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Thursday, September 17, 2009 - 8:47pm

Atlanta Mayoral Debate Big on Ideas, Short on Specifics

Atlanta City Council President Lisa Borders wants the city of Atlanta, along with other Georgia municipalities, to collect sales tax revenues, recruit the best “new blood” to head city departments, and improve city services.

Georgia State Senator Kasim Reed wants a “compassionate and muscular” policy to deal with the city’s homeless population, save the city’s pension system without reducing benefits, and offer more affordable housing to the city’s middle class.

Atlanta City Councilwoman Mary Norwood wants to rehabilitate apartment complexes in foreclosure and offer them up as affordable housing, hire a Chief Operating Officer for Atlanta and put the homeless in downtown to work through a city program.

In short, there were a lot of ideas presented at the Atlanta mayoral debate at Inman Middle School. But when moderator Dennis O’Hayer of WABE-FM asked the candidates how they would pay for their plans, all three avoided giving hard numbers.

“I think this is a difficult time for any mayoral candidate to plan exactly what they want to accomplish,” said Norwood, when pressed after the debate on how she would pay for proposals with tax collections down and demand for city services up.

All three candidates said that if elected: The city’s finances would become more transparent; they are eager to search out public-private partnerships to help the city continue with projects, such as the Beltline, through rough economic times; their solutions to turn things around will begin with a thorough review of the city’s books; and they promise to restore the city’s fortunes, which they described in depressing fashion.

“We are broke and broken,” as Borders put it, before offering up her plans to turn the city around. Reed channeled John Winthrop as he told the crowd of about 200, “I believe we can be that city on a hill again.”

Of course, when John Winthrop delivered his speech in the 17th century, the major deficit that boatloads of Puritans faced was food, not a potential multimillion dollar budget shortfall.

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