(Exclusive) Al Bartell: The Independent Atlanta Mayoral Candidate Who Hopes to Stem the Flow of Black People Out of the City
(Exclusive) Al Bartell: The Independent Atlanta Mayoral Candidate Who Hopes to Stem the Flow of Black People Out of the City
Atlanta Black Star’s editorial staff is conducting a series of interviews with Atlanta mayoral candidates for the upcoming 2017 November election. After interviewing each candidate we will endorse one based on how their policy ideas will impact our readership.
Al Bartell refers to himself as, among other things, “the community participation candidate.” In truth, there is much in his background to support that label. Given that background, his positions and answers to several interview questions will not be surprising. In regard to law enforcement and police accountability, he supports expanding community policing and strengthening the existing Citizens Review Board.
Bartell describes his ideas on reversing the decline of African-Americans in Atlanta. He favors increasing financial support for community groups so they can improve their capacity, supports using leverage on banks to encourage them to invest more in small businesses and is against what he refers to as “disruptive urban gentrification,” although he may find his emphasis on community land trusts to be slightly more difficult than he describes.
Bartell distinguishes himself from the other “left” candidate Vincent Fort by saying he is the “community engagement” candidate and Fort is the “political marketing candidate” and the community is “no longer interested in the political marketing candidate. They want a community engagement candidate.”
However, as a self-described “left of center” candidate, Bartell may surprise some with his answers and discussion in regard to raising the local minimum wage (or establishing a “living wage”).
At the end of the day, how Bartell fares in the mayoral election may have little to do with any of the answers he provides in interviews or with any of his public statements. Even in a technically nonpartisan election, he is an independent candidate — independent of the traditional political machines, and by definition, independent of the large campaign contributions that accompany those machines. As Bartell explains, he is relying on the high levels of national unrest, protest and political activism to spill over into the mayoral election. “If that keys up and goes to the polls, I’m their candidate and I’m the next mayor.”
Time will tell. Find out more about the candidate at his website Bartell For Mayor.
Below is an edited version of the interview with mayoral candidate Al Bartell held Feb. 16, 2017, at the offices of Atlanta Black Star. [The full transcript is attached.]
Present from Atlanta Black Star: Neil Nelson, co-founder and chairman; Cliff Albright, contributing writer; Tanasia Kenney, staff writer; Kamau Franklin, political and social editor.
Neil Nelson: You hopefully see the entire picture, and you probably have in your mind what you think are the top issues that voters should be thinking about if they’re not already doing so. Can you just give us an overview of what those top five issues are?
Al Bartell: Absolutely, absolutely. The top five issues are categorical in nature. The first one is housing, the second one is small business development. The third one’s transportation, the fourth one is public safety and the fifth one is public health. It would be education, but the city of Atlanta doesn’t have an accountability for education. We have an actual board of education, so the fifth one is public health rather than education.
That’s the content, so to speak. The context, as you put it, is a global context. In fact, metropolitan Atlanta in particular, and the city of Atlanta specifically, has been chosen and selected as a global destination. As a structure for government, we are not prepared for that accountability. The way to get prepared for that accountability, we must have leadership and that leadership has to be in the executive office, which we know as the mayor. In order to accept the offer of being selected as a global destination, I think that it’s useful, like you say, to build on our history as a people of growing who we are, developing who we are and sustaining who we are.
In order to grow who we are as a people, develop who we are as a people and sustain who we are as a people, we have to put preventive measures in place to withstand that which threatens our survival. The most powerful threat to our survival as a people in America, particular in the Southeast region of the nation, is being picked as a global destination. We’re not prepared for the onslaught of data that we have to deal with to sustain ourselves as a people in the Southeast region of the nation.
The reason for that is we’ve gone through four public policy ages in America. The first public policy age was agriculture. We measured how we dealt with work, play and worship by our relationship to nature. Then, we moved into the industrial age, large smokestacks, industry, workers, organized labor, which shaped our relationship to work, play and worship. Then, we moved into the computer or the information age, where tons of information, computers, the whole automated reference points, shaped our relationship to work, play and worship. Now, we’re in the communications age, where we measure our performance as leadership in the Black community by what and how we communicate.
