2020 Election: Mayor Ted Terry on Running for Senate in Georgia | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Sunday, January 16th, 2022  

2020 Election: Mayor Ted Terry on Running for Senate in Georgia

Connecting on a Human Level

Dec 19, 2019 Photography by Tom Griscom Ted Terry
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He’s been called the “Millennial/Hipster Mayor,” but the citizens of his town just know him as Mayor Ted. Since being elected in 2013 at 30 years old, with 53% of the vote and then winning reelection with 59%, Clarkston, Georgia Mayor Ted Terry has a hell of a track record.

He has doubled the size of the small town just outside of Atlanta, made Election Day a holiday, raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour, helped to democratize the city council with millenials and minorities, and decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. And that was after taking the reigns of a community that was already a city on the hill, based on freedom and diversity. In 2019 America, that is still saying something. Something profound.

Clarkston is kind of a sociological miracle. Starting in the 1980s and ‘90s, refugee resettlement agencies landed on Clarkston as a new mecca for immigration because of its low housing costs, walkability, and transit. Since then, thousands of refugees and immigrants have passed through Clarkston and into the American experiment. It’s been called the “Ellis Island of the South,” the “most diverse square mile in America,” and the “most progressive city in the south.” Crime, homelessness, and unemployment are low.

Clarkston’s citizens are comprised of over 50 nationalities. There are West African, Etheopian, and Nepalese restaurants. Mayor Terry himself often speaks to citizens and conducts town business in the Ehthiopian coffee shop, after giving up his own office space to municipal employees. Clarkston has a mosque with 800 members, two Vietnamese temples, and a middle school for girls whose educations were interrupted by unrest in their native countries.

The NRSC has already called him a socialist, but Terry has described himself as a “Democrat who gives a damn.” Georgia is where the action is this cycle; well, it’s mostly in the Rust Belt, but the Georgia suburbs may surprise all of us this time, and woudn’t that be fucking cool? The state has two different senate races up for grabs, one an open seat, the other with an incumbent, and all presided over by a shady, vote-rigging governor.

Terry is an organizer, a diehard, activist, and Sierra Club leader. His mayoral duties are only part-time, and he is paid $6,000 a year for them. But he has brought more than full time effort, compassion, opportunity, and optimism to his post. His service in Clarkston all started because his neighborhood had a hill that people used to speed down. He just wanted to get a couple speed bumps installed. When the former mayor was dismissive, and he couldn’t find anyone else to help run, he did it himself. Since being elected (and re-elected) he has presided over Clarkston during a confusing and uncertain time for immigrants in this country. He’s dealt not only with the fear and aggression of Trump’s travel ban but the stunts and ativism of his local, aging fellow citizens. He has faced the opposition and won multiple times, in the deep south! He even got the attention of Queer Eye.

America was literally created because of immigration. Indeed, there would be no country, no concept of forward-leaning, western liberal democracy without the acknowledgment that this whole experiment started with strangers far from home hoping to build a new reality. Clarkston is truly the melting pot of multicultural America. Clarkston is at once a reminder of what America’s past can create and a beacon for a future that it has not yet attained. It is a living monument to the current American struggle.

Steve King (Under the Radar): Recent polls have shown Georgia residents support impeachment. The president, if polls are to be believed…is trailing his Democratic challengers. Georgia is on its way to being a swing state, but when will that final swing occur?

Mayor Ted Terry: Well, we thought it was going to be 2008 or 2012. I was an organizer working for the Democratic Party and for the Obama campaign in Georgia, and we found Obama was at like 46% in August of 2008. Obama ran some ads in the Macon media market, which is like Central Georgia, and we thought, “this is our time,” we’re probably going to get the resources we need to turn out the people we know are here.

