An LGBTQ business owner and community organizer launched her campaign for the Atlanta City Council, hoping to unseat an incumbent in a district that includes some of the city's most diverse and eclectic neighborhoods.
Liliana Bakhtiari, a 29-year-old homeowner from Southeast Atlanta who identifies as queer, kicked off her bid for the District 5 seat on Thursday morning in Cabbagetown.
"Honestly this is exciting and exhilarating knowing there are so many people in our community that are eager to have change on our City Council and support someone they have known for years," Bakhtiari said in a prepared statement.
"The feedback we have already gotten, combined with everything we heard while considering the run, makes me realize this is absolutely the right thing to do. It's very easy to sit on the sidelines and judge. It's much harder to serve from the inside and it forces you to be in the spotlight and be accountable and practice what you preach," she added.
Bakhtiari is an Atlanta native who worked weekends in her father's pharmacy on Edgewood Avenue while growing up, graduated from Parkview High School in Gwinnett County and then attended Georgia State University.
Bakhtiari brings a diverse background to the race. She's taken part in an archeological expedition in Kenya, studied genocide and sex trafficking in Cambodia, worked with refugees in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, and backpacked through Australia, according to prepared remarks from her campaign announcement.
"I learned so much in my travels, but each adventure always led me back to my home – Atlanta," Bakhtiari said.
And that's where she became engaged in grassroots activism and social justice efforts, which helped form the issues at the center of her campaign.
"Everything that shaped the Atlanta that I know, this 'city of other,' the working class, our immigrants and minority communities, the DIY and grassroots art movements, the people of color that uphold the legacy of this city, we're seeing all of it disappear. While Atlanta is still a major attractor for new residents, it is also at the top of the list of cities people leave," Bakhtiari said.
She mentioned gentrification, workforce outsourcing and limited public transportation as critical factors impacting city residents.
"While tourism is essential for the growth of a city and should absolutely be invested in, we must also focus on what’s worth celebrating about our unique home. We were always the city in a forest. We are the birthplace of the civil rights movement," Bakhtiari said.
"We are the home to local and small, eclectic businesses that upheld us during the recession, but are we using actions to uphold these incredible achievements," she added.
Bakhtiari is trying to unseat City Council member Natalyn Archibong, a four-term incumbent, for the District 5 seat. The district includes Old Fourth Ward, Sweet Auburn, Cabbagetown, Reynoldstown, East Atlanta, Lake Claire, East Lake, Ormewood Park and Grant Park.
Archibong has faced LGBTQ candidates in the past – and easily dispatched them. In 2013, two gay candidates – a third entered but later dropped out – ran in a combative race that included her suing the LGBTQ candidates for libel and slander. She won with 63 percent of the vote.
In 2012, Archibong was among City Council members who voted in favor of a resolution supporting gay marriage.
In August, Bakhtiari resigned as a board member of Lost N Found as the organization faced weeks of turmoil and several board resignations after a reorganization plan that pushed aside a co-founder and executive director.
Bakhtiari supported the reorganization of the Lost N Found leadership and opposed reinstating Rick Westbrook. When it was clear other board members favored putting him back atop the non-profit during a meeting in August, she resigned.
“I always want Rick to be the face of the organization but we grew to such a size – we had a lot of issues,” Bakhtiari said at the meeting. “This organization is bigger than Rick, bigger than anyone in this room. It is about our youth and this past week, people have completely lost sight of that.”