The challenge is in the South, we didn’t have the large smokestacks of industry, thousands of people in the workforce, that whole organized model. We didn’t have that here in the South nor did we have the 100-story buildings with mainframe computers on every floor. We didn’t have the automated reference point here in the South. In effect, we’ve been snatched out of the agricultural age and slammed into the communications age and we’re not prepared for that kind of reference point. Those of us who are leaders, we have to prepare our people to deal with being selected as a global destination.
Cliff Albright: Out of the five categories you gave us, a little bit later on there will be specific questions on housing and small business. But, out of the other three — transportation, public safety and health — pick any one of those three and give us a specific policy that you have in mind for that area.
Bartell: Sure. Let’s go with public safety. You know, there’s been a lot of conversation about Black males, in particular, being blown away on the street. What are we going to do about that, the whole relationship of distrust to the police? We have to shift the relationship from police to a militaristic model to a community policing model. That’s the public policy I want to put in place, Cliff, is to shift the dialogue from a militaristic model of police to a community policing model. If we do that, we got a shot at shifting our relationship to violence prevention and shifting our relationship to public safety as a public policy model.
Kamau Franklin: I’m still going to challenge you to dig a little deeper on that. I get the budgeting part, but what does that look like in terms of how the police interact with the community on the street? How does that community model differ from what we have now?
Bartell: It differs in three ways. We can set up housing where we house police in these neighborhoods and communities. We used to have public housing projects, we don’t have those anymore. We have large-scale apartments now that function the same way. We want to have police live in those apartment complexes. A lot of the disadvantaged areas in Atlanta are rental areas, over 90 percent rental areas. We have to set up police where they live in those areas.
The other thing we got to do is design a hybrid model between a car patrol and foot patrol. Right now, maybe 10 percent to 15 percent of the patrol is foot patrol, and the other 85 percent to 90 percent is car patrol. We’ve got to increase the matrix of foot patrol. Having police officers live in the challenged areas, increasing the amount of foot patrol, and then, a public communication. Public awareness, public service announcements, where the police communicate directly to the community about what’s available, who they are, where they are, with community advisory councils. If we do those three things, get police to live in the community, be able to shift the dialogue about what we say and how we say it, and be able to shift the whole relationship to who a police officer is, then we can reshape the dialogue on violence prevention.
Nelson: Do you see any role in that model for community oversight of the police in the community?
Bartell: I do. I want to take the citizen’s review board and make it a critical part of the executive management of the office of the mayor. Right now, it’s, for the most part, some afterthought with some citizens getting together. They don’t have a reliable budget, no staff, their investigative work is done by the police department themselves. I want to strip that model out and get a reliable citizen’s review board that is fully staffed and inside the budget.
Kamau Franklin: In terms of your motto, you didn’t speak about drug laws or anything of that nature. I know some of that is handled at the state level, but, obviously, the enforcement by the police, the mayor can have a lot of input in how these actually operate in the community. Do you have any thinking or policy ideas around some of the current drugs laws and how enforceable you would want them to be under your administration?
Bartell: The drug laws are not working because they’re not connected to the community. It’s all resource driven — How many people can you arrest? How much money can you pull off the street? How much drugs can you pull off the street? There’s no partnership between the community and police about crime prevention. It’s all after the crime has happened. We want to shift the public policy to front-end-load crime prevention the same way we front-end-load criminal arrest and prosecution.
Franklin: I’m going to describe you as a left-of-center candidate. The other left-of-center candidate in your race is Vincent Ford. What’s the difference between you and Vincent Ford?
Bartell: The difference between me and Vincent Ford is Vincent does political marketing. I do community engagement. On any given day, a political marketing scenario, Vincent is going to blow you away. The community is now clear, that’s not the model they’re interested in. They’re no longer interested in the political marketing candidate. They want a community engagement candidate. That’s the difference between me and Uncle Vince.
Tanasia Kenney: In 1990, the city of Atlanta was about 67 percent African-American and right now, it’s about 50 percent African-American. What policies do you plan to enact in order to incentivize the reversal of African-Americans leaving the city?
