Nov. 15: A Conversation with Dan Cathy and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms
November 20, 2019
At the Nov. 15 Transform Westside Summit, Westside Future Fund kicked off with a unique and inspiring devotion led by the Westside Singing Ambassadors. The Summit then moved on to introductions of those seated around one another. As Westside Future Fund CEO John Ahmann put it, “Dr. King said you don’t have to like your neighbor, but you have to love your neighbor. That starts with getting to know one another.” The main part of the program featured a lively discussion between Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A Inc.
A Fireside Chat with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Dan Cathy
Cathy and Mayor Bottoms took the stage to primarily discuss the One Atlanta Housing Affordability Action Plan. The two also touched on themes important to Atlanta and the Westside, ranging from criminal justice reform to making services more attainable for residents.
Opening the conversation with a few reflections on both the importance of investing in the Westside and his relationship with Mayor Bottoms, Cathy shared about his interactions, professional and personal, with Mayor Bottoms over the years. He spoke of her incredible commitment to Atlanta’s well-being while also being an exemplary mother to her children. One anecdote he shared was about how Mayor Bottoms requested to move a meeting with multiple CEOs so she could attend a function at her child’s school and how much he respected her for that. Then he transitioned to his first question.
Q [Cathy]: As you think about your term as mayor, how do you set priorities? How do your priorities of being a wife and a mom fit into your priority of serving Atlanta?
A [Mayor Bottoms]: First of all, I want to thank you, Dan, for so many things. When I asked to reschedule that meeting, I struggled with asking. As a working woman and mother, we often feel we are seen in a different light and we can’t show vulnerabilities. I was so encouraged when you sent me a note after to say it was okay that I made that request. I don’t want to get being mayor wrong. But I also really don’t want to get being a mom wrong. I know how important those moments are for my kids. That’s what this work, for me, is really all about—the city that I want for my children. I said this a lot during my campaign: “It will never be a great city for my children if it’s not a great city for all of our children.”
Q [Cathy]: I want to talk about the 3 C’s you’ve mentioned in some of your past remarks. I want to talk about commerce and compassion, but first I want to ask you about compensation and a very bold move you made to better compensate our police department. We can never pay public servants what they’re worth, but this was a big priority for you. We’ve seen about a 40% drop in crime and that must be in part because of better morale among the police force. Can you comment further on that?
A: It was important to me for a number of reasons. I spend an enormous amount of time with my executive protection team. When you spend a lot of time with people, you get to know each other in a different light. It was a tug on my heart. I tried to look at it with a common-sense perspective. One of the big issues I think we have with policing in America is we just don’t know each other like that anymore. We don’t understand each other, and [so we] see each other as the enemy. We wanted to see people protecting and serving our communities who weren’t resentful about being there and who had the resources to care for themselves and not be overworked. I’m going to be very interested to see how this really changes our communities.
Q [Cathy]: Another “C” that presents some of the challenges we face on affordable housing is commerce and what’s going on with our economy. We’re very thankful for the investments in the Westside. It’s a great challenge to deal with some of the more difficult aspects of a growing economy.
A [Mayor Bottoms]: It’s a huge challenge. As we talk about preserving the Westside … there are a lot of issues families face. Even my mother, who thankfully still owns our family home, has lamented the constantly rising property taxes. Many of you are enjoying the redevelopment and the improving look and feel of the Westside, but it’s also creating an anxiety that people won’t be able to stay in their homes. I had a group of young men from Best Academy in my office about a month ago, and it was fascinating to hear their perspective on gentrification. One mentioned loving the way his neighborhood looks now. Another was saying his uncle can’t afford to live anymore in the home he’s been renting. I am so grateful to the people working in this area, and for John [Ahmann] who planted this insane goal in me for $1 million for affordable housing. We have some special people in this room, and we have the chance to get it right in a way that nobody else has. The simple act of getting the right people in a room together to talk about these issues is tremendous.
Cathy went on to reflect on how he considers himself always “in training” and even wears a flag on his Chick-fil-A name badge to indicate as such. He joked the flag prompts people to cut him a little extra slack. But the principle is everyone should consider themselves constantly in training and those leading the charge to build a better Westside should always remain open to learning new approaches and strategies. Audience members were then invited to submit questions, read aloud by Ahmann.
Q: Back to the conversation on property taxes. What can be done to support affordable housing and anti-displacement efforts? Can the Westside Future Fund’s efforts be expanded to Bankhead and Grove Park given the development of Atlanta’s Westside Park at Bellwood Quarry?
