Below is the full unedited transcript of the interview with mayoral candidate Ceasar Mitchell held on April 14, 2017, at the offices of Atlanta Black Star.
Present for interview from Atlanta Black Star: Neil Nelson, co-founder and Chairman of ABS; Tanasia Kenney, staff writer; Kamau Franklin, Political and Social Editor.
Neil Nelson: So the first question, as we look at this campaign and really most campaigns, there are a number of issues that folks are talking about and interested in, there’s never one issue that any campaign has about or any lecture is about rather, so different part of the communities will have different issues that are important to them but as a candidate and someone who’s been in city politics for a while, over a decade or so, what do you believe or the primary issues that folks who are voting should care about.
So Atlanta Black Star readers, what should it be thinking about when they go to polls this fall
Ceasar Mitchell: So I’m gonna kind of go in and get to the answer but I want to start where you started
Neil Nelson: Sure
Ceasar Mitchell: Or continue with something that you said which I thought was very insightful and that is Atlanta’s place in the context opposed of this metro region.
Neil Nelson: Yes.
Ceasar Mitchell: And the context of the state, the context of this country and really from a global perspective. Kent is on my team, you want this to be just us? Or you don’t mind?
Ceasar Mitchell: Take a seat. Sit.
Neil Nelson: Could you tell us who he is?
Ceasar Mitchell: Kent Strickland he handles outreach from my team so he helps me do a lot of what we do around meet and greet, today he is doubling as my body man.
Neil Nelson: Okay.
Ceasar Mitchell: All right so, you can ask any questions you need to ask.
Neil Nelson: Oh we will.
Ceasar Mitchell: Okay, all right. Trust me he’s got an ear full from me
Kent Strickland: I’ve heard him talk a few times.
Ceasar Mitchell: But you know you started at this notion around Atlanta and it’s significance really around the world, I believe quite frankly, I call it in many instances the last castle. You said there were three or four other cities that kind of fit this characteristic and I want to hear what those cities are.
Neil Nelson: Sure.
Ceasar Mitchell: Because as it relates to this country, I think Atlanta is the last castle.
Neil Nelson: I meant globally by the way.
Ceasar Mitchell: I want to hear even globally because that’s going to be instructive to me in terms of even how I talk about Atlanta’s significance in the framework of the Globe but Atlanta in the framework of the Globe is certainly from the standpoint of a national city.
It is in many ways the last castle, it’s a place you can come because of it’s history and know that you have an opportunity. I call Atlanta the Mosaic because there’s something here for everybody and that’s something that we have developed over time based upon our willingness to at least collaborate and pivot towards collaboration and cooperation versus complete disintegration as a community. It is also because we made a decision before I was born, all of us were born to say this city is going to have what I would call this Co-lead leadership model.
Every city is made up of key state holders groups, you have the business community, you have neighborhoods, you have kind of philanthropy of the civic community, and you have government. In Atlanta you will see there is a balance of leadership in terms of how leadership looks throughout these four communities. That’s critical to our success, and I believe in many ways Atlanta has led the way in terms of this idea of being a community of inclusive economics, in an increasingly, globally, significant local economy, in other words, what does that mean?
That means that we are a city that has the ability to bridge to being a truly global city, but one of our fundamental principals that has been really in place since Mayor Jackson, Mayor Jackson has been this idea of inclusive economics, that means when you come to this city you should have an opportunity. If you’re willing to work hard, if you’re bringing a dream, you got a great plan and you got a great team to be able to be successful and that has become a model for the entire world.
Atlanta also in many ways is a city that plays beyond it’s weight class, what I mean by that is it’s kind of like Jamaica or kind of like Massachusetts.
Okay, but it’s a city that plays behind it’s weight class, I mean we’re four hundred thousand residents or fifty, one hundred and thirty-five square miles, a relatively small city but think about our significance around the globe. We have one of the best institutions of higher education in the country, not the world, we have the worlds busiest airport, we have a tremendous collection of companies here, fortune five hundred, fortune one hundred companies, fortune one thousand companies, we have a cadre of small business that are here, and so we have the framework in many ways to be truly a global city and so I think that is something for us to be very in cognitive of and build upon.
To your question what do I see as the critical issues? The critical issues facing our city right now given the fact that the Atlanta train is on the tracks and is moving down the tracks is number one, how are we going to ensure that everybody has an opportunity to be on the Atlanta train? How are we going to address this issue of economic opportunity, education and quality of life? It’s just that when we look back fifty years we have not lost a generation or two of our young people who have not been able to attain their greatest potential because they didn’t receive quality education and that they couldn’t bridge that education into a job, a career with real bonafide skills and know how and into entrepreneurship like you all.
When we look back are we going to be able to say that we were an environment that believed in economic inclusivity and we held true to that for more than just a generation or two. Such that we are not only a place where economic opportunity in this mosaic, there’s opportunity that not only comes from the top down but from the ground up. No city becomes global from just the top down, it becomes global because you have small business’s grow into large business’s, a strong economic infrastructure and ecosystem from business to business, and relationships.
