was telling them and sharing with them, and I said “this has to be amazing for somebody who’s trying to start a business or develop a start-up to have access to somebody who’s seen the process available and give you a road map to make sure your business is successful.” That’s the second thing I would make available is these steady streams of mentors to help those small business.
If we invest in you, I want to make sure you do it the right way. I see it as, sort of, they go together. We’re going to invest money and capital, taxpayer money, I want to make sure we’re going to give you all of the resources you need to become a thriving business in the city.
Neil Nelson: That’s great. I think one of the things that, as an entrepreneur myself, that is critical is actually access to clients. The major clients like Delta, Home Depot, Coca-Cola [inaudible 01:22:08] it’s often difficult for a small, black-owned business to get access to get vendor contracts with those major clients. And ironically, they go out of state [inaudible 01:22:20] based out of New York for media coverage for example. So that’s a critical thing to add to that list if really thinking about putting the puzzle together is how does these small companies get access to those large vendor contracts.
Michael Sterling: I’ll tell you that the other thing that I’ve considered, I’m not sure if I’m ready to … I mean ill share it with you all here in this private session that’s going to be available to everybody (laughter). The other things I’ve thought about, and I saw this happen in Newark, New Jersey, where the city made available the bonding capacity with companies who otherwise had the talent, skills and abilities to compete with city business. The only thing they lacked was the bonding capacity, which is a huge financial barrier to the small business.
I believe it was in Newark, it may have been somewhere else, but I believe it was in Newark, NJ. They had a fund to make the bonding capacity available, if you could otherwise run the business, bonding capacity aside, you could otherwise demonstrate the capacity to do the job and win the business … and often times that is a pathway for small business, to be able to compete for Government contracts, that could be another opportunity.
Cliff Albright: Would you support the establishment of a minimum wage in Atlanta higher than, or living wage higher than the federal minimum wage? And if so, how much should it be and why?
Michael Sterling: I’ll tell you my position on minimum wage, it’s interesting because I grew, my parents are both union workers, I’m giving you some context for what about to tell you. My parents were both union workers, my dad’s United Steel worker, my mom is AFSCME. We’ve had these conversations about minimum wage, particularly federal minimum wage. I believe, and I’ve had these conversations with union workers for the $15/hr. My response has been to them and the conversations that we’ve had is, I believe that the minimum wage should be the directly a livable wage.
That is different in a state like New York City then it is in Juneau, Alaska. I believe that the federal Government should come up with a formula that makes the minimum wage directly correlated to the livable wage for a single parent household, that is my position. Which is why I don’t know what the number is but if I remember correctly, it’s been a while since I looked at it, when I was looking at livable wages working at the workforce agency because that was always my goal. I actually stopped the process of us getting people jobs as dishwashers and said no, we’re going to do career ladders. Give people the opportunity to go into jobs that will pay them well and pay them a livable wage.
It’s always my goal, I want to say in Georgia it may have been 12-15/hr for a single household, but I think that the minimum wage should be directly … I don’t think it should just be an arbitrary number. I think $15 is a very arbitrary number. I get it, when you’re campaigning you got to talk in these campaign terms that make it easy for people to understand, it would be much hared to say the fight for a federal, livable wage that correlates to … you know it’s harder to say that, it’s easy to say “like 15,” right.
I get it, you have to campaign in the terms so people will understand and are easily graspable. I do think that it should be tied to a livable wage, that answers a statement that they want. Nobody should work 40 hrs and live in poverty. If you’re making 15/hr in New York City, you’re probably still living in poverty, even with the $15/hr. It should be directly tied to what the liable wage is for that particular states. State Department of Labors, and they call it different things, but in Georgia it’s called the Department of Labor, set what the livable wage is, based on available research. I’ve thought about this a lot, I think the minimum wage should be directly tied to what the livable wage is in that state.
Cliff Albright: So would it be fair to say, you mentioned the $12.50 in Georgia. Would it be fair to say that you would support [crosstalk 01:27:37]
Michael Sterling: Oh I would support the increase up to at least livable wage standard, whatever that may be. I would make exceptions for temporary employment like summer employment for youth, but I think the … everybody says you shouldn’t work 40 hrs a week, especially people who care, say you shouldn’t work 40 hrs and week and not be able to provide for your basic needs. That’s answers that, livable wage for everybody who works 40 hrs a week.
Neil Nelson: It’s been an hour and a half of great conversation, I’m about to wrap it here, but I have one more question to close it out. Kamau mentioned at the into is that part of this interview is eventually we’ll endorse one of the candidates. The final question is, we reach about six million people, per month. In Atlanta, it’s about 300 thousand people we reach per month that read our online publication. What are the five reasons, if you could talk to one of our readers today, to give them a plea of why we should endorse you?
Michael Sterling: Okay. I think that I am the only candidate in this race with a unique set of personal and professional experience to tackle every single challenge I’ve laid out to you, that is important to the city of Atlanta. From corruption, as a federal prosecutor, having tackled it. Having personally indicted people who broke the public trust. To public safety, working to solve complex and tough crimes, bringing that experience in the Mayor’s office. To economic equality and opportunity, working at the workforce development agency hand in with people every day and trying to help them find that ladder of opportunity. Education, working with my educational partners in APS, when I was at the workforce agency to help students find summer employment and provide mentorship to them.
Every issue that we had a conversation about today and all of the toughest challenges that our city faces, I’m the only person with a unique and diverse set of experience to tackle every single challenge. A demonstrated commitment, compassion for those issues that people are dealing with every day. That would be my reason.
Kamau Franklin: Thank you for coming in, coming out, we appreciate your time.
Michael Sterling: No problem. Y’all are tough (laughter) [crosstalk 01:30:40].