Keisha Waites discusses her run for City Council Post 3 citywide

Keisha Waites is among four candidates aiming for the position of Post 3 At-Large. The former athlete and 3-term State Representative for District 60 has authored and sponsored various pieces of legislation that direct impacts the LGBTQ community. They include: HB 492 Hate Crimes legislation and HB 40 Anti bullying legislation with LGBT inclusions. In her interview with PrideIndex, she was asked how she would address the needs of her detractors. She said among other things, “I have found that most victories are not won or fought on the field or in legislative chambers.  But secured though strategic planning and relationship building.”

Challengers:  Jacki Labat; Ralph Long III; and Jodi Merriday

Website:  www.keishawaites.com

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What she shared with us:

PrideIndex (PI): Why did you decide to run for this office?  

Keisha Waite (KW): I am running because the City of Atlanta is at a crossroad.   Having existing relationships and legislative experience will be critical to tackling many of the issues we are facing such as: spiking crime and violence, limited affordable housing and gridlock traffic.   Secondly, not one single piece of legislation will change people’s hearts and minds.  However, we can elect leaders that have the heart to change policy to benefit and serve people.

PI: What makes you qualified to hold this office?

KW: In February 2012, I was elected to the Georgia General Assembly as State Representative for District 60, where I served 3-terms.  I had the privilege of serving on the Public Safety, Transportation, and Juvenile Justice committees, and was responsible for vetting legislation and policy.

I have served in government for 19 years working at the local, state, regional and federal levels.  I have existing relationships and intimately understand how to move important policy issues though all levels of government. 

Serving in the Georgia General Assembly has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.   I was given the opportunity to work closely with over 200 dedicated public servants, from both parties, for the continuing progress and betterment of Georgia.   I believe that my diverse qualifications and experience, which includes decades of community involvement throughout the city, my service in the state legislature, and my proven background in crisis management and problem solving combine to make me uniquely qualified to serve on the Atlanta City Council. 

It has been my esteemed honor to author and sponsor various pieces of legislation that I deeply care about that direct impacts the LGBTQ community:

a. Sponsored HB 492 Hate Crimes legislation

b. Sponsored HB 40 Anti bullying legislation with LGBT inclusions

c. Sponsored HB 53 HIV/AIDS

d. Sponsored HB 716 Anti Conversion Therapy legislation

e. Supported and co-sponsored Rep. Karla Dreener’s bill, HB 323, the Fair Employment Practices Act, which would prohibit discrimination against state employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

f. During my tenure in the Georgia House, I have served as an outspoken champion and vocal proponent for LGBT Rights and Equality I.E. Moderator and panelist

g. Participated in several rallies and forums in support of the Transgender community.

h. Joined colleagues in unified press release statement following the Orlando Pulse Night Club shooting and North Carolina HB 2, LGBT discriminatory legislation

i. Organized a joint press conference at the State Capitol in efforts to repeal/veto HB 757

PI: What is your vision for Atlanta?

KW: A. COVID changed the way people live, work and play.  One of the results is that our mix of commercial, office, industrial and residential needs have changed. 

B. One of the most important tasks for the Mayor of Atlanta and City Council is to assure residents that their tax dollars are being spent wisely, with a focus on providing quality services.  These services include policing, infrastructure planning and maintenance, trash collection and code enforcement.

C. One of the biggest challenges our city faces is the need to eradicate the “Pay to Play” culture that has permeated for many decades.   Until we put an end to nepotism and cronyism city hall will remain toxic and plagued with scandal.  We must change the existing culture at City Hall and create a focus on openness, service, and stewardship of public resources.

D. We are elected to deliver results.  If trust is faltering, that means residents aren’t receiving the services they expect.  Public trust and integrity are essential for our city to thrive, attract new industry, new commerce and new residents. 

PI: How do you plan address the issues of Atlanta?