A: [Mayor Bottoms] I think it needs to be expanded across the city. When we negotiated the Gulch deal, we asked for a $28 million affordable housing trust fund. It’s my hope that when this first payment comes online, it will go toward establishing a citywide affordable housing trust fund.
Q: With the young millennial community coming into a time where they are the next leaders, how is the mayor’s office working to build morale with the youth?
A: [Mayor Bottoms] Our One Atlanta office was really established with the full community in mind. I didn’t initially imagine such a young team, but it’s been great. We are dealing with tons of issues, from HIV prevention to affordable housing. It has really aligned with many of the cares and concerns we hear about from millennials.
Q: Can residents get support for utility burdens?
A: [Mayor Bottoms] Now that’s a great question. We’ve had some on-off programs. But what we’ve been doing with Invest Atlanta is going in homes and trying to address some of the issues that cause high utility bills. One attendee spoke up, adding: There’s about $50,000 of grant money coming to the Westside to address some of those issues Mayor Bottoms mentioned.
Q: Have you had any discussions or meetings with the presidents of the AUC schools?
A: [Mayor Bottoms] Yes. We have even partnered with the Morehouse School of Medicine. And I was very intentional about hosting my inauguration at Morehouse because I wanted it to be clear the Westside is important to me.
[Cathy] I also encourage families to take their kids to these schools when programs are offered so they can envision attending one day.
Q: Atlanta has an abundance of black contractors. Why are the developers overlooking them?
A: [Mayor Bottoms] Atlanta has always been a model for inclusive participation. What we have done is remind people that we are still that city. During the Gulch redevelopment, we put in some very stringent minority participation pieces, including a 10% equity piece in the deal. This had never been done before. What I feel is we’ve gotten complacent in so many ways in Atlanta. We must be intentional about making sure there’s participation. So, we will continue to remind people of who we are.
[Cathy] I think of the example of [the late] Herman Russell and his legacy. He was a very enterprising African-American contractor. He was given the opportunity to bid on major infrastructure projects in Atlanta and he became an inspiration.
Q: With the high level of incarceration of parents leading to a new wave of grandparents having to raise young kids, how can we better make these funds accessible to diverse families?
A: [Mayor Bottoms] I know I have shared the story of how my father’s incarceration impacted my family growing up. When we talk about criminal justice reform, we are keeping our families top of mind. The One Atlanta team has been engaged in a reimaging project on these issues. We eliminated cash bail in Atlanta, and we ended our relationship with ICE. We have tried to really involve the community in our criminal justice reform and make sure families have the right supports in place.
Final Thoughts from Dan Cathy
Cathy wrapped up this conversation by sharing his spirit of collaboration with other Atlanta leaders and describing the first Beloved Benefit event. The inaugural event raised over $5 million to benefit Westside organizations, including WFF. Cathy teased that audience members should save the date for June 4, 2020, and shared that the upcoming benefit would focus exclusively on affordable housing. He also noted the event would be inclusive and casual and an opportunity for residents and friends of the Westside to connect.
Additional Summit Highlights
Next Summit: Friday, Dec. 6. Register here. This will be the last Summit event on 2019. Summits will resume on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020.
Free shuttle to the Summit: The Cute Shuttle offers free, scheduled pickups on the Westside to help residents get to and from Summit events on the first and third Fridays of the month. Learn more.
Transform Westside Summit Friday, November 15 About the Transform Westside Summit: Westside Future Fund’s Transform Westside Summit is held on the 1st and 3rd Friday of each month and is free and open to the public. Our audience includes a diverse group of stakeholders. Longtime neighborhood residents, community and faith leaders, heads of non-profits and corporate executives come together to share success stories and discuss challenges that currently affect our Westside neighborhoods. Doors open at 6:50 a.m. and meetings begin promptly at 7:15 a.m. with morning devotion,* presented by a member of the historic Westside community, and complimentary breakfast, provided by Summit sponsor Chick-fil-A. Take a Free Shuttle to the Summit A free shuttle will do scheduled pickups on the Westside to help you get to the Summit. Summit Shuttle Pickup Locations: At-Promise Center (740 Cameron Madison Alexander Boulevard, NW); Hollis Innovation Academy (225 James P. Brawley Drive, NW). Pickup Times: 6:50 AM – 7AM. Many in our community are driven by their spiritual faith to participate in the Westside revitalization effort. The time at the beginning of our meetings is an opportunity to share various inspirational reflections. While the speakers may articulate their personal faith, it is meant to be inclusive, inspiring and meaningful. All are welcome.