ATLANTA — The top eight candidates for Atlanta's mayor based on polling faced off right here in our Channel 2 Action News studio.
Mary Norwood, Keisha Lance Bottoms, Peter Aman, Ceasar Mitchell, Cathy Woolard, Vincent Fort, Kwanza Hall and John Eaves took each other to task on public safety.
All eight candidates voiced support for Atlanta Police officers and the need to keep them employed here and keep them happy.
There were also ideas from the different candidates about how to tackle repeat offenders, criminal justice reform, and juvenile crime.
"I am appalled that we have decimated our police department with 14-18 men and women leaving every month because the pension plan does not work for them," said Mary Norwood.
"I think we need to take a tougher stance when it comes to our re-entry programs, we need to make sure that people out of prison, they have an opportunity, for education, job training, etc," said Keisha Lance Bottoms.
"Now, what we need to do when I'm mayor is to pay our officers more, five to $10,000 more, so we are at the top of the market in Atlanta," said Kwanza Hall.
"I'm in awe of our officers but they need more help, we have to do targeted pay raises, we have to provide them with take-home vehicles," said Peter Aman.
"We've got to make sure we're doing real criminal justice reform, which means not putting people in jail for things they should not be in jail for," said Ceasar Mitchell.
"We've got to do more with young people that would be very very specialized in getting guns off our street and gangs out of our city," said Cathy Woolard.
"I think we need to close one of the jails down, $35 million we're using to stop the school to prison pipeline in our city," said John Eaves.
"We have to understand that if we're going to deal with the public safety issue that we have then the community is going to have partner with police," said Vincent Fort.
Norwood, who is leading the polls, noted that candidate Aman was the city’s chief operating officer in 2010 and 2011 at the start of when federal authorities allege that someone in city hall began taking bribes to secure city contracts.
“In 2011, I was not at city hall,” Norwood said. “Mr. Aman was.”
Norwood quoted a lawsuit accusing Aman and current Mayor Kasim Reed of violating city code.
“Hold on,” Aman said, adding that Norword had misrepresented the facts and that the city had won the lawsuit.
Things got uglier from there, signaling a shift in tone and intensity as the contest enters its final two weeks.
Fort criticized Council President Mitchell for waiting to call for a city hall compliance officer to investigate inappropriate financial dealings a few weeks ago. He said it sounded a lot like legislation he had proposed in January. Fort also noted that City Councilwoman Lance Bottoms had called his proposal a gimmick.
“I did call it a gimmick,” Bottoms acknowledged. She then referenced a federal tax lien against Fort and said he had his state paycheck garnished from his time as a lawmaker.
Fort then pulled out documents from his suit jacket that he said were copies of federal tax liens against Bottoms.
Bottoms said she and her husband fell behind on their bills after incurring expenses while starting a family.
Fort said he had a payment arrangement on his lien. When candidates file to run for office, they must sign an oath stating they don’t owe any public money including state and federal taxes. But it also says they can still be eligible as long as they are on a payment plan.
“Did you sign an oath that do not owe any taxes to the government?” Bottoms repeatedly asked Fort.
After the event, Channel 2 Political Analyst Bill Crane said there was no knock-out blow or big win in tonight's debate but a few candidates stood out.
"You had a particularly good performance by Keisha Lance Bottoms, Ceasar Mitchell, the president of the Atlanta City Council, and I think there were a lot of compelling ideas that came out of John Eaves even though he's not doing that well in the polls," Crane said.
Crane says Norwood, who is leading in the polls, seemed to play it safe Sunday.
"I thought, kind of, you didn't see a lot of the passion that I know the candidate has in her answers tonight, but she did have a little bit more detail on some of the things she would plan to do if she were to be elected mayor," Crane explained.
Thirteen candidates in all are vying for office, making this one of the largest Atlanta mayoral races in recent years.
Voters will cast their ballots on November 7.
If it comes to a runoff, voters will decide between the top two candidates in early December.
A minute-by-minute recap of Sunday's debate can be found here.
WSB is your home for all things regarding this election. Check our detailed guide to the Atlanta mayor's race here.
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