Bartell: Well, let me use a more cultural term. Some of us begin to break down the language of people of African descent. There are two cultural languages, if you will. One of them is African-Americans, the other one is Black folks. African-Americans have moved out to the suburbs. Black folks are still in the city. When that number decreases, the African-American population decreases. What I’m interested in doing to attract that back and decrease the outflow is put small-business development at the same public-policy level as corporate employment. The current job-creation model in our city is a corporate-employment model. That is not going to work. It’s just not.
Nelson: I’m going to piggyback on that response with another question that we had planned for later. Since we’re already here, though, let’s talk about that. In a small business — and, obviously, that’s what we are, we’re a small, Black-owned business, and we understand the pain points of small businesses — what exactly can a mayor do to help small businesses in general grow? Again, what I’ve seen in the research says that the top three issues for small businesses are finance, finance and finance. What can the mayor do now — what the current mayor should be doing that he’s not doing — and what would you do to help those small businesses come back in the city, stay in the city, and most importantly, grow?
Bartell: Grow. I think what the current mayor should be doing, and what I will be doing, is the exact same thing that Maynard Holbrook Jackson did. It’s not rocket science. He knew the impact of a city budget and city contracts. Particularly, there can be links to federal dollars and philanthropic dollars. He went to the banking industry and said the following: “I will move my money if you do not support a small-business development framework.” I’m clear that if we had a mayor who had the courage or the intention to do that, it would have the same impact. The resources we have here to sustain subcontracting, like the airport, the data card is coming up in midtown, all of metro that feeds off a data matrix now, we can sustain a small-business network by having the city budget and all the contracts that a city budget impact be leveraged for the banking industry to support a small-business development model.
Maynard Holbrook Jackson did that. I have not seen the last three mayors do that, and I’m interested in putting that back in place. You know, it’s not rocket science. The model that New Orleans used as a comeback model was that model. When Mitch Landrieu, the new mayor of New Orleans, decided that he was going to call a meeting of the banking industry and talk about numbers and support and financing, they bought into it because they could see the growth development, they just didn’t have any access to it. It’s not going to be transported to Detroit. The new underpinning model, they’re not lobbying for corporations to come in there. They’re going to set up a small-business model and the way you do that is by having a city administration move that money to areas that can sustain the banking industry. The banking industry is not going to move unless there’s sustainable data that is resource-driven. The only resource in challenged communities is a city budget and city contracts.
Kenney: Affordable housing has been in the news lately with the Beltline area not [making] its affordable housing goals and widespread gentrification of [Atlanta] placed in certain neighborhoods. On your issue page, you mentioned the disruption of urban gentrification. Can you explain what that is?
Bartell: Sure. When gentrification is a participatory model — by that, I mean gentrification includes the disadvantages — then you can work out scenarios and it’s going to take time. When gentrification includes the disadvantages, a model can be set up to impact all of the forces that cause gentrification that is disruptive. Disruptive urban gentrification is gentrification that does not include the disadvantages.
For example, the housing market in metro is going to be funded, no question. There’s Northside Drive and the mayor’s out there with a starter pistol and he pulls that trigger and that thing’s going to rush across Northside Drive and eat up everything between Northside Drive and 285. If we consider that the people who live over there cannot even meet the threshold of what’s currently called affordable housing, so a market-driven model is not going to work. You got to have a support-driven model that works. The only one currently that works in the southern part of the United States is what’s called community land trust, where the community owns the land, and you, in effect, own the house.
When you leave, you leave all that behind. You don’t get to sell it, you don’t get to do the windfall profit. There’s several zones throughout the city where we can create a community land trust. We went to the mayor, we went to the city council, we asked them to do it, and because they couldn’t justify it in a market-driven model where the right people couldn’t get a return on their investments, they wouldn’t move on it.
A city budget and a county budget and a federal budget can be designed to impact community land trust and community land trust zones and set up the kind of affordable housing that’s going to be necessary. Because the affordable housing model currently leaves out 95.3 percent of the people who can’t meet the criteria for an affordable housing model. We have to have a community land trust model that worked in the early ’80s that we will be able to sustain at the level of an urban neighborhood and prevent urban gentrification, disruptive urban gentrification.
Franklin: Where would you get that money in the budget to sort of re-orientate towards that model, and what kind of fight back would you expect from developers who say, “You know, leave this model alone because we like it because we get rich on it.”?