KW: A. Public Safety/Violence Prevention

There should be a wider and more efficient use of technology to prevent crime and to identify and arrest perpetrators.  I support the expansion of security cameras and automated license plate recognition systems where needed, and the use of other technologies such as the ShotSpotter system (currently in testing by APD) which allows officers to identify the location of gunshots in real time.

B. Restoring Public Trust: Transparency and Ethics

As a city-wide City Council representative, I will propose and support legislation that all City of Atlanta employees abide by a much-needed, updated and revised Employee Code of Ethics along with strict, actionable penalties for violating the code. 

Finally, I fully support measures that bring openness, oversight and accountability to any use of funds and resources by city employees.  Previous administrations were able to waste taxpayer money on personal expenses precisely because use of those funds was not transparent and ethics policies were not enforced.  That lack of transparency and tepid enforcement needs to end immediately.

C. Regional Transit Solutions

During my tenure in the General Assembly, I served on the transportation committee sponsoring the authorizing legislation to bring high speed rail to Georgia.  That legislation effectively advocates for regional transit expansion.

As we explore solutions to regional transit problems, I will be utilizing existing relationships to solicit regional financial assistance from the federal DOT, State of Georgia, Fulton County, and other service recipients.

D. Affordable Housing

Using a combination of rezoning, community land trusts, and community benefits agreements, the city can direct investment into predominantly minority-owned sections of the city, thereby increasing property values, grow the tax base and help close the racial wealth gap.

We need to push to make sure that agreements with developers that guarantee a portion of affordable housing in new developments is actually provided as agreed.

Other cities and organizations have experimented with holding long term land leases, thereby reducing the cost of a house by eliminating the land price.  This is another avenue we can explore to create more affordable housing, either directly or by working with private developers.

In partnership with HUD and the state of Georgia, the city can re-invest in bank owned and foreclosed multi-family housing units that have been abandoned or condemned due to high water bills. 

I also support a special tax on blighted or unoccupied properties.  Blighted properties bring down neighboring property values, reduce available housing and reduce the tax base for the city.

PI: What similarities and differences do you see between yourself and your opponent(s)?

KW: Similarities: All of the candidates running are natives of Atlanta and have demonstrated a desire to serve community.

Differences: I am the only candidate in the race that has successfully served 3-terms in a legislative capacity.   It is my belief given the challenges we are facing are facing citywide, we must have a representative that has the experience and relationship to navigate the current volatile political current.  Secondly, given the adversarial role between the state of Georgia and the City of Atlanta, I have the capacity to serve as an olive branch and conduit to improving relations.

PI: What should the city of Atlanta do to address the issues of the homeless and the underserved?

KW: The City of Atlanta can and should play a larger role in addressing economic disparity and the racial wealth gap.  Cities function better when there is a solid middle class and people are able to move up.

Using a combination of rezoning, community land trusts, and community benefits agreements, the city can direct investment into predominantly minority-owned sections of the city, thereby increasing property values, grow the tax base and help close the racial wealth gap.

Another area where we need to do more is expanding homeless services so that we can provide access to jobs and wraparound services. By working with the Partners for H.O.M.E., the United Way, and other organizations we can provide opportunities for homeless individuals and families to get back on their feet as quickly as possible.

PI: Should you win, what do you plan to do to address the needs of your detractors?

KW: As a former athlete, I understand that winning is always a team experience.  During my 3-term tenure in the Georgia House of Representatives, I served under a Republican governor and Republican controlled House and Senate.  However, although I served in the minority party I was still able to pass multiple bills with bi-partisan support.  As a result, I understand and know the importance of working across the aisle and building coalitions.  

In order to get things done that there are times when it will be necessary to manage the interests of various stakeholders in order to achieve a common good.  And then finally, there are times that require leadership through building capacity, encouraging and directing stakeholders to step up. 

As a former member of the Georgia General Assembly there were many occasions where I had to engage this hybrid style of leadership.  One experience that stands out is a bill I authored and sponsored, HB 54, or the Fallen Hero Bill, to support families by providing tuition assistance to the children of law enforcement killed in the line of duty. Though this was a great bill, partisanship politics required that I engage several leadership strategies to ensure that my colleagues, most whom were Republican men would support the bill.  Nonetheless, HB 54 passed with unanimous bi-partisan support and was signed into law by Governor Nathan Deal.