I have two daughters, my oldest daughter, she’s five years old, she wants to be an astronaut, she wants to be the owner of a chain of beauty salons, and she wants to be a mother. So everything I do is about ensuring that this city is a place where she can achieve all three of those things along with all the other kids that are growing up here right now.
It’s going to be about quality education, economic opportunity and quality of life. Those are the critical issues that I see facing us right now in this city, as mayor I’m going to be working on those everyday and it won’t be me just starting to work on those things it will be a continuation of the work I’ve been doing thus far, just taking it to the next level.
Neil Nelson: Can you talk more about education please? Because we know that the mayor doesn’t really control that apparatus but can help in some ways, what kind of ideas or are there changes we need to make in the current system?
Ceasar Mitchell: Absolutely. I just left and again I apologize for being a little late, I just left a meeting, a breakfast meeting with a school board member
Neil Nelson: Okay
Ceasar Mitchell: Who is a friend and he had with him someone who is a financial expert who’s very interested in the affairs of the school system and so we just got through having a very long conversation about education.
My wife is a public-school teacher here in APS. My mom was an APS school teacher, my cousin, my aunt, all APS school teachers, I’m part of the Atlantic public school system myself. During my time on council I had been very involved in creating partnerships with APS to help advance the educational opportunities of our young people, mainly a college prep series, I’ve been doing it for ten years. It’s been in place because I understand how important it is for young people and their parents to be ready for that next step to college. We’ve got it every semester in partnership, kind of this Tribeca thing, this four-way thing with non profit organizations that help as a part of this, the school system, my office and a private company called Preston review that provides test-prep.
We provide the free exams, practice exam which is the actual exam to young people, they can take the exam, we do it once every semester, there are some families that have done it five or six times from the time their kids were in eighth grade and while the kids were taking the exam the parents are actually going through seminars on the college admissions process, financial aid, scholarships, wrap around services that are provided.
I’m spending time on this to give you a sense that when it comes to education, number one it’s something that’s extremely important to me, number two, it’s something that I have a track record with, and it’s not just a track record of work, but a track record of partnership, number three, I am not going to sit on the sidelines as mayor and use it as an excuse that we don’t as a city have any connection or control over the school system because I think that is a top out and an excuse. We’re going to dig in, we’re going to have a relationship that is practical, programmatic and structural and invested in. This will start from something as simple as creating a joint economic development education plan, so whenever we do economic develop plans in the city, APS and this leadership is not going to be outside the room, they’re going to be in the room. This plan we create will be a joint plan so educational enrichment, the school system has education strategy, it will be combined with our economic development plan, give an example what that looks like and how that has an impact.
Right now APS is just contracted. They’ve just closed a number of schools, combined some schools. I’ll use a north west classroom, I’m not sure if all of you know about Douglas high school and Coretta Scott King and Best academy, Best academy and Coretta have been combined. Douglas is really threatened with being closed because the population in these schools is only at forty percent capacity, that is because APS and the city and our housing authority have been operating separate and aloof from one another. What I mean, we’ll all be working together. Imagine of Bowan homes which now is about sixty to seventy acres of vacant land and has been that way for ten years, over the last ten years had been developed into a place where families can live in an affordable, safe fashion. I’m not talking about creating projects, I’m talking about creating homes for people.
Neil Nelson: Yeah right.
Ceasar Mitchell: Coretta Scott King and Best would not be combined right now and Douglas would not be under the threat of being closed because we would have vibrant families and vibrant communities, in this area, town, feeding this school system, but that’s because we don’t have a joint plan, when I’m mayor we’re going to have a joint plan. Number two, the superintendent , I will always be invited to cabinet meetings when I’m there. That means when I’m sitting around the table with my commissioners who run the departments, the superintendent will always be able to be there, always. That is because want to make sure that the decisions we make are visible to the school system and vice versa because we’re going to have to work together.
I will have an office at educational partnerships, while I have one person who’s sole role is to identify what the partnerships can be and how we can work together programmatically and physically to advance education in this city. APS can not do it alone, they have a budget, it’s limited, they have a certain period of time they have to control kids everyday, after that is when kids still have a large bit of their day while they’re awake, they’re moving around, and in many cases in danger. This person is going to be a liaison and they are going to help develop programs that actually make a difference. One program.
We’re going to do joint purchasing. We all buy toilet paper, paper towels, trash liners, we might even buy the same kind of equipment for our police officers, etc, etc. I am going to ensure that we’re doing joint purchasing. If we do joint purchasing that means our per unit cost will decrease for these items that we are purchasing, creating a savings, that savings is savings that we can then use to invest in educational outcomes. Number one, number two we’re going to have programmatic partnerships, something that I have as an idea that we’re going to do is called a seventh period.