Bartell: Absolutely. One of the things that is one of the best-kept secrets in Atlanta is one of the largest land owners in the city of Atlanta is the City of Atlanta. The whole reference point to land ownership in the city of Atlanta is huge. The things we could do with community reinvestment dollars from the banking industry. The city puts up a match, community reinvestment dollars are available. We just have not had the political courage or, more specifically, when we use a corporate model of governance and a corporate model of development, then that’s not going to happen.
We have to use a community-based model of development. The city being such a land, a large land owner, we could get at least 35 to 40 percent of the rental community in community land trust today because of just the land that the city owns. We challenge the elected leadership who say that they’re only going to invest in a market-driven model because they don’t have the land. We challenge that because the data shows that over 30 percent of development land in the city of Atlanta, the city owns.
Albright: Yeah, maybe, or there may be more. Is the community land trust your primary vehicle for addressing the affordable housing issue? If not, are there any other?
Bartell: It’s the prime issue. It is absolutely the prime, No. 1 issue. Absolutely. It’s the one that Marian Berry used up in Washington D.C., and then Coleman Young used it in Detroit. Bradly used it out in Los Angeles, and so the community land trust model works. Man, that corporate market-driven model was so strong and Wall Street backed it on the investment calendar that you couldn’t even get people to talk about community land trust. Now that we’ve separated the hedge fund money from the Wall Street investment model, we can bring that conversation back to bear.
Franklin: Would you put any resources into building affordable housing particularly for renters?
Bartell: Absolutely. Multifamily can be a key component. Over on Joseph E. Bloom Boulevard, in particular, the multifamily model worked real, real well. We took them helicopters and went in there and took the bluff back. Let’s put multifamily housing in there.
Albright: In your issue section of your website, you say you want to protect the environment … from urban pollution and urban density. Can you describe what you mean by that, and what laws and/or policy initiatives would you enact to counter those things?
Bartell: Sewer laws. Our sewer laws are horrible when it comes to being able to address urban density, to the degree that we had to “sue” the city of Atlanta. We were betting on the EPA to back our hand and they didn’t. The consent decree went in and it was supposed to be finalized by 2013 or there was going to be a huge fine and a court monitor would take over the management of that sewer system. Because President Obama wanted to get re-elected, and rightfully so, and Atlanta was a great fundraising base, and rightfully so, the power broker said, “Well, if you want that to happen here, we need an extension on our consent decree.” They moved it out to 2026 and the EPA signed off on it.
What I want to do, Cliff, is I want to make sewer redesign a part of public policy development. Nothing moves on the development scale unless the sewer system can support it. That means we’ve got to go from combined sewers to separated sewers. We’ve got to go from just having it be an afterthought in the Department of Watershed Management to an entire what’s called a public utility. We don’t have a public utility in our city. We’re not going to be able to manage an environmental concern without having a public utility. As mayor, one of the first departments I want to create is a public utility department. That way, I can restore the sewer system, restore our relationship to environmental policy and restore our relationship to state, county and federal government in the area of environmental protection that we currently do not have.
Kenney: Also on your website, you have an outline of ways for stakeholders to engage with government. How do you practically see yourself enacting these ideas?
Bartell: It’s a capacity-building strategy. We have to build the capacity of neighborhood leaders, community leaders, faith leaders and small-business leaders to communicate data, collect data and distribute data. For example, on any given day, we can go into the community and see entrepreneurs selling stuff, making things happen, hospitality. How many laptops do you see of people collecting data and information from their customers? How many laptops do you see that can say, “Here, I can give you a print-out right now of how to be in communication with me and the kind of products that are available and the kind of events that’s going to last from March to October”? That kind of capacity building for small businesses would be critical.
The communication relationship is already in place neighborhood to neighborhood. People grew up here, they know each other, but none of that’s on data. None of that has been captured. None of that information has been collected, so to speak. The faith community, on any given Sunday, the amount of communication and people and impact and contacts is huge. How much of this is on data? You’ve got major churches who you see a group of people huddled in the back of the church on Sunday morning, holding programs that they printed up the night before.