Those resources went to Florida instead, and we were disappointed by that, obviously, but I think the conventional wisdom for the next several election cycles was: in order to win in Georgia you’ve got to kind of be a moderate, and you’ve got to convince the centrists to come over. The person who finally disproved that theory was Stacey Abrams, who was basically like “I’m unapologetically progressive,” and she sort of talked to all the voters, not just the narrow slice of the “persuadable middle.” But she went and found people who don’t usually vote, and people who hadn’t voted since Obama, and young voters, and immigrant voters.

Since I’ve been mayor we’ve registered more than 8,000 new Americans over the span of six years in the Clarkston area. Basically people who were refugees, who got to that 5-year mark, where they’ve been lawful residents and now can apply for citizenship. So yes, I think Stacey Abrams proved that Georgia is a swing state in the 2018 election. I think we’re there. Trump made his first visit raising money for a SuperPAC about two or three weeks ago, so that means something. It means we are prioritizing you in a state and our opponents are prioritizing you as a state. That’s important.

And it’s the state where he’s been pressuring the Governor to name someone to Johnny Isakson’s old senate seat…

Yeah, it’s comical to watch. Either way, we win. Collins is an arch-conservative from North Georgia. I don’t think that’s going to play well with a lot of people and if we get Kelly Loeffler, who some consider to be somewhat of a moderate. She’s just another millionaire, which is a big issue with the Senate. I think we’ve got way too many millionaires and not enough working class people.

Along with Texas, Georgia is getting more and more competitive with each passing cycle. Everyone’s like “Oh, it’s a swing state now.” I’m skeptical. It’s like Charlie Brown and the football. Conservatives always come home, and even if they don’t, there are a million ways to disenfranchise voters. But I’ve been wrong a lot because of this president. What makes this time different?

I think a couple things. Going back to the Stacey Abrams election, I learned a lot of the voter suppression tactics that were used to truly nickel-and-dimed enough voters to get the ticket to where there’s a 50,000 vote margin. But I think if you look at Kentucky, for instance, Fair Fight Action, the group that Stacey Abrams started after her election, they were successful in stopping a lot of voters from being purged, and from being put on the inactive rolls, to basically learning from what happened in Georgia and applying proactive tactics in Kentucky and Matt Bevin lost by 5,000 votes.

All of these nickel-and-dimed tactics…I think voters are onto them, but if you look at just registration numbers, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution had a report a month ago; 352,000, I think is the number of newly registered voters since the Stacey Abrams election. What you’re seeing here, and all around the country, obviously, [is that] most newly registered voters are young people, so that’s a good start. Georgia is a pretty fast growing state. We’re probably going to get another congressional seat after the 2020 census. These are people who are moving [here] from all over the country, from more progressive parts of the country.

What we’re also finding is that there are Republicans moving from other parts of the country where the Republican party isn’t as extreme as it is in Georgia. Case in point: the abortion ban bill Georgia passed along with a couple other southern states. Moderate voters were just like “Wow. This is a far-right party.” I think there’s some opportunities there, with all of these new people coming to Georgia. It’s important to set the contrast between being a progressive Democrat running and the current Republican party in power.

You’re a small town mayor. Some mayors’ talents are better geared toward state governing. It makes for an easier transition. Why do you want to be in the Senate?

In Georgia and in Clarkston we’re like a lot of cities in Georgia, where we have a council-manager form of government so the mayor doesn’t run the day-to-day operations of the city. The mayor, in essence, is the president of the city council, so I’ll give speeches and I’ll represent the town, but when it comes to my role in Clarkston, it’s policy-making. So when we talk about all of the progressive things that Clarkston has been leading on, those are policies that I have a part of. I’m part of every work session in every city council meeting. I’m there gaveling the meeting into order, participating in working with council members to draft legislation and policy. I have a little executive role, in the sense that I have to work with a very diverse group of people, but then to having the experience of actually legislating, as well versus, say the mayor of Atlanta, or the mayor of New York City or something, you’re basically in charge of running the city and hiring and firing people, and implementing policies.