When I was growing up in the city in my elementary school we would go from my elementary school every day down to the local recreation center, two thousand yards away or whatever, quarter of a mile, but every day I did that and every day I was safe because I left elementary school, my mom was teaching at Fulton high school on the other side of town and my dad was working a shift because he was a police officer here in Atlanta. I would go there every day and my brother and I would be safe, we would learn how to play football, we learned how to play baseball, we learned teamwork when we were in a safe environment. When I’m mayor we’re going to take that and take it to the next level and what does that mean? A young person will leave school every day and they’ll go into a recreation center or to some sort of program that’s a part of curriculum where the city of Atlanta is partnering with APS, the non profit sector and the private sector to give young people kind of what I would call this hands on experience to support what they’re learning in their curriculum in school.
A young person may be doing math and science and they’ll go into this after school program and learn how to code. A young person may be very interested in how things work and this whole maker movement that’s going on, this advanced manufacturing thing that now is very important and very under staffed in our country and learn how to through an apprenticeship program and learn how to build things and to manufacture things. That’s the kind of program that we’re going to have through the seventh period and we’re going to do it in partnership with APS. Between the economic development plan, between the physical cooperation that we’re going to do and between this actual practical collaboration with the seventh period, that’s just the start of what we’re going to do together. Those things do not require us to have this combination of the two, and these are things we can do even though city of Atlanta does not have any kind of technical power or jurisdiction over APS. It’s about partnership, I’m going to continue the partnerships I’ve already created and take them to the next level.
Kamau Franklin: So let me ask you, you’ve been on city council for over a decade, you’ve been to president for over eight years about eight years, and so you’re considered an insider, you’ve been there as part of the structure of city government and for a long time, we seem to be in a changed environment, both left and or right, how do you not get pigeon hold or why shouldn’t people pigeon hold you as an insider who’s responsible for both good and bad that’s happened over the last decade, if they’re looking for change? Why should they look for you for change?
Ceasar Mitchell: We’re always looking for change, everyone every four years, every open season is about change, number one, number two people are going to tell you they’re going to be about change, questions who can get the job done? For as much as people want to say that city hall has lost its way or people want to say that city hall is broken, is actually not true but can we be better? Yes we can. What I think citizens will want in their mayor is someone who is different from what was before, someone who knows and has experience to take us in what I would call a pivot more focused direction towards the things that are important right now.
When I show my leadership combine that with the experience I have, and my experience is not just completely and insider experience, I’m not a career politician, I practice law, that’s what I do everyday and I’m not just a lawyer and an elected leader, I have actually been involved civically in the community in a very profound way. I don’t just operate as some insider, that’s not how I operate and I think there’s an understanding of that, people know that I’m very different from the current administration and the current mayor, people know that. It will probably become even more apparent over the next several months.
Kamau Franklin: How are you different?
Ceasar Mitchell : I’m different in that I know how to actually get things done working with people.
Kamau Franklin: Give me some policy differences, what some differences that distinguish you from the current administration?
Ceasar Mitchell: First of all, I am wiling to partner, number one. I’m willing to take resources and use those resources to create good outcomes. I’ll give an example, the mayor and I, nothing against the current mayor, obviously, he’s done a good job as mayor, but we had a disagreement around the relationship between APS and the city of Atlanta, around the belt line, he and I had a very unfortunately public disagreement about that. I believe we need to honor our responsibility to APS, to pay them what we owe them, at the same time I believe we actually need to reform the agreement that the belt line had with APS. My approach was to say “Let’s do that.” My approach was not to fight and to demean the school system but work together with them and build on the relationships that are already had.
At the end of the day what the end result was, was that we paid what we owed and we also reform the agreement and that happened because I was able to sit down and talk to both sides and say this is what I think we ought to do. I’ll bring a spirit of working together with folks and addressing issues and not getting caught up in this win loose scenario, I believe in creating win wins. I work hard to create win wins.
Some people say this whole idea compromise is a bad thing and I don’t use a word compromise, I use a term community building. We have a responsibility to build a community, number one. Number two I think right now we see the administration currently selling a lot of real estate, getting out of quote on quote the real estate business, when I’m mayor we’re going to get back into the real estate business a different way. I’m not saying that just because I’m a real estate attorney, I’m saying that because I’ve done community development both as a lawyer, and as a policy maker and I understand the power of affordable housing and community development on the ground as it impacts quality of life in our communities, the experiences of young people, senior citizens and families in between.
When I’m mayor we’re going to have a program called blight delight, we’re going to go and we’re going to acquire where we can whether it be through public funds, combined with private funds, or just private funds and if we have to go alone, public funds to go and tackle the blight we’re seeing in communities where I live, like historic west end or Oakland city or Ashew Heights or Peoples town or Pittsburgh, we’re going to buy these homes and we’re going to create partnerships to take these homes, renovate them and take them from being places of blight, crime, despair and psychological burdens for communities and turn them into places where families are living, children are playing and they’re doing it in an affordable fashion, strengthening the fabric of the communities, strengthening our school system in a way that our communities are strong again.
I’m going to have a very intense focus on the community, a very intense focus on people, I am, I form something called an employee compensation task force, it was because I witnessed over the many many years the fact that we were not investing in our employees. If you have an employee that works for the city, who feels good about their experience and they feel like the city, it’s leadership is upholding it’s part of the bargain they’re going to be more innovative, they’re going to be more productive, they’re going to be happy to come to work and they’re going to figure out how to make sure they’re delivering the services we’re charged to deliver in a much more affective way.
