Five candidates are vying Tuesday to become the next mayor of College Park, where crime, lack of affordable housing, and the need for higher-paying jobs are key issues residents want addressed.
It’s been four years since voters made Bianca Motley Broom the city’s first Black mayor. Some of her political challengers contend she’s done little since then to improve the lives of the city’s Black majority, where racial and economic dividing lines are often intertwined.
Mayoral candidate Demetris “Big Meach” Taylor says Motley Broom and the College Park City Council have done more to serve residents in the city’s disproportionately white and more-affluent 1st Ward than for Black folks living in the other three.
“The constituency feels as though because many of our Caucasian residents live in Ward 1, they’re the ones who pull her ear,” Taylor told Capital B Atlanta of Motley Broom during a recent phone interview.
Taylor and others say the city’s current elected leaders primarily work to benefit its wealthier white minority, which tends to vote at higher rates than the disproportionately poorer Black majority. And some Black folks have become cynical about the ability of elected officials to affect change after decades of neglect.
Motley Broom said it has been “an honor” to serve as the first Black and first female mayor of College Park. She also said she has a track record of making the city a better place for all its residents, particularly those who are Black.
“I’ve leveraged my relationships and resources to ensure equity, opportunity and access,” Broom said via email. “I’m committed to continuing this if re-elected.”
Below is a breakdown of all the candidates in the race and what they plan to do if elected.
Bianca Motley Broom
Motley Broom says confronting the COVID-19 pandemic and mastering the complexities of municipal operations in College Park were her biggest challenges after defeating former Mayor Jack Longino in their runoff election in December 2019.
Gov. Brian Kemp later selected her to serve on the Georgia Municipal Association’s COVID-19 advisory committee, where she built relationships that she says helped her advance the interests of her constituents during the pandemic.
“My connections allowed me to advocate for our children to receive the necessary resources for a smoother transition from in-person to virtual classrooms and to ensure that College Park was home to one of Fulton County’s vaccination sites at the Georgia International Convention Center,” Motley Broom said.
The mayor said her biggest accomplishments over the past three years include
luring $100 million in private and public investments to College Park and convincing administrators for the In Her Hands initiative to make the city one of its lottery program locations in 2021. In Her Hands is a guaranteed income program aimed at income-eligible Black women that provides recipients with a monthly average of $850 for up to two years.
Motley Broom said she’s also advocated for equitable access for minority-owned businesses, such as South Park Cottages, resulting in multimillion-dollar investments in College Park.
Increasing access to quality housing and ensuring fair compensation for city employees are among her plans for a second term.
James Walker III
Walker is the 54-year-old real estate attorney and Morehouse College graduate originally from East Point who launched his bid to unseat Motley Broom over the summer after meeting with Jamelle McKenzie, a candidate for College Park City Council who was concerned about hopelessness and cynicism among Black residents in the Southwest Atlanta suburb.
“She told me she was running for councilperson and she asked me if I’ve ever considered [running for mayor],” Walker told Capital B Atlanta during a recent phone interview.
“I’m here to make sure that College Park is restored to its once-elite status, thriving economic development, that we are once again a very progressive city that is not leading the crime stats.”
Walker’s platform includes combating crime by offering better compensation to recruit more officers to the city’s police department, increasing patrols and surveillance cameras, and identifying grants to help residents create neighborhood watch programs.
He also wants to increase economic development in the city, bring more transparency and accountability to city government, and develop additional youth engagement programs.
“Give them viable options to work, to live, to make a good living, and to turn from the thought of even being involved in any kind of criminal activity,” Walker said.
Demetris “Big Meach” Taylor
Taylor, 53, is a community activist and security professional for the Georgian Terrace Hotel in Atlanta and an Embarcadero Club Apartments resident originally from Detroit who has lived in College Park for the past 15 years. He says he’s running for mayor to advocate for housing policies that benefit renters in College Park, who he says are majority Black.
“I’m one who feels that the apartment communities need to be treated like citizens and stakeholders versus transient people and commodities,” Taylor said during a recent phone interview.
Parts of this city, which sits to the southwest of Atlanta and is adjacent to its massive airport, are made of affluent neighborhoods filled with neat single-family houses along tree-lined streets. There are currently five active single-family listings in College Park with asking prices between $799,000 and $1.15 million, according to the First Multiple Listing Service, which tracks residential housing listings in metro Atlanta.
But the lion’s share of housing here is rentals: only 25.1% of College Park’s housing was owner-occupied between 2017 and 2021, the most recent data available, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The gap could point to a divergence between the interests of property owners and the majority of residents living in the city.
If elected, Taylor said he would work to ensure College Park residents have affordable workforce housing and give homeowner options to those who want them.
He suggested city leaders give developers too much leeway to decide what’s affordable instead of establishing rent rate terms that match the income levels of legacy, low-income tenants in College Park.
“Affordable and workforce housing become subjective,” Taylor said. “That’s based on what the developer wishes to bring in and what the city and what the mayor and council agreed to bring into the city.”
Taylor also wants to push for Black and brown contractors and developers to get more equitable chances to compete for city development contracts.
“There’s no reason that somewhere that is 82[%], 83% African American does not have its cultural imprint on the design of this city,” he said.
He also wants to increase mental health care resources for first responders, a cause that’s personal to him after losing a loved one to suicide last year.
Taylor was an outspoken advocate for renters at his apartment complex before College Park City Council member Derrick Taylor got him more involved in politics.
He served on the Business and Industrial Development Authority Board for four years prior to running for mayor. BIDA was created to advance the community’s economic development initiatives.
Jackson is a certified public accountant and founder of eXFinancial, a small-business financial advisory firm, which she launched in 2009. She’s originally from Jacksonville, Florida.
Jackson hasn’t responded to a request for comment on her mayoral bid. Her campaign website indicates she’s placed a strong emphasis on increasing economic development in College Park.
“A thriving economy benefits everyone in College Park,” a page on her site reads. “However, too many of our residents are left out of our economic success. We need an economic development plan that creates opportunities for all our residents.”
Jackson’s platform includes increasing access to job training programs and ensuring all businesses, no matter their size or their owners, have fair opportunities to compete for city contracts.
She also wants to bring “value-driven” employers to College Park who “see the value in our diverse and talented workforce.”
Similarly, Stoner-Gay hasn’t responded to requests for comment. She is married to current College Park council member Roderick Gay and is the daughter of Peter Stoner, a white Freedom Rider during the Civil Rights Movement.
Originally from Jackson, Mississippi, Stoner-Gay has staked out a platform of creating a more equitable city in College Park.
“It’s time for change,” Stoner-Gay said during a campaign video. “It’s time for equity. It’s time for unity. And that time is now.”
Education reform, career enhancement, and protecting senior citizens are among her top policy priorities. She also has supported exempting College Park seniors from having to pay the city’s property tax.