You’ve mentioned running for governor in 2022 if things didn’t work out for Stacey Abrams. Is this just a trial run type thing?

That was just Queer Eye and they were egging me on. I’ve got two more years left in my term as mayor and I think that the people are involved in progressive causes as much I am. I’ll give you one example: it’s from the latest AJC poll, it showed nearly two thirds of Democrats support Medicare-For-All. Obviously in Georgia, statewide, it’s 53% opposed to Medicare-For-All, but in terms of the Democratic party, I’m a big believer that the Democratic nominee should represent the Democratic Party, just like we’ve seen for decades with the other party. Republicans always nominate someone who’s a conservative. Let’s quit kidding ourselves.

What Stacey Abrams proved is that we if we actually run on the issues, there are a lot of people out there that will vote, because they’re like, “Well, we finally have someone who stands for us and the issues we care about, and not only do I want to vote for them, I want to donate to them, I want to volunteer with them, I want to help and tell everyone I can possibly tell about them,” so that’s the theory of change that I’m operating under. Obviously I’ll support our nominee because any Democrat is better than David Perdue, but the progressive voice in Georgia right now isn’t being represented. That’s the role that I’m filling in this Senate primary.

You’ve endorsed Bernie Sanders again this time. As the mayor of a minority-majority town, do you think you kind of owe it to the base of the party to maybe not start where the last primary ended? I mean, Biden’s not my candidate but a Biden/Abrams ticket might be unstoppable…

I do agree with the premise that any ticket with Abrams would be unstoppable. Personally, I’d like to just see her run for president, but if she ends up being a running mate for anybody, yeah, that would be unstoppable. I’m not sure about Biden.

Here’s the thing about the Bernie Sanders endorsement: I was the only mayor in Georgia to endorse him in 2016. I think the thing that people hate the most about politicians is that they go whichever way the wind blows, and I was a Bernie Sanders supporter early on and one of the only ones in Georgia. Really, like only a handful of other elected officials supported him, but now that we have more choices it would be a normal, typical politician thing; it’s like, “Oh, Bernie’s not as popular,” or maybe there are more progressives in the race and the progressive wing is split.

I just think that I have to stick with the team that I supported all along. It’s the reason I’m running for this office. The things that he’s talking about are the things that I want to see done. He’s the original. He’s the OG. He’s been saying this stuff for years and years and years. To me, that’s very powerful. I’m definitely part of the generation of young voters who are so tired of the bullshit politicians. The fact that you can go back 30 years and see Bernie Sanders talking about the same thing just means that the issues that he’s running on are the right things for our country.

You’ve tweeted “remember that most politicians are full of shit. Don’t just believe what they say, look at what they’ve done, and then you will know where they stand.” Are there any politicians in the country, besides Stacey Abrams, still worth listening to?

I kind of put that into a narrative, that when we’re campaigning we have to talk about all these things that we want to see, and, of course, if we’re Democrats in Georgia, a lot of the things, we haven’t been able to do because we haven’t been in power. When you don’t control Congress or state houses or state senates or governors’ mansions, like in Georgia, all you do is talk because you haven’t been able to enact those changes.

As mayor of Clarkston I ran to change things, yes. There are a lot of things that I can’t change, but there’s a lot of things that you can on a local level. You don’t have to just believe in the issues I’m running on. Look at the issues I fought for, not just in Clarkston, but for the Sierra Club, the Georgia AFL-CIO, and the campaigns and advocacy groups that I worked for for the last 15 years. I’ve been in the trenches trying to make these changes and succeeding when I could.

That was a quote that I was paraphrasing that came out of the civil rights movement. Basically, don’t tell me what you believe, show me what you’ve done, and then I will tell you what you believe. That’s a big part of the equation. I think voters should take a look at the issues I’m running on but also look at the record, and say this person doesn’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk.

I imagine running for higher office during the impeachment of a president is a little weird considering how rare it is in history. In a country where it seems that everyone has their own personal reality and the president is a lying, crazy, shiftless weirdo traitor, who can we trust now?