For me I’m going to be very focused on ensuring our employees are well taken care of, well trained and they feel good about being there. I feel that way first of all because this is how I was raised from a moral perspective, number two, my mom was a school teacher, my dad worked as a police officer for the city of Atlanta, he founded the Afro american patrol men’s league, which is a union that fought for equal pay for African american police officers on the force, it was something that really had reverberation throughout city government and was about equality, not just about black people but equality of opportunity and city government. I’m not going to betray that history and heritage that I have so whether that’s different from the current administration now is who I am, it’s where I’m going and that’s my direction.
I’m going to be focused on community, I’m going to be focused on economic development and community development from the ground up in a very profound way willing to make the public investment in it, I am going to be focused very much on employees I’m not going to fighting employees, they’re not to be fighting with. Finding common ground because there’s going to be a moment in time and I’ve been elected through two administration where we’re going to see tough times again, I want employees to stand with us when we face those tough times again. They’re only going to stand with us if we’ve kept up our end of the bargain along the way. My task force, we eliminated compression, we started to reduce compression in our work force, we created a policy of longevity pay, it’s sparked the administration to create something called pay leave for women or maternity leave and a number of other things that provide strong compensation opportunities for our employees.
When I’m mayor we’re going to have a predictable, sustainable, compensation strategy for our employees that we’re going to stick to and that requires an investment. In tough times they’ll stick with us if we stick with them now, number one. Number two I am not a tax ideal, no new taxes, no increasing, I’m not that. The reason the city is experiencing the help we’re experiencing right now is because in two thousand nine when we were facing the worst economic crisis this country has seen since the depression and it hit Atlanta particularly hard, and the black community even harder, we raised taxes, my perspective on that is that we raised taxes but it really was the community, tax payers, steak holders, citizens raising taxes, we all leaned in together, it wasn’t the city coming up with the money, we all came up with the money and we leaned in together in that very tough time and what has resulted since is we’ve gone from having seven million dollars in reserves to one hundred and seventy five million dollars in reserves. We’ve been able to increase our bond rating because of strong decisions that have been made through Franklins administration, through this administration, in partnership with the leadership of the council.
These things are things that are very important. If we find ourselves in a tough time again we may have to come back to the community and say “We’ve got to increase the millage rate.” But I want to have created with my leadership and partnership with the community and with our other jurisdictions and leadership on council the kind of confidence that the community says “You know what, lets do it. We have to make sure this train continues to move down the track with everybody getting on board.”
Tanasia Kenney: So on the issue of gentrification, as mayor what policies would you enact to incentivize the reversal of black people being, well leaving the city of Atlanta or being pushed out of the city of Atlanta.
Ceasar Mitchell: Absolutely, first thing is the blight delight, that’s about affordable housing in neighborhoods where I live. Creating affordable housing within the power that we have to act directly in terms of addressing this issue number one, number two, inclusionary zoning, we have got to lean in on that and I say that candid, I’m consistent with that message. When I leave here I may go and next week, I think I go and meet with the council of equality growth, whenever I go to that group and the group of developers and builders and stuff in town, every time I sit down with them in a room with about twenty five people I tell them “We’re going to have to do inclusionary only, and I’m going to need you all to lean in with us to get it done.” And the response by large is “We want to help with that.” We understand.
What has happened in our economy is we have a great pruning, a recession and when that pruning occurred we backed away or we just stopped talking about affordable housing because of what was happening then they kind of became back, and it became back fiercely, that was the good thing but the bad thing is we didn’t catch up quickly with affordable housing policies. Now we’ve got to strengthen our affordable housing policies with inclusionary zoning, with being willing to invest more in making sure that we provide affordable frameworks around the incentives we provide.
The city has ten tax allocation districts, I’m the author and creator for them, that benefit west and south west Atlanta and south Atlanta. Essentially the community is still kind of considered the black community.
That’s really about providing economic development opportunities and affordable housing in these communities. The belt line, I was one of the sponsors of the legislation as chair of the committee, I assure that that legislation was outwardly facing, involved community input and had principals in it like community benefits, affordable housing, grooming space for reservation. Kinds of things that helped to address the issues in gentrification that really in many ways are brought on by a project like the belt line which is a good project on one end but has an incredible destructive qualities as it relates to gentrification on the other hands. We’ve got to be honest about that.
Inclusionary zoning, pushing for more affordable housing, production through my blight delight program, and being a very staunch advocate finally of anti-displacement policies.
Neil Nelson: So lets look at gentrification, you talk about going to meet with the board next week, or a group next week, I kind of live in the north side of town so I live in Buckhead and when I drive around Buckhead I see new apartments, new condos going up and every single square foot of the north side of the city, when I go down to the south side it’s the opposite, it’s ran down houses, buildings, empty. Empty opportunities that are not being optimized. Does the city need a different cadre of developers that are going to create those opportunities, or are you talking about those same folks that are building apartments for twenty-five hundred dollars for a two-bedroom apartment to also build affordable housing, and is that something we’re going to do at a rate or clip that really corrects the problem of black gentrification being pushed by folks out of the city into the counties around Atlanta? Because that’s a real real issue for our readership, for our black folks in the city that are not middle class or above, and even middle class black folks are moving.
