News, Politics

In Atlanta’s race for mayor, candidate forums could lose effectiveness

Atlanta mayoral candidates, from left, Felicia Moore, Andre Dickens, Sharon Gay, Antonio Brown and Walter Reeves take part in a forum.
Atlanta mayoral candidates, from left, Felicia Moore, Andre Dickens, Sharon Gay, Antonio Brown and Walter Reeves take part in a forum.
Credit Emil Moffatt / WABE

There have been a lot of mayoral candidate forums organized by civic groups and media organizations in Atlanta as 14 candidates try to set themselves apart in a nonpartisan race to run a heavily Democratic city.

In fact, there are so many forums that candidates often rush to get to all of them.

“I just ran in the door,” mayoral candidate and City Council President Felicia Moore said at the beginning of a virtual forum on transportation this week.

“Pardon us, we just came from another event,” Councilmember Andre Dickens, another mayoral candidate, told the audience. “We’ve been rolling all day.”

With so many public discussions on city issues, the effect on voters may be marginal as not all forums are created equal.

“Forums are helpful, depending on who’s asking the question,” says Clark Atlanta University political scientist Tammy Greer, an expert in civic engagement.

When moderators ask questions that are not specific enough, candidates will revert to canned answers as by now they all have an answer to the question of “What will you do about crime in Atlanta,” Greer said.

“The how is the difference. How do they implement the policy?”

But since the mayor’s race is nonpartisan, it can be hard for candidates to set themselves apart on policy, which may be one reason an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll last month showed more than 40% of voters were undecided.

Another reason may be just voting hangover from the 2020 marathon election cycle in Georgia.

“Seven different elections, there’s a little bit of fatigue,” said political strategist Fred Hicks.

Still, he expects Atlantans will go to the polls in large numbers.

“People are going to vote, they’re going to fulfill their civic duty, but how you as a campaign reach them is really challenging in this environment. Remember, the mayor’s race is just one race,” he said.

There are several city council and school board races voters to weigh in on as well.

“There are a lot of decisions to make for City of Atlanta voters right now. And it can be very confusing given everything that’s happening in the space right now,” Hicks said.

One way to pick a candidate and stay engaged is talking to your neighbors.

“People in your community, particularly legacy residents, have an understanding of the complexity of the issues and the impact on them,” said Greer.

And while the glut of candidate forums may not be as helpful to the voting public in deciding on a candidate, Hicks said they do serve as an important function of putting politicians on the record.

Early voting in Atlanta’s municipal elections starts on Oct. 12. Election day is Nov. 2.