I don’t know… I went to the University of Florida, and for the first two and a half years of my college career I protested the Iraq War and President George W. Bush. I remember listening to a segment on NPR one time, and they were talking about how people were confused about why we were going to war in Iraq, and they polled people on their media sources, and they found that 80% of NPR listeners believed that we were going to war for issues much more complicated and nuanced, whereas, the vast majority of Fox News’ viewership thought that Saddam Hussein had planned 9/11. And at the time, I kind of knew about Fox News, but as I got older and consumed more media it was like, “How the fuck do people think that Saddam Hussein planned 9/11?” But if you watched Fox News you could see that was the conspiracy going around in opinion news segments.

I hate to say it, but when you listen to and consume news that is mostly editorial, you are just going to pick up the opinions of the people writing it. But when you try to find institutions and media outlets who are genuinely trying to get the larger picture like NPR does, there’s a method. It’s not just headlines. And some liberal outlets are guilty of this too, where they’ll have clickbait headlines that just get people immediately outraged. I’ve never been outraged listening to NPR. I blame Facebook and dark money as well.

Your opponents in the primary have raised a lot of money. Perdue is one of the biggest money Republicans in the Senate. Most of your contributors are small dollar donors within the state. How can you expect to compete with a field like this?

It’s a combination of a late Democratic primary in May 2020. It’s not that many people. We’re looking at max, 400,000 will vote and any organized grassroots campaign using the technology that exists for all Democratic candidates these days can run a decentralized canvass operation where you’ve got anyone in the state, send them one hundred people who are most likely to vote, send them into the neighborhoods, here’s the script, go talk to them, and put the data in VoteBuilder or MiniVAN, or if they want to do a phone banks. I think the grassroots numbers are reasonable. The conventional wisdom is that you have to go up on television two weeks before the election, that still exists, so you’ll see candidates save their money and deploy it at the last minute. My position is: as I raise money, I spend money. So we’re doing a lot of digital ad acquisition, basically identifying people who are already with me, Medicare-For-All, the Green New Deal, cancelling student debt, people who are in the labor movement, the environmental movement, people who don’t want to see the end of democracy and support electing local officials to higher office, so we can already begin to win the campaign now. That’s the goal. I don’t know who’s going to end up with millions. I was never going to be the candidate who raised millions of dollars, even though I have a goal of getting there. But like I said before, I’m not a millionaire. The financial disclosures haven’t been written about yet, but if you look at all of the candidates on the Repubican and Democratic side, every one of them is in the millionaire club. I’m the most working class person in this race right now.

You’ve been firmly for Medicare-For-All. Hillary Clinton and [Elizabeth] Warren had an exchange recently about the reality of passing medicare for all. Without a 60 vote supermajority you’re not going to get that thing passed. Come on. It’s either blow up the filibuster and expect some really evil shit to happen at some point or get a bunch of votes that don’t exist. Where are you on the filibuster?

I think there are some issues out there that like 90% of Americans want to see, like universal background checks, gun licensing, and red flag laws. When it comes down to those issues, you can say the polls are so overwhelmingly in favor of us passing this that, in this instance, we’re going to ignore the filibuster because 10% of the country shouldn’t hold the other 90% hostage.

I don’t think the framers really intended for a very small minority of the country to stop the vast majority. The filibuster has been weaponized. It never was what it is today. I remember watching the old movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, where the filibuster was used to delay a vote or for you to get your voice heard. But you can’t have an unlimited filibuster.

It’s weird there are these things that we think are traditions but they’re not. It’s like, when I talk about the Second Amendment, for a hundred fucking years the Second Amendment was interpreted as: we should have a militia and people can have rifles and shit, but it doesn’t mean unfettered access to guns, like George Washington himself would lay his life down to keep his AR-15.