I have a friend who’s a teach actually and she lived in Atlanta for ten years, four years ago she bought a house and she bought it an hour out of the city, she sill has to commute back into the city, that’s a real problem for folks, how does that get addressed? And I don’t believe those other folks were building these high rise apartments and condos in the north side and in the middle of the city are going to create enough opportunity for folks like that.
Ceasar Mitchell: So you asked a question that really is a very complex one, the answer is really kind of, it is a tough question with a complex answer. Really kind of a take your medicine kind of answer.
You talked about developers coming from that part of town to this part of town, well really you’re talking about is the capital markets being willing to invest. There’s this notion that the city controls investment, economic investment, and communities. That’s just not true. However we can influence it.
When I’m mayor we’re going to do everything in my power and our power collectively to influence the market to invest in our area town, on top of a very strong policy framework for affordable housing and anti displacement number one. Now what does that mean in a very practical way? I want to be respectful of times I won’t go deep deep off into an example but have you all ever been to Camp Creek market place?
Neil Nelson: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Ceasar Mitchell: Camp Creek market place is, I won’t call it a miracle, but in some ways it is a miracle, because the problem is, is that the capital markets tend to invest into areas that they’re familiar with and it’s capital go’s or capital no’s, okay? And so they have that tendency, which is a cultural thing and then you have this idea of doing the performers and kind of the analysis and you look at, well here where the rooftops are he has an income, he has a buying power, this is where we can invest. Communities that are largely middle class to working class to poor, you don’t even get past the analysis if you got past this idea of capital going with capital no’s. I’m not sure there are any billion dollar equity funds in south west Atlanta.
The point about that is we had to make the case with Camp Creek that this was an investment that you should make in this part of town and it would work, here’s what ADA and folks in East Point, the development folks did, our development authorities, when they went to the capital markets where the money is to make investments in this retail development, commercial development down here, guess what they did? They put pictures of the houses in the actual perspectives. You don’t do that when you’re going to get money from the capital market. You just give spread sheets. They said we want to make sure you understand what’s really down here, and they showed the pictures and that was a part of making the case, if you make an investment in this community with your money, that it’s going to return for you.
Technically if you don’t get past this idea of capital going where it knows and then the performers, you don’t get the investment. Even if as a city you create what we call the gap funding and the incentives, a lot of which I’ve done through my creation of tax allocation districts, being very supportive of affordable housing. Even if we got all that, if we don’t get past these two critical moments here, these two critical moments of capital one where it knows and the reformers.
Capital market basically quote on quote took a chance but they made I think a sound investment, because if you look at the target there, if you look at the Long Horns down there, if you look at some of the other big boxes down there, they’re the highest performers in the country.
The city or government made the argument that you can make an investment here number one, so as mayor you’re going to see me making the argument, and I’m going to know how to make the argument. I’m a transactional lawyer who understands this stuff and I’ve done work in it. I’m also going to make the argument because I grew up in this community and I know who’s there. I know what’s there. We’re going to make the argument around why it’s good to invest here, number one.
Number two, we’re going to be supportive through our incentive framework, tax allocation districts, other funding we provide through invest Atlanta, we’re going to provide incentives for not just the existing development community, but emerging developers, meaning we’ll actually represent to be a part of this economic opportunity that rests in south west Atlanta and in the community that’s still considered in many ways the black community. We’re going to be a very strong partner in that regard. The last thing which is really the first thing from the government perspective is that we got to do those basic fundamental things that kind of get you ready for Sunday dinner. That is we got to make sure we got clean streets, safe communities, a built environment that is aesthetically pleasing. Imagine how you can actually put yourself in a better position, we can all collectively, if we just put on a good face. As mayor I’m going to make sure we’re delivering services that tend to make these communities more attractive where I live for this kind of thing.
Neil Nelson: Sure. I think one of the assumptions that I make is probably different which by the way Camp Creek is a great example that you brought up, is more so about smaller real estate investors that don’t necessarily have those capitals but are willing to work with potential admitting the city to come in and build in on the small scale, you won’t get the same bang for your buck initially but overtime enough of these folks are out there who are willing to participate, help. I’m getting to why I brought that up, I was in a meeting with the mayor about a year ago and a bunch of bankers and developers, things of that nature, they talked and he said quite frankly, “Look we’re going to work with developers, but not small developers, we’re looking to work with developers that are much larger if you do large development, makes sense right? That based on what he was trying to accomplish is out of criteria, I’m wondering that with your administration are you going to create something that specifically targets a small developer, as well as the large scale developers?