The whole relationship to neighborhood leaders, community leaders, faith leaders and small-business leaders and building their capacity for data would give us the opportunity to build economic, social, political and faith-based structures that we currently do not have. That’s what it’s going to take, by the way, to address the challenges that come with being selected as a global destination. That’s why, on the website, I put, “Neighborhood leaders, community leaders, faith leaders and small-business leaders.” Then, I put, “Communicate data, collect data and distribute data.” Then, the last part of where you measure the capacity building is in the design of projects, programs, ministries, initiatives, coalitions, collaboratives and networks.
Albright: Would you support the establishment of a minimum wage in Atlanta? If so, how much should it be and why?
Bartell: Love those labor questions. Here’s the deal, Cliff. We have to establish a collective bargaining strategy in our city. The current strategy in place of strong-arm tactics for political marketing strategies is a disservice to the labor community and a disservice to the employee base. If we had a collective bargaining strategy, the minimum wage would automatically be a part of it. It wouldn’t be some afterthought that we now got to lobby for and march for and advocate for if we had a collective bargaining strategy.
We don’t have to have a certified public policy for a union in order to have a collective bargaining strategy. We can have unions be at the table designing a collective bargaining strategy in our city. If we do that, the minimum wage would come along with it, Cliff. We can’t just do a standalone reference point called minimum wage because there’s no framework, no structure in place that can manage all the partners, that can manage the data, that can manage the governance. To just do a minimum wage without governance is not going to work and we can’t sustain that.
If we do collective bargaining strategies, then we can do a minimum wage, we can sustain it and we won’t have to use the financing of the pitching system to hijack the rights of employees. Right now, we use the firing of the pitching system to hijack the rights of employees. Under a collective bargaining strategy, we could challenge that. The city council has the authority to put one in place, just like the mayor was. Now, it’s going to take political courage to do that and I’m willing to put that kind of matrix in place.
Franklin: [Question on minimum wage] I just have to be clear, though. Do you support, even if it’s a collective bargaining strategy, do you support a raising of the minimal amount … in Atlanta even under a system of collective bargaining?
Bartell: I support raising it to what the market will bear. The metropolitan Atlanta market can bear $23-$24 an hour because we’re just that [connected] to the global economy that’s becoming a data-driven model. The manufacturing base that strapped places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, those Rust [Belt] cities, we didn’t have that here. We’re on the ground floor of building an economy. The economy that’s going to be built in the Southeast region of the nation can support an escalation in the wages, absolutely.
Nelson: [Minimum wage follow-up] For clarity’s sake, for my clarity at least, if you’re the mayor, do you have an idea what that number would be [for] the city employee?
Bartell: A city employee now, given that we’re in a data-driven economy, we could justify $17.50 per employee, absolutely.
Kenney: On your website, you have a question about revitalizing the community through infrastructure projects and initiatives. Can you give me some specific examples of how you’ll enact policy to build infrastructure and what does that word mean for you?
Bartell: Reliably so, and in my opinion, justifiably so, the criticism of the Republican governance strategy is justified. One of the things that they are going to do is fund infrastructure. The market for funding infrastructure in America is in the Southeast region of the nation. That money is going to come out of Washington, D.C., through the South like Grant through Richmond. That’s an old Civil War term. The question is can we develop an entrepreneurship approach to city government and take advantage of the infrastructure funding that is coming? That’s what I mean by an infrastructure strategy based on public policy and the funding that’s going to be coming.
Many of the arguments made in urban American that we’re not going to be able to do X, X, X because they’re going to cut off the funding, they’re going to cut off this, and they’re going to cut off that. That assessment is accurate, except for when it comes to infrastructure. Because they’re clear that the job creation base, the job sustainability base, and all those markets that are going to fund the investment ratio up in New York, is going to come from urban framework. That infrastructure has to be in those urban frameworks. We as a city need to position ourselves to start to plan for that now. On my website, I’m talking about now, let’s do the planning. Let’s do the planning.
Albright: Just off of what we now know, the status quo [without the federal government providing infrastructure dollars]… what do we have within our own means to do our own infrastructure spending? If the cavalry doesn’t come, what will you do?