I don’t think the filibuster is sacred. We’ve gotten to the point now where budget reconciliation is this loophole that senators have convinced themselves that it’s not getting rid of the filibuster, but really it is. It makes the senate races even more important. We should be spending even more time on senate races, then the power to get something passed. It would definitely cause a realignment. I can think of Republicans trying to use budget reconciliation to get rid of Obamacare, but that’s bullshit because the majority of Americans didn’t want repeal from the get-go. The filibuster was meant to support minority rights and you’ve got a Republican party that is the minority. Social conservatives in this country are the minority, but they have the power. You’re creating this paradigm where you don’t believe in democracy because you don’t want anything to change, and as long as you’re in the minority you can stop any progress from happening. They want to be the victims and the ones in power. It’s kind of twisted.

Since 2000 America has fractured into different realities. Clarkston may be a petri dish but what you’ve helped to create is what seems to be an American utopia. This is evolution. Small towns made of immigrant resettlement is the greatest modern form of reparations and affirmative action. What is the root of the resistance to that?

Mark Twain wrote something 100 years ago. He said that “travel is fatal to bigotry and prejudice and narrow-mindedness,” and [that] one can’t develop broad views of the world by vegetating in one’s own corner for one’s entire life. And the bumper sticker is: “Travel is the only cure for ignorance.” Having the opportunity to experience the things that I’ve experienced just as a resident and citizen of Clarkston and two in running for mayor and being re-elected and representing the most ethnically diverse square mile in America has cured me, not that I ever had it, but it has opened me up to so many more ways of thinking and possibilities than I ever could have imagined and I think that’s true of everyone who interacts and lives or works in Clarkston. You can get exposed to people and ideas and cultures and religions and languages and traditions and food and music that, if you just stuck to your daily routine in your daily pattern of life, you never would have experienced.

People who take that opportunity to step outside of their comfort zone and take a detour to a place that’s different and strange and unusual and it makes you a little bit uncomfortable… Create that space for you to grow into and expand your worldview to cure you of any bigotry or narrow-mindedness or prejudice is at the very core of Clarkston. It’s a microcosm of what America is. I would argue Clarkston is what it is because America is what it is. All the stories that you hear in Clarkston are the American immigrant story. We have first generation immigrants, who have in a lot of ways fled some sort of persecution or violence or prejudice, come to America because it’s the only place that will give them refuge to become who they were meant to be. The opportunity, the liberty, the freedomeven though it’s not perfect. Even in Clarkston we have our own local politics that keeps sort of lurching backwards.

We had an election in November where we had some people who got elected, who ran on a campaign of “the immigrants get too much attention.” So we’ve got two council members coming in whose sole message has been “we need to start talking about the Americans for a change.” So, it ain’t perfect in Clarkston but I think, just generally speaking, even when Clarkston had mayors like the one I ran against who was very anti-refugee. He wrote an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution saying that we had to stop refugee resettlement because it was causing problems in the city. The people in Clarkston, the nonprofit groups, volunteer groups just kept on going. It didn’t necessarily matter what the government was doing. Clarkston had become an international community and just like us, white and black Americans, would never get a chance to meet someone from Burma or the Congo or Syria. Those same people from Burma, the Congo, and Syria would never get to meet people from other parts of the world. It’s not just America benefiting, it’s all of these other people from around the world also benefiting from interactions with cultures they would probably have never had a chance to.

So the reality is over 40 years every refugee resettlement in Clarkston and America you have these amazing first, second, third generation refugees who really exemplify the best of what America has to offer. They have taken it to the next level and I think the most gratifying thing is that every year we have so many former refugees who come back to Clarkston to help volunteer and pay it forward.