Ceasar Mitchell: Absolutely, I mean right now I have something right now called Atlanta back to business program. We started off just a three hour program, five years ago where we invited in small business owners to engage with government agencies, about twenty local state federal level, in partnership with GSA and SBA to be able to build and develop business to business opportunities. Five years later, we’re now on our sixth year, program has grown from three hours to three days, basically a week, where we have a thousand people registering, small business owners are now connecting and not only with government agencies, but with fifty to sixty private sector businesses to create business and business relationships, I only bring that up case it’s not right on point to what you’re asking to let you know that that’s how I focus, small business’s are important to me, I started, I owned a small business, it was a lot of fun, we never thought about our sales as a business but it was a small business. I started practicing law with a very small firm, we were a small business, I represented small business’s, I represented small black African-American owned banks in this city. Small business are very important to me number one.
Number two, small business has also employed a vast majority of americans, so if we all focus in on small business’s which include small developers and investors who got to go and get with construction companies, we’re employing people, we’re not going to be taken advantage of the full opportunity of a small and robust economy.
Neil Nelson: Was real-estate a part of that?
Ceasar Mitchell: Yeah, construction was a part of that, so I’ll tell you, so one of the programs that we did with back to business is that this whole stadium was being built, after that the brady stadium, we would invite in a lot of the construction and engineering firms, minorities, small women owned firms to come in and get a report out, I would have the falcons come in and I want you all to report out on the opportunities to be on this project and where you are in terms of the goal you set. This is something that’s got to be transparent to the public, and it’s got to be something where there’s an opportunity. When the reports are said and done we’ll see if they really met that go. I’ve heard some good stories and I’ve heard some not so good stories quite frankly but that was a part of what I asked of them to do as a part of my back to business program to provide that level of visibility and opportunity to be a part of this big deal.
Same thing with the Braves. With the spectrum, the small development community absolutely, I believe when you talk about fueling the development along Camilton road which is one of my tax allocation districts, where I grew up along this thing, where my grandmother lived, fueling development along Ralph David Abernathy and that little metropolitan parkway, the city has got to be willing not only to partner with incentives but to bring small, medium sized developers to bare and give them the space to be a part of this development. Make the case to the capital markets that this is a good investment and this is how we should do it. These are folks ready to step up, the blight delight program and I meant with someone who would be considered a small investor, a NFL player, and I made the case for him investing in south and west Atlanta just through single family, small multi-family development, commercial development, but that’s what’s going to do it. We’ve just got to make sure we create the frame work and the incentives to do it, much of that I’ve already done through my tax allocation districts and the like, but we have to make sure we actually move the capital markets in that direction.
Neil Nelson: What would you do additionally as a mayor along those same programs, those same programs already have a place, along those same quarters, metropolitan, cambleton, historic west end, what would you do as a mayor to build and expand that in the south east?
Ceasar Mitchell: So I think everybody wants to hear something sexy, I don’t have anything sexy for you, what I do have for you is that we’re going to do the basics. You ride down [Camilton road and you see the grass over growing into the right away, that’s a problem. We’re going to clean it up. When you see trash along metropolitan parkway, that’s a problem, we’re going to clean it up. When you see roads without side-walks and lights poorly lit in the evening, that’s a problem along MLK and Holloway where I have two other tabs. One other TADs along both streets. The first thing we’re going to do is we’re going to clean up these streets. We’re going to get ready for Sunday dinner, you follow what I’m saying?
The same thing we’re going to do and this is a very specific goal that I have and I keep parking on the tax allocation districts because in many ways they’re not fulfilling their fullest potential right now. We don’t have the public schools partnerships in these tabs, we bring them on board, we double the power of that tab to make investments in this community through working with small and medium sized developers, getting access to this incentive money. So it’s going to be my goal to get APS on as a partner, that will put it on hyper drive.
Beyond that I believe that we have got to also create what I call an environment for small business development along with it’s community based development, retail, small commercial. With the creation of this new zoning code we want to make sure that it’s friendly to commercial development and retail development and higher density along our critical commercial corridors because the more density you have by way of residential property, the more you can justify creating retail and commercial activity that’s just a fundamental reality of the market, place and access to capital equity and debt and so that’s one thing that we’re going to certainly work on when I’m mayor and the other thing is just we’re going to figure out how to bring new industries to the city.
One of the things I want to do and if you know we have a very interesting start up scene here in the city, that’s important. Tech and things really cool and real whatever. We’ve got to make sure that we create greater visibility on the part of external equity, capital, of what’s happening here and were going to encourage continued investment of equity into companies that are formed here. We’re going to create the frame work where these companies don’t have to feel like they have to huddle up in midtown, they can huddle up along critical corridors in south and west Atlanta as well, we got to, we got to there.
When those companies get funded, we’re not going to have them take somewhere else around the country. We’re going to make the case and we’re going to stand there with these companies and say “No you’re going to stay here.” Number one. So external equity, being invested in local companies and not just start ups but operating companies because small business’s are not just debt companies, start-ups are not just debt companies. I want us to forget that we got companies that are doing operational stuff everyday that are bringing in ten million dollars a year, throwing off ten percent to the bottom line, employing twenty or thirty people plus, which represents jobs for the community and again stability in our community so again we’re going to have a focus on that and we’re going to focus on getting capital to invest in these business’s in addition to the start-ups.
