But Brown, 36, faces a difficult path to the mayor’s office. He joins a growing field of candidates that bring deep ties and pockets to the race while staring down a federal indictment for fraud.
Brown – standing on the steps of City Hall and flanked by dozens of supporters – called on voters to help him “reimagine Atlanta.”
“I ask that you join me as we begin the journey of reimagining Atlanta together – a journey to create an inclusive ecosystem that reimagines public safety and empowers safe communities, improves our transportation and our crumbling infrastructure, provides quality jobs and affordable housing while recognizing the needs of our most vulnerable residents, our youth, our seniors, our LGBTQ+ community, our working middle class and our unsheltered population,” Brown said.
Brown pulled off a surprise victory in 2019, winning the District 3 seat by 82 votes to become the first Black LGBTQ member of the Atlanta City Council. Since he took office, Brown has been at the center of a flurry of progressive proposals, called for reforming Atlanta police and closing the city jail, and organized several racial justice protests last summer as he helped launch the People’s Uprising.
On Friday, Brown said as a council member he helped create a program to train and hire city employees for transportation and infrastructure projects and a loan fund for small business entrepreneurs. He also advocated for an ordinance prohibiting discrimination against low-income renters with federal housing vouchers and introduced legislation to create a city Department of Public Safety & Wellness to coordinate public safety and non-emergency response efforts.
“The people of this city will no longer ask for a seat at the table. They have awakened to the realization that they are the table, and that the elected officials are merely invited guests to have a seat at that table with them. And now, I feel a moral obligation to do my part to continue moving us forward on this path to social justice,” Brown said.
‘I am absolutely innocent’
In June, Brown led a march through Midtown celebrating Pride and the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall Riots while calling for justice and equality for Black transgender people.
A few weeks later, a federal grand jury indicted Brown on seven fraud charges. Prosecutors allege that he faked loan documents to buy a Mercedes C300 and a Range Rover. The case has been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic, but an evidentiary hearing was held in April.
On Friday, Brown called the criminal case an effort to “divide and distract us.”
“So let me clear that up right now, once and for all. I am absolutely innocent,” he said. “Let me repeat that. I am absolutely innocent. Furthermore, let me state unequivocally Atlanta deserves a mayor with honesty and integrity. And I would not be running for mayor if I felt any concern about the outcome of this case.”
Brown also said elected officials don’t need to be perfect but do need to bring fresh ideas to addressing problems in the city.
“So know that I’m not a perfect person, nor have I ever pretended to be. We don’t need perfect politicians. We need empathy. We need solutions. We need safer communities. We need jobs. We need affordable housing. We need vision. We need new ideas. And we need change, sweeping change,” he said.
Brown is one of four LGBTQ people ever elected to the city council. But he would be the city’s first LGBTQ mayor. Cathy Woolard – a former council president and the first LGBTQ person elected to the council – placed third in the 2017 mayoral race. Woolard said Tuesday that she won’t run this year.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said on May 6 that she decided against re-election, a surprise move that opened the race to a growing field of candidates. City Council President Felicia Moore launched her mayoral campaign in January, pledging to advocate for the city’s LGBTQ residents and address the city’s beleaguered HIV housing program. On Wednesday, Moore made her pitch directly to LGBTQ supporters.
Attorney Sharon Gay is also running, along with City Council member Andre Dickens. Former Mayor Kasim Reed is seriously considering seeking a third term. Jason Carter, a former state lawmaker and gubernatorial nominee, and former Atlanta City Council member and mayoral candidate Mary Norwood are also reportedly considering the race.
Brown brings a powerful personal narrative to the race that could appeal to the city’s marginalized residents.
“I, too, am the rest of Atlanta. I grew up in poverty, with my parents in and out of prison. I dropped out of high school at age 15 to bag groceries to support my family, and was even homeless at one point in my life,” Brown said.
“However, through God and faith and self-determination, I could see that there was greatness on the other side of the mountain. And I rose above my adversities to become a successful CEO, and a city councilman,” he added.