There was one guy, Dr. Heval Kelli. He came in as a teenager two weeks after September 11th, as a Muslim in Clarkston, and instead of being met with hate because he was a Muslim, he was greeted by these Lutheran white women welcoming him into America and saying “Hey, how can we help you with your school? How can we get you English classes?” And they mentored him and people helped him along the way, to the point now where he’s a doctor at Emory Hospital in cardiology, and he started a mentorship for pre-med students. He has been one of our leaders in the Clarkston community, bringing people together. I’m just so grateful for people like him because I know I can’t do it by myself.

There’s only so much the government can do. We’re focused on making policies, but today human interactions are happening despite Donald Trump. In fact, I would argue that since Donald Trump became president, more people have come to Clarkston because they’re like, “I don’t believe in that rhetoric or that view of America that President Trump is talking about and I’m not willing to just be mad about it. I’m actually going to show by example and my deeds what I believe in.” More people have shown up in Clarkston to help and welcome, even though we’ve had a diminishing number of refugees. Trump has decreased numbers to their lowest level in American history for this next year, but there are still people arriving in Clarkston who are in the same situation as refugees. They’ve come, strangers in a strange land. “I don’t speak the language. I don’t really know how the society works.” Put yourself in their shoes if you had to leave your home. If I had to leave Clarkston and leave Georgia, leave America and go live in Syria because it’s the only place that I could get refuge from violent civil war, torture, and genocide, I would be very happy if I had someone, a local Syrian family sponsor me, or a local non-profit help me learn Arabic. You just have to think of what would you want if you were in that situation. So to answer your question, the people of Clarkston, and just the Atlanta community in large part, is incredibly compassionate and really has a heart, and it wouldn’t have been as successful as it has been if it weren’t for the thousands of volunteers and supporters in the Atlanta community who helped us over the years.

It’s a very simple thing. It’s the promise of America.

Yes, that’s the motivation. But I meet lots of refugees who say “I thought it would be totally different.” It’s six months of housing aid, another two months of food assistance, and the state government provides a little assistance, but within 180 days refugees need to have jobs, they need to have their kids enrolled in school. They need to actually be ready to live on their own because, quite frankly, there isn’t that much support. It used to be much more generous under Jimmy Carter, and even under Ronald Reagan there was a two-year government safety net, which has now been diminished down to six months. It’s hard. I meet lots of people who struggle, but they struggle with the perspective of where they came from that was an even more impossible struggle.

You’ve encountered some distinctly Southern resistance to the integration of Clarkston. Stone Mountain is just a ride down the road. It’s the birthplace of the KKK, they’ve got a Confederate theme park. Have you ever felt like we’re fighting a losing battle or had any dark nights of the soul type thing, when you’ve dealt with angry, mostly white, older residents who are just programmed to not believe anything you’re saying?

In 2019, central DeKalb county is a pretty progressive haven. I think Hillary Clinton got like 80% of part of the county. If you look at the donor map, Bernie Sanders was the biggest recipient of donors from the Clarkston area and Stone Mountain area. Yeah, Stone Mountain, they’ve got a bunch of Confederate flags flying and a bunch of old bullshit. But it is a decidedly progressive Democratic place. There are still some holdovers from the old times, but the reality is a lot of those people have either moved or died. Just in the time that I’ve been there, in the larger Clarkston/central DeKalb area, there has been a big generational shift. People who used to live there 60 years ago…Clarkston was 80% white, 20% descendants of former slaves. Those times have changed and it’s a good thing.

Your community is a national marvel based on American acceptance and inclusion. How have the citizens of Clarkston reacted and coped with the current administration?

During the 2016 election I encountered, just anecdotally, hanging out at the coffee shop in Clarkston, so I was just asking some of the customers there, “What do you think about Trump or Clinton?” And I met one guy from Ethiopia and he said, “Yeah, I’m voting for Trump because he’s going to stop all this illegal immigration.” His whole thing was “I waited in the refugee camp for 15 years. I waited my turn so all those other people should as well.” Now, by the same accord I’ve got other former refugees who are like “These people were fleeing across the southern border because they’re desperate.” We have several dozen of what were at the time called “The Lost Boys of Sudan” flee their village as children across a thousand miles, across multiple borders, to seek safety. So when you talk to them, they’re like “Gosh that was me 15 years ago when my entire village was massacred and we just kept running.”