What we’re also going to do, last thing, is create a very strong local lies equity frame work, in other words, capital. Access to capital, here, from equity standpoint. Here to invest in business’s that are here and even invest in business’s that may be somewhere else and get them here. To hire and employ people and to expand innovation and creativity and productivity.
Kamau Franklin: I’m interested in the paradigm of development as it comes to Atlanta and you’ve probably heard this before, you’ve been around quite a bit longer me, I’m from New York originally but this is happening in different cities, but Atlanta seems to be special in terms of the narrative. You talked about this earlier, but specifically black elected officials, white, money interest I’d say, sort of partnered in some ways, this is like the general theory of how Atlanta avoided major disruption during a civil rights era.
With that, there’s more of a partnership around making sure that black people were involved in the economic development in Atlanta I.e. a way of ending segregation and so forth and maybe bringing more black people into middle class. I think Maynard Jackson sort of fountain head figure head, well respected mayor who did that successfully. Post Maynard Jackson there seems to be more of a feeling that some of that is still going, happening but the larger black community is not prospering from that, I.e. the city that used to be close to sixty five to seventy percent black during a time of black leadership is now about to be if not already majority white, and there are some conversations of course that this may be the election as the last eight years ago, some people thought the last time as a black mayor maybe Mary Norwood might be the winner that this happened sort of under the watch of black elected officials because of the type of development that was pursued.
Part of that is the dismantling of public housing spaces, not enough building of affordable housing, why is this vision that you’re offering going to change that, should that be changed, is there a way to change it? I know there’s a fine line with developers and development but do we think that the parts of this that have been destructive for what was once majority the population here, needs to somehow change dramatically, or something needs to happen to stop that loss of the larger black community.
Ceasar Mitchell: You have some folks who are going to suggest it’s time for some sort of civil war and that’s not right. That’s not what it’s about. What it’s about is having a leader who knows and understands this city. There’s nobody in this race that understands it like I do and understands that in a three dimensional fashion, in a three hundred and sixty degree fashion, who understands how things work at the fiftieth floor or the bank of america tower and how things work right down here in the corner of Simpson and Ashby, you follow me?
Nobody else is going to bring it like that. The reason, I don’t say that in arrogance, I say that because I’m a fortunate and blessed product of this city, I’m a product of a city that said that a young black kid, who grew up to working class parents, who are civil servants, could grow up and go to college and go to law school, start practicing law, be in a transactional field and now be with a big law firm and have a tremendous track record that can take me anywhere around this city and have serious in depth conversations. You’re not going to get me in a room where I got to go do this or not going to be able to say something, let me look at the translation, and then you’re going to have something to say to me and I’m going to have to try and figure out what you’re talking about.
There ain’t nothing somebody up here in Buckhead where you live going to be able to say to me about something that made the business when I’m not going to be able to understand what you’re talking about, take me right down over here in the ‘”trap” you’re not going to say something that I don’t know, you follow what I’m saying?
We had a moment in time where we’ve got to have leadership that’s not talking but understands how to move throughout this entire community and bring people together and make the argument, make the argument for this pivot that we’ve got to take, this refocus and investment in the community that’s got to happen and not be afraid to do it.
The two books that I keep is why I’m really doing this conversation and it’s an important one, I don’t care if you all, I do want your endorsement, but I’m not going to turn my back on you in the street if you don’t because this is important, the two books that are, that I keep, close to me in my bedroom on the nightstand, a biography on Maynard Jackson that was done by Bob Holmes and Making A Modern Atlanta, that was done by Andrew Young talking about this city through the eyes of Andy Young. Now why are these two books important? They’re work books, they’re not just reading and “Oh I read a really nice one.” These are work books. These books talk about in the case of Maynard Jackson, the construction of this city and the standpoint of how the black community and the white community worked together even in moments of strife and un-surety, to create opportunity and how mayor Jackson took that to the next level as Maynard Jackson and created a policy of inclusive economics, that’s his book. The second book, Making A modern Atlanta is about again the making of a city that really understood how white people and black people could work together and whatever the grand bargain is, leadership, sharing power, sharing, to create what is a very special place and take advantage of economic opportunity but to do it understanding that there is a bigger world out there.
Maynard Jackson was inclusive in economics, Andy Young would say “Lets introduce Atlanta to the world.” And it takes me back to what I said earlier about this idea of Atlanta being special because we are a place of inclusive economics in a globally significant economy. That’s my starting point so no ones going to get me the flinch on this idea of economic inclusivity, no ones going to get me to flinch on this idea that we’ve got to make investment in communities that have not received investment from the ground up.
If you go on my Facebook page you’ll see me do this hashtag global round up to global. Cities don’t become global because some kind of dust gets sprinkled down on it. They become global from the ground up, we’ve got to have that focus quite frankly, this whole modicum we have forty years of black mayors and nothings happened and that’s a very interesting statement because in the last forty years what has happened in this city? We’ve seen some good times and some bad times but this city is built under the leadership of Maynard, carried on by mayors after him. The worlds busiest airport. This city, has been able to get a centennial Olympic games, this city is a place where people come from all over the world for opportunity, even if they’re not in the city of Atlanta proper.
