Mayoral Candidate Forum on the Beltline
Tonight’s forum was better than the forum on Transportation in that there was more substance (for the most part) from the candidates, but worse in that all of the candidates lack any long-term vision for Atlanta. Each of the candidates desperately want to convince the voters that they’re going to get all the basics of running a city right before they embark on anything new.
I’ll get right to the highlight of the forum. The candidates all just finished “being honest” with everyone in explaining that the Beltline is not going to come anytime soon, and that any new major investments will have to wait for the city to get its finances in order. Cathy Woolard, the moderator, was exasperated. After each of the candidates’ answers, Woolard answered back (appropriately), “So we’re still driving.”
As Woolard was briefly pointing out that no one had any ideas for how to get the Beltline funded and running in five years, Mary Norwood chimed in to ask Woolard how she would accomplish that. Woolard’s answer, essentially, was to get the Northeast quadrant built first and fast (and her answer here was the opposite of what Norwood said she would do). Make sure this quadrant serves those populations already poised to heavily use the transit along this corridor — students, tourists, etc. Then the success of that quadrant could be used as a springboard to justify more funding for the rest of the Beltline. This approach, Woolard was quick to mention, has been used in other cities (and she named which ones) successfully.
Cathy Woolard earned the round of applause she got, and she stole the show. As Wheatley pointed out, she probably earned 200 write-in votes right there. I swear, I think Cathy Woolard must have been an outlier in Atlanta politics back when she was on City Council — she is so good. Atlanta — with its entrenched interests and culture-wide lack of vision — did not deserve someone with her level of competence and vision. She is still missed.
- Norwood was late to the forum because she was stuck in traffic. This is clearly the easiest thing to comment about. Teeter, teeter.
- While the other candidates were more substantive tonight than in the transportation forum, Spikes was less substantive. He spoke more in theoretical language than anyone. This guy really needs to step aside. Thanks for running, really, but please understand that experience and knowledge are not nearly the handicaps you wish they were. History is replete with “not a politician” politicians running and failing.
- Reed stayed for the whole forum, this time. He had an easier time talking about how well he would work with the legislature — Democrats and Republicans. The City of Atlanta, however, has all sorts of non-partisans to deal with. If you think dealing with the legislature is messy, wait until you wade into city politics.
- Borders once again won on technical competence, but her lack of vision was on display in a greater way than with the other candidates (all of whom lack vision). She clearly understands better than the other candidates what will make Atlanta a great city. But she seems to really lack a clear vision for how to make it happen.
There’s a big problem here in that on the one hand, all of the candidates lack vision. But on the other hand, all of the candidates want to get the basics right, as though there is some set-in-stone, objective way of running a big city.
A personal note, tangentially relevant (if you don’t like tangents, skip this paragraph): several years ago I learned something very important about myself: that I’m better off not actually managing an organization, even though I have a college degree in the subject. There’s a certain skill they can’t really teach you by the book. The academic term they use for it is “tacit knowledge.” It’s not to say I’m completely a by-the-book kind of guy — but that I have come to realize that I can be a leader in a much different sort of way than by being a manager. (If you don’t believe me, just ask anyone who has had the unfortunate experience of having to report directly to me.)
Some organizations, when they look for managers, use what they call a tacit knowledge test to help them hire better managers. And studies have shown that these sorts of tests consistently demonstrate the highest validity in finding the right people to hire into management positions. My gut feeling is that should a “mayoral tacit knowledge test” be administered for these four candidates, the test would predict that none of these candidates would have the ability to lead Atlanta’s government to a Renaissance, much less be able to get the basics right.
The “getting the basics right” approach is no way to lead a city government. There are already plenty of bureaucrats working in City Hall — we don’t need another one at the top. The problem with focusing on getting the basics right is that it means you’re willing to let the visionary things lay fallow. The city will not be able to compete if its chief administrator just focuses on the accounting department. Please don’t let the bean counters take over.
Tonight’s forum was the candidates’ best opportunity to convey to the voters that they have the vision that’s needed to move the city forward. As a candidate, are you just going to let existing processes driving the Beltline keep inching the project forward, or are you willing to find different ways of making it happen? The candidates, tonight, were all essentially in lockstep: “Beltline transit isn’t going to happen for at least another 30 years, and there’s nothing I can do about that.”
Somebody, please, just let Cathy Woolard take the reins.