How people approach immigration and the rhetoric, it’s very much born upon someone’s individual experience. I would say, though, the rhetoric of Make America Great Again, which has been interpreted by many people as Make America White Again, has been met with an outpouring of support for people who are different to show solidarity, in a sense of being welcoming to people who aren’t interested in fighting those culture wars. They just want to survive, and the investment that we make as a nation in people and welcoming and supporting and providing a place of refuge to people who fled their homes through no fault of their own, will pay dividends in the future world that, hopefully, has a little bit more empathy and compassion for each other.

It goes back to that Twain quote, when you are confronted with things that are different, and connect with someone on a human level, all of your prejudices and narrow-mindedness falls away, and you actually see people for their humanity, and when you see these people have a good community, we should help them. Of course we should help each other.

You’re in your second term as mayor. You’ve pulled off some pretty epic progressive victories with minimum wage, and marijuana decriminalization. Is there something you couldn’t get, or missed out on where it sticks in the back of your mind? What’s still on your agenda as unfinished business?

The thing I really set out to do as my top priority was to reform policing. I got elected really as the Black Lives Matter movement developed. That’s why we did the decriminalization of marijuana. We have to find ways to reduce and end mass incarceration, and one of the biggest causes of mass incarceration is arresting people for simple drug offenses. Decriminalization of marijuana was a big thing we did, but the biggest thing I wanted to do was actually reform policing in general and create a new paradigm in policing.

There is this model called civilian-led policing. I know it’s still controversial and some things still need to be worked out, but I want to work toward it. For instance, I’m on the DeKalb County Board of Health. Every county’s got a Board of Health Director, and the Board of Health is a civilian board who won County Commissioner, won Mayorships, and the rest are all people from the community, and their job is to be the board that regulates, hires, and fires the Director of the Health Department. And the concept of any civilian-led board being in charge of hiring and firing of the police, to me, makes all the sense in the world, because the police are the part of our government that interacts the most with ordinary civilians. There’s things that I don’t know that are going on that I need to have my police tell me about because they’re out there 24/7. They know what’s going on. I truly believe it creates a standard where the officers are even more accountable to the civilians that they’re protecting, that you’ll create new relationships, and they’ll change and will become one.

We’ve got to be partners and we’ve got to work together, and now we’re more interested in not arresting people and issuing tickets, but doing more community programs. I think the policy discussions and personnel decisions and how we do police review, all the different things that people are saying, are reforms that are needed. As long as politicians are in charge of that, you’ll see things move a lot slower, but if you empower civilians to have more control over this, then you’ll see an even more democratic change in how policing works.

I’m still going to work on civilian-led policing. If I get to the Senate, the mechanism there is to create funding and support policies that will actually help municipal police departments switch over to that model, and if I don’t make it to the senate, I’ll try ways to get it, whether in Clarkston or with DeKalb county police. There are a lot of police departments in Georgia that could use this training. That’s the biggest one.

You girlfriend, Andrea, ran and won a seat on the city council. When she runs for mayor of Clarkston in 2021 and probably wins, what issues might you like to see her tackle? What are you most looking forward to in your post-mayoral career?

Just on the city council. Clarkston is one of the few cities in the county that’s going through what’s called an audit from Welcoming America. This is part of our commitment to be more inclusive and more welcoming as a city, so weeks ago we did a full-scale audit of city government, as well as discussions with the community about what the city can be doing to make sure that we are more inclusive and integrated for our immigrant population and our newcomers. I imagine we’re going to have a lot of policy recommendations to come out of that audit because they’re not there to blow smoke. They’re here to say “No, y’all need to change this that and that.” It’s exciting because that’s probably going to take several years.

