The former city council member and Atlanta native followed his oath of office with an optimistic speech about Atlanta’s future and rattled off a robust check list of action items to chart a path forward for the embattled city.
The Peach State’s largest metropolis rests in a time of crisis and uncertainty, as leaders have struggled to combat a rise in violent crime and rein in the pandemic.
Atlanta’s next mayor faces a variety of obstacles from repairing the broken relationship with state leadership to squashing a movement by some in Buckhead to secede from the city altogether.
“We don’t need separate cities,” Dickens said Monday. “We must be one city with one bright future.”
Dickens caused an upset in the crowded Atlanta mayor’s race by narrowly edging former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed out of the runoff and then building on that momentum to defeat frontrunner City Council President Felicia Moore.
His leadership reflects a new era for Atlanta politics, on the heels of outgoing Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms who announced she would not seek another term after a tumultuous administration.
“We have survived hard times before,” Dickens said. “We’ve survived crime waves, the missing and murdered children, Lester Maddox and his axe handle. We survived the Olympic Park bombing, and we will survive the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The 47-year-old politician, who served two terms on city council, pitched his dream for the city to residents during his inauguration speech.
At Boddy Dodd Stadium, on the campus of his alma mater Georgia Tech, Dickens likened the opportunity of growth for the city to his own upbringing.
“I stand here today as living proof that a little kid from Adamsville could dare to dream to be the mayor,” Dickens said.
Here’s what Dickens promises to do on the job.
Atlanta, like the country, has experienced a startling spike in violent crime — a trend mirrored across metro counties and neighborhoods.
Arguably Dickens’ toughest challenge, the issue drew a new divide between the city and some in one of Atlanta’s wealthiest neighborhoods. A small faction of Buckhead residents, supported by out-of-area lawmakers, is leading a push for Buckhead cityhood.
Throughout his campaign, Dickens’ promised crime will be on the top of his list of priorities.
“The first 100 days of my administration will be laser focused on reducing crime, with a particular emphasis on balancing safety and justice,” he said.
During his inaugural speech, the new mayor outlined a series of public safety initiatives including hiring 250 police officers by the end of his first year and incorporating de-escalation and community policing training into curriculums — for both new and old officers.
Dickens said he will hire specialists who will assist in responding to non-violent issues like mental health and homelessness to free-up law enforcement officers to respond to crime.
He also pledged to bolster 911 resources, increase installment of street lighting and security cameras, and partner with schools to keep youth out of trouble.
“It is going to take all of the community to chip in, and we must be diligent, strategic, and committed in our efforts to make Atlanta a place where we can all feel safe again and where hope is alive,” he said.
Expand affordable housing, bolster infrastructure
Over the past two years, the pandemic further exacerbated the housing affordability crisis in the city of Atlanta. Dickens noted during his speech that the cost of housing within the city has increased 65% since 2010.
The new mayor pledged to build or maintain 20,000 units of affordable housing over the next eight years and promised to do so without displacing residents.
Dickens also outlined a “Housing First” model to help rehouse individuals experiencing homelessness in coordination with a network of motels, hotels, shelters and apartment complexes.
Like the spike in crime, experts say mental health is deeply intertwined with homelessness. Dickens said his office will coordinate with county health departments to provide mental and physical care for unsheltered Atlantans in need as well as prioritize job training and placement services.
Atlanta residents have also been plagued by a slowdown in city services, which Dickens says he plans to remedy for all customer-facing programs.
The new mayor also promised additional resources to clean-up programs, the Department of Public Works and expansion of infrastructure along the BeltLine.
“Atlanta, you should expect a clean, well-run city,” he said.
This story comes to The Georgia Sun through a reporting partnership with GPB a non-profit newsroom focused on reporting in Georgia.