Peter Aman, Atlanta’s former Chief Operating Officer,brazenly put the issue of race on front street July 31st when he kicked off hisquixotic bid to be elected Atlanta’s next mayor. “Race frames this election,” heopined. The cachet of that compellingcomment has righteously resonated with Black voters, and reportedly catapulted hiscampaign.
Now Aman is convinced that pronouncement and passionatecampaign pursuit is paying off as we near election day. He’s come from an improbablenobody to number three in the polls, with a betting chance to win a spot in theanticipated runoff election.
“The reality is we are less than two weeks away and whocan win? Who has what I’m characterizing as a combination of quality andstriking distance, and that person is Peter,” says Mtamanika Youngblood, a revered Black community activist who is credited with orchestrating the revitalization of Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward and the MartinLuther King Jr. National Historic District as the founding executivedirector of the Historic DistrictDevelopment Corporation [HDDC]. “He tracked me down seeking my opinionabout Confederate Avenue and being very clear about the fact that if he lostbecause he wasn’t the best candidate, that’s okay! If he lost because he wasn’tBlack, he would be okay with that but didn’t want to lose because he wasn’t thebest candidate. I think it indicates thequality of the man and I don’t make decisions quickly or lightly. It’s taken meall year.”
Youngblood, who is now President and CEO of Sweet Auburn Works, is one of four prominent female leaders who recently publicly endorsed Aman’s mayoral candidacy.
Aman is one of the three white candidates in the field of ten running for the office. He isboldly making a purposeful pitch to Atlanta’s coveted black electorate. If victorious, Aman would be Atlanta’s first white mayor in 43 years. That’s when the late Mayor Maynard Jacksondefeated incumbent Sam Massell in 1974.
“It matters a lot in terms of honoring and paying homageto the leaders that built Atlanta,” Aman tells this reporter during aNEWSMAKERS Live interview recently about the possibility of becoming Atlanta’sfirst white mayor since Massell. “One of the things I talk about often is theimportance, particularly for me, of recognizing how Atlanta has been built overthe last five decades. That’s why ouroffices are in The Odd Fellows building on Auburn Avenue. The election ofMaynard Jackson put in place a new era for Atlanta that we are still reapingthe benefits of, and it’s very important to acknowledge that.” He says he will leave it to the voters tospeculate how Mayor Jackson would be feeling about his possible election.
Now meet another Jackson, and yet another fervent Amansupporter; an accomplished Southwest Atlanta media and public relationsprofessional with a bona fide Black Atlanta pedigree. She’s Kelley Bass Jackson, the formerdaughter-in-law of Mayor Maynard Jackson, who lives on Cascade Road in theheart of SW Atlanta just blocks from the homes of former mayors ShirleyFranklin and Andrew Young. Jackson hasnot only enthusiastically endorsed Aman, she also works for him.
Given the City Hall corruption scandal, Jackson arguesit’s Aman’s content and character that count---not his color. “It says that this candidate is white as allget out; but he is open-minded, thoughtful, compassionate, empathetic, andsmart,” opines the former Deputy Communications Director for former GeorgiaAttorney General Thurbert Baker. “He can steer us in the right way.”
Jackson has deep-seeded Atlanta roots; her mother wasa civil rights activist and her grandfather was one of Atlanta’s most popularrestaurant owners. Carmen AlexanderBass, and two other black tennis players integrated the then all-white Bitsy Grant Tennis Center in Buckhead at the behest and coordination of the lateJulian Bond back in the late 60’s. For50 years Jackson’s grandfather, Ernest Alexander, a widely respectedbusinessman, was the legendary owner Alec’s Bar-b-que on what was then Hunter Street.Now, it is Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
With such rich black family history, Jackson admits hersupport for Aman’s candidacy puts her in an awkward, if not, tough position.
“Yes, it does,” she says contritely. “Although Iremember Sam Massell as mayor, when Maynard was elected the feeling in Atlantawas tantamount to when Obama was elected president. It was glorious. And we’ve enjoyed a tradition of blackmayoral leadership ever since. Thedesire, in the community, to have a black mayor is endemic. However, if a collective desire to have ablack mayor existed among the other candidates, they all would not have runagainst each other. I’m not wed tohaving a black mayor. I want a greatmayor who cares about black people, and serving the least of these. Maynard had a heart for the people, and sodoes Peter.”
The ebullient and politically savvy Jackson, who has also worked as a communications consultant for The Andrew Young Foundation, recently hosted a robust fundraiser for Aman at her home, and he was grilled by her neighbors and friends with some tough questions.
Renita Shelton, who lives nearby, asked Aman, “Whatissue do you wish the candidates were talking about more during this election?”
“It’s the issue of race,” he replies. “I’m a white guyrunning for mayor and I’m on track to do very well. That’s a pretty big deal tohave a white male mayor in the city of Atlanta for the first time in 50 years.Nobody wants to talk about it.”
“They talk about it, but not out loud,” Jackson chimesin.
“It’s a lens to how everybody looks at me,” Aman adds.
Southwest Atlanta is under siege some homeowners therecomplain. They lament thatgentrification is rampant, but development is virtually non-existent. “There are no construction cranes dotting theskyline south of I-20,” says realtor Rodney Harris. “We’ve been forgotten. I’mafraid we are going to be priced out of Southwest Atlanta within fiveyears. Homes that were valued at $60,000are now selling for $300 thousand with a little renovation.”
Aman promises his administration will remedy that vexingproblem. “I say this all the time, we are forcing out of Atlanta the verypeople who built it; that’s just what we’re doing,” he says during Jackson’s informalfundraising gathering.
He continues, “If you want single-family houses on aquarter acre lot, you need a zoning code and that’s why we have to talk to eachneighborhood to understand what they want. Not everybody gets what they wantbut the zoning codes make sure you’re getting the right development. Makingsure there’s affordable housing is one of my top priorities and what we must dois use every tool in our toolbox. If you think about city government, there areabout 15 different tools that you can use for affordable housing. When I sayaffordable, I mean about $450 a month to $500 a month because that means youcan afford it on minimum wage.”
In 1963 Mayor Ivan Allen’s administration erected a wallon Peyton Road separating the black and white communities. It was quickly dubbed “Atlanta’s Berlin Wall”by an angry black community, and the resulting national media attention proved embarrassingto a city conscious of its image regarding race relations.
The realtor Rodney Harris was raised on Peyton Road,and was one of the first to move there after the wall was ruledunconstitutional. Now, he’s strongly considering voting for Aman.
“I’d vote for whoever I think is going to be best forthe city period as long as, they have a clear empathy level for what’s going onin the city,” he says. “It’s about what are you doing for the city. I don’twant to hear rhetoric, I want action. I was impressed with what he had to sayand his thought pattern because I knew of his experience. I was impressed withwhat he had to say about transportation, the re-development of the city, andunderstanding the economic disparities. Also, Aman’s understanding what needsto happen to correct the problems. This is a very pivotal time for Atlanta.”