The other thing that’s exciting is [that] we made a commitment to 100% clean energy transition. So for the first step in that transition, Andrea was able to get a nearly $100,000 grant from a local foundation, and we’re also getting in funds from DeKalb County, block grant funds, as well as our affordable housing trust, which we created last year. Our goal is to do over several hundred energy-efficient retrofits for low income and fixed income, particularly seniors, homeowners, and apartment complex units that are aging, the goal there is new lighting, new heating and air, insulation, windows. Basically, upgrade the buildings to be as energy efficient as possible to hopefully change that energy bill to be one where they could potentially save thousands of dollars a year.

I love the Green New Deal for its energy and public housing plan. That’s just brilliant. Just that piece right there. If you just improve the housing stock by making utility bills more affordable, you make housing more affordable and we reduce our carbon emissions. We ran a big thing for the Sierra Club in Georgia called the 100% Campaign, and basically the argument was: in order to get to 100% clean energy, you have to use 50% less energy. So energy efficient upgrades in residential, commercial, and industrial sectors of our economy, that has to be the number one thing to focus on because it saves you money. That’s where the Green New Deal essentially pays for a lot of itself. We can transform housing and buildings in this country and literally save a trillion dollars over the lifespan of these buildings. That’s a really good investment. Those are just two things that she’s done.

What’s your favorite part of being an elected official?

The best and the worst part is the title of Mayor. You have the power that comes with it and you hear about all of the issues that people go through. It’s all local issues. It’s police, potholes, homelessness; it’s everything down to my neighbors grass.

I mean, speed bumps are what got you involved in politics in Clarkston.

Yep, and we got those speed bumps installed. So patience is very important within local government. One issue is being able to solve people’s problems that they bring forth to you. I try to have the perspective of the same urgency to solve these issues as the people who are bringing them to me. Someone says, “Gosh, I can’t afford my health insurance.” We need politicians to have that kind of urgency about universal health care, or they’ll say “We’ll have a public option and we’ll get there one day kind of thing.” No. If you are the person who can’t afford their insulin or gets cancer and can’t afford treatment, the urgency is not like, “Oh, yeah. We’ll figure this out at some point in the future.” That to me is the best part about being an elected official. But then there are some things as one individual that you just can’t do. There are some things where it’s like, I personally cannot do it, but we’re going to work on it. It’s a challenge because when you’re dealing with other elected officials who’ve gotten elected in their own right and have their own power, you, oftentimes, will encounter people who don’t want to change anything or don’t think anything needs to be changed or don’t have the same urgency. That can be frustrating, particularly when you’re coming from an activist or advocate point of view. I got involved in politics because I wanted to change things, not because I wanted the title.


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saleem khan
December 20th 2019

Thanks for taking the time to discuss this,
I feel strongly that love and read more on this topic.
If possible, such as gain knowledge,
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Marcia Kelley
December 24th 2019

Bull shit article on Clarkston.  Full of Shit and typos.  Just copying the language that you used in the article.  Totally incorrect and the Mayor needs to make some apologies for his lies about incoming council members.  Learn how to spell Ethiopia.

December 26th 2019

Ulama Malikiyah berpendapat bahwa yang terbaik qurban kambing dahulu, baru sapi, baru kemudian unta karena beradasarkan patokan rasa dan baiknya daging. Daging kambing aqiqah bandung paling lezat, kemudian sapi baru kemudian unta.

Berqurban dengan unta lebih baik dari sapi dan kambing karena lebih mahal dan lebih banyak dagingnya bagi kaum muslimin. Hal ini sebagaimana dalam suatu hadits disebutkan keutamaan orang yang datang ke masjid untuk shalat jumat. Yang lebih awal datang pahalanya lebih besar sebagaimana berqurban unta, kemudian yang datang setelahnya seperti berqurban sapi dan seterusnya.

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January 15th 2020

If he fits on that position then why not? I know him by Connecting on a Human Level. He’s a good man I think.