There’s some great things that have happened in this city. This city has been able to produce someone like me who had the example of looking at Maynard Jackson, an Marvin Arrington, Andy Young, a Shirly Franklin, A Bill Campbell and say “You know what, I can be that one day.” That’s got to continue and our mayor is going to continue. We’re going to focus in on those things that have lost focus and my theory is going to be, and my approach is going to be lets make sure this train keeps moving, we’re not going to knock it off the tracks, we’re going to get as many people on it as possible and I’m going to be the person that’s going to go into a room with the CEO of a bank, the CEO of a fortune one hundred cooperation and say to them just like I’m saying to you, I’ve done it. In the same way I can be the president and I’ve been the president of the gate city bar association, there’s a bar of African American lawyers founded right here in this city, I’ve been the president and chair of the board of Hands in Atlanta, I don’t know if you’ve heard of that organization, I volunteer involvement and I’m now on the board, the global board of Points of Light where George Bush’s son, Neil Bush is the chair of the board.
I’m going to bring every resource I have to bare, I’m not going to change my tune, I’m not going to kowtow, I’m going to say it like it is, you’re not going to find me saying one thing here and another thing here, I’m not going to say something just cause I think you want to hear it, I’m going to say it because its what I believe, and I believe I bring a level of credibility, I think in a way that makes me different from many is that I bring a level of what people consider approachability and then I think the ability to grasp the issues in a way I think that I can make the case and you’re just going to tell me no, we’re not with it, then we just got to go another way, but I live in a neighborhood and I don’t keep it, you asked the wrong question for a short answer, I live in a neighborhood where I’m not going to be mayor and it stays like that, and while I’ve done some things already, there’s so much more you can do with the power of the mayors office and make things happen.
It’s going to requite partnership and the last thing I’ll say, everybody wants a quick fix, but we’re now in an environment where everything is immediate. You get your news. If Donald Trump sends out a tweet about something three hours ago you’re going to read it right now and that needs to be the case, but the work we’ve gotta do going forward is work day, we’re not going to see the fruits of until ten, fifteen years from now. We’ve got to get our heads wrapped around that. That’s part of the approach, understanding the long view and the work we have to do now to produce and yield the things we want to see in the future, for your children, my children your grandchildren.
Kamau Franklin: Do you want to go to the last question?
Neil Nelson: Yeah so I think we’re about five minutes away from that time, just in respect for your time and ours as well, so I’m going to wrap two questions into one if you don’t mind.
Ceasar Mitchell: That’s fine and I’ll answer quickly
Neil Nelson: Thanks. So there are several mayoral candidates throughout this campaign, throughout this race rather, sorry other candidates in this race, problem, we asked them this question and the question is why should we recommend to our readers that we should vote for you or endorse you in particular, we’re not asking them to just oppose the leading candidates in the race currently, I think the last report I saw was that Norwood] was pretty close to the top of the race, what fundamental difference between yourself and her do you think our readers should think about as a content to regulate for?
Ceasar Mitchell: You can do this as oppose to her or anybody else in this race, number one, I love this city, I was born and raised in this city, it made me who I am. Number two, I understand and know this city and my experiences have been brought in deep in this city, I’m not a career politician but I’m a very committed public servant born out of what I’ve seen my mother and father do in this city. Number three, I’m going to bring leadership to this role and the leadership that I’m going to bring will be based upon the experiences that I’ve had the experience and know how that I bring to the table and my ability to work with people and build community and common ground around issues that are important and bring people together when it’s time to bring together to get things done.
The other thing that’s going to distinguish me from the other candidates is that I don’t lead alone, I know how to get people together, number one. Number two I’m going to be able to get things done day one because I know where the water fountain is and I also know where the in some ways where the bodies are buried but in some ways also know where the opportunities are that we have not tapped, so I’m going to bring that.
The last thing I think I’m going to bring to the table is the spirit of entrepreneurship, when I see something I do something, I don’t just go find a camera, a recorder or a podium to stand behind to talk about what the problem is, I go find a solution, so when you ride around the city and you see these orange signs that say slow down on them, you ever seen those?
You don’t know who did that do you? That’s my program. I don’t make a big to do about it. I didn’t even want to make it a campaign sign, take my name off of it I won’t be able to slow down, I want to see my name because I wanted to be responsive to a community need, and that’s people whizzing through the community. A grandmother and her grandchildren were killed this month, speeding through the community. Little girl killed over here by park cause somebody hit her. I see something, I do something. I backed the business program as a reflection of that. My college prep series is a reflection of that.
As mayor more so than any other person, I’m going to be entrepreneur, when I see something, we got to get something done, we’re going to do it in partnership and we’re going to be ready to roll day one.
Neil Nelson: Thank you.
Ceasar Mitchell: Thank you, I appreciate it. Thank you very much, thanks for your time I appreciate it.