Finally, I have found that most victories are not won or fought on the field or in legislative chambers.  But secured though strategic planning and relationship building.

PI: What is your position regarding funding for affordable housing and/or the sky-rocketing costs of living in Atlanta?

KW: Gentrification has a bad name because it forces long-time legacy residents out of their homes due to rising values leading to increased property taxes.  Revitalized neighborhoods and increasing home values should be a good thing!  We can solve this problem by freezing property taxes for residents who are over a certain age and have been an owner-occupant for a certain length of time.  The data is there.  We can easily protect our legacy residents with smart tax policy and a simple computer search.

Second, legacy residents on fixed incomes may not have the funds to improve or maintain their homes to keep up with current standards.  This can be tackled with a public/private fund that provides low or no interest loans to help renovate and maintain properties.  The loan would be paid back when the home eventually sells.

Finally, legacy residents need to be educated on what the true value of their home is, even in as-is condition.  Legacy residents can be easy prey for investors who flash a seemingly large check when in fact they’re only being offered pennies on the dollar.  We can also make sure that residents know what exemption they qualify for based on income and age.

We also need to ensure that agreements made with developers guarantee that a portion of affordable housing in new developments is actually provided as agreed.

Other cities and organizations have experimented with holding long term land leases, thereby reducing the cost of a house by eliminating the land price.  This is another avenue we can explore to create more affordable housing, either directly or by working with private developers.

In partnership with HUD and the state of Georgia, there is a unique opportunity for the city to re-invest in bank owned and foreclosed multi-family housing units that have been abandoned or condemned due to high water bills. 

PI: What are your suggestions for building a better relationship between the police and people of color and the LGBTQ+ community?

KW: Having served on both the Juvenile Justice and Public Safety committees during my tenure in the General Assembly, I quickly realized that compassion and community support are essential tools to addressing the underlying factors that impact crime and violence.

Arresting and jailing people who are having challenges as a result of substance use, mental health challenges, or survival activities doesn’t serve our communities. Instead, it pushes people even further to the margins, away from the connections and resources that support recovery and wellness.

The cycle of arrest and incarceration does not address the actual issues people are struggling with. In the meantime, minority and LGBTQ communities continue to suffer from a lack of housing options and access to income, mental health services, medical care, and substance use recovery services. There is widespread agreement: we need a different approach if we want safer and healthier communities for all.

As a city-wide Council representative, I will support fostering a new approach to community safety and wellness by engaging in creative problem-solving to respond to community concerns, and addressing people’s human needs with dignity and patience.

PI: How should the city address funding for HIV/AIDS treatment and education? 

KW: Data speaks volume.   According to the CDC in 2017, Georgia ranked fifth in the United States for newest cases of HIV.  The CDC also estimates that within the number of people living with HIV in the United States, nearly one in seven do not know they are infected.  Research has found that early diagnosis of HIV and prescription of anti-retroviral medication can reduce the risk of HIV transmission by up to 96 percent.  The HIV/AIDS epidemic is no longer an LGBTQ issue.  Addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis is one of the greatest challenges impacting the minority hetro-sexual community.   Therefore, the issue must framed as a public health crisis.  In December of 1999, I lost my bother to the virus.  Therefore, this work is very personal to me, as I know first-hand the sting of losing friends and family.  I am currently an advocate and will continue to be a champion for supporting HIV/AIDS education and equity in funding for minority communities.

To see the out LGBTQ candidates running for office in the November 2, 2021 election in Atlanta click on the names below. Check back for updates.

Antonio BrownLarry CarterJason Hudgins, Brandon Cory GoldbergLiliana BakhtiariJereme Sharpe, Kelly-Jeanne Lee, Devin Barrington-WardKeisha Waites, and Mike Russell.