Bartell: If the cavalry doesn’t come, then the banks are going to fork over that money. Because all the investment scenarios of the banking industry are based on infrastructure. If it doesn’t come, they’re going to fund it themselves. Case in point: We, Atlanta, got picked as a global destination. We talk about American football and the Super Bowl. American football has a Super Bowl once a year. Soccer has events like that two or three times a week. The Mercedes Benz stadium, that’s not an American football stadium. That is a global soccer stadium that was built with private money. What I’m saying to you is, if money for infrastructure doesn’t come from Washington, D.C., the private sector’s going to fund it because they want to participate in that global economy.
Nelson: How does the city make sure that those kind of units are not being overrun or being bought out or undercut by that private equity money that comes in to fund the infrastructure?
Bartell: You have to build the capacity of the people who live there. Which means the following: I’ve got to go to those neighborhood associations and say, “I want to know everybody on all these streets that’s got a computer. I want to know how many people on these streets that’s got a cell phone. I want to know how many people on these streets have been to what’s called some kind of training and development about organizing or project management.” That becomes my database. As a mayor, if I can do that, then I can start building the capacity.
The only way that it’s going to happen is I’ve got to build the capacity of neighborhood, community, faith and small-business leaders. Because, currently, they don’t have the capacity to sit at the table. They don’t have the capacity to communicate and they don’t have the capacity to prevent their own neighborhoods. As much as I am guilty of criticizing Kaseem, there are things that he says that are blatantly, cold-bloodedly accurate. One of them is the following: He says, “I could take a hundred million dollars per neighborhood and give it to them today and they wouldn’t know what to do with it. They wouldn’t be able to handle it.” He’s accurate when he says that.
Franklin: Let’s move on to our Trump question. You’d be considered … left of [center]. Knowing that Trump’s administration is considered far right, what are the things you think you may have in common with the Trump administration that you can work on together in Atlanta if you were to become mayor?
Al Bartell: The Trump administration is far right on everything but the investments criteria. They aren’t far right on the investments criteria, they are straight down the middle. If that return on investment can be justified, it’s coming. All of the economic development data, save the following. The most sustainable growth and development opportunities are in the southern cities of the United States of America. Atlanta is at the top of the list because of the … resource base we got here. Airport, hospitality industry, sports industry. We’ve got all kind of feeders that the investment community uses. The person who knows that better than anybody is Donald Trump. He’s a major player in the hospitality industry and it’s coming to serve that global sports industry. What there is for us to do is plan for that. If we plan for it, we can participate in it. The Trump administration, they’re going to follow that investment matrix. They’re not far right on it, they don’t have some manic ideology about it, it is solid, reliable and sustainable and it’s coming.
Nelson: The final question. Atlanta Black Star, our publication. We reach over six million per month of the country. Atlanta, in particular, we reach over 300,000. I think that’s significant for America. Can you give me five reasons why our readers should vote for you, and why we should potentially endorse you and tell them to vote for you?
Bartell: [Atlanta] Black Star has the capacity to communicate, collect and distribute data. That’s what you do. All day, every day. No other candidate is going to come in here and talk to you about their relationship to communicating data, collecting data and distributing data. If the matrix for communicating data, collecting data and distributing data becomes the power broker reference point for the 2017 mayoral election, Black Star is in a position to broker that election. Because you know how to communicate to both African-Americans and Black folks. The Inquirer doesn’t have that matrix. The Tribune doesn’t have that matrix.
None of the other Black publications have the matrix of data reference point like you do. They just don’t have it. They could have it, but they don’t. No other candidate is going to come in here and communicate to you about your strength that you currently have and it’s relationship to the larger marketplace like I have communicated. That’s the kind of mayor you’re going to need, that’s the kind of mayor that will be useful for your support and that’s kind of mayor that can hear what you’re communicating. That’s why you should endorse me and tell your folks to vote for me.
Franklin: What are the issues that you think the readers agree with you on that makes them want to endorse you? I mean, makes them want to vote for you.
Bartell: Sure. Your readers agree with me on the single fact that’s glaring. They are not included in the future of what’s coming to metro. Everywhere they look for data, they can talk about how they can be included, they don’t find it. Sooner or later, they’re going to depend on you, your readers are going to depend on you to communicate something about that. It would be useful for you to vet candidates against that particular background. That’s my pitch.
Franklin: Thank you so much.