Just over two weeks after settling into the Governor’s Mansion on West Paces Ferry Road, new Gov. Brian Kemp said he’ll work well with Atlanta leaders and will crack down on local street crime, as he delivered the keynote address at the Buckhead Coalition’s annual luncheon Jan. 30.
“I think in politics we all know we’re not going to agree with everything,” but there is a lot to agree on, Kemp said.
The Republican governor traded jokes about collaborating earlier in the week on winter storm overpreparation with Atlanta’s Democratic mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, who shared a luncheon table with him. “I appreciate the mayor’s leadership,” Kemp said.
Like Kemp this year, Bottoms last year won a close and often divisive election and addressed the Buckhead Coalition shortly after taking office on a unity theme. In separate remarks before Kemp’s speech, Bottoms recalled that last year she “spoke of my desire to create one Atlanta” and says she is proud to report that “each day we are making progress in making that a reality.”
The Buckhead Coalition is an influential, invitation-only group of 100 area CEOs and community leaders led by former Mayor Sam Massell, which is celebrating its 30th annivesary. Its annual luncheon, held at the 103 West event facility on West Paces Ferry Road, is also invitation-only. Many other elected officials attended the event, including City Council President Felicia Moore and Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen.
“I know 30 years of good work is a major accomplishment for the Buckhead Coalition,” said Kemp, calling it “probably one of the most distinguished groups I’ve ever spoken to.”
Kemp steered clear of some of his campaign themes that roiled Atlanta’s business community, such as his pledge to pass a religious freedom law that critics say could enable discrimination against LGBT customers and social-services clients. Instead, he largely touted his proposed Fiscal Year 2020 budget proposals and some executive orders he already signed.
He drew applause for his proposal to permanently raise teachers’ pay by $2,000 and possibly by $5,000. He also got some applause for decrying sexual harassment while referring to an executive order he signed that calls for reforming the state’s own internal reporting system. He said that as a husband and as a father of daughters, he believes “no one should go to work worried whether they’re going to be a target of sexual harassment.”
Kemp spoke about rural Georgia’s general need for economic development, and especially for recovery from farms and other businesses devastated last year by Hurricane Michael. His administration is working on a “Georgia grown” program to advocate purchasing locally produced goods, which is being instituted at the Governor’s Mansion.
In pitching his plan to combat drug-dealing gangs, Kemp referred to Buckhead’s spike in robberies and burglaries that police and prosecutors have said is largely gang-related.
“I know you’re seeing it even in areas right here in Buckhead,” Kemp said. “We’re going to go after street gangs and drug cartels.”
Bottoms also addressed crime, but did not refer to Buckhead specifically. She said that the overall crime rate citywide is down 2 percent and that with a “historic” police pay increase taking effect, she believes “we will continue to see this [crime rate] continue to fall.”
Mary Norwood, Bottoms’ former mayoral rival and current chair of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, issued a letter the day before the meeting decrying the local crime rates and asking the mayor to hold public meetings about it. Bottoms made no reference to that request.
The luncheon’s invocation was delivered by Rev. Sam Candler, dean of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Philip’s in Buckhead, who prayed for the politically themed event with a reference to the state’s motto. “Bless the state’s commitment to wisdom, justice and moderation,” he said.