Gay veteran jumps into race for Atlanta City Council president

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U.S. Army veteran Mike Russell “went through a lot of hell” as a gay man under the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. But it’s only one aspect of his experience he hopes to bring as Atlanta City Council president if elected in November.

“As a person of color, as a gay person, as a person who’s in a mixed-race marriage, those things all give me a unique perspective on various issues,” he told Project Q Atlanta. “Also, having lived and worked around the world has changed my perspective on a lot of issues.”

Russell, 59, launched his campaign in June. The Oklahoma native moved to Atlanta with his husband in 2018. The couple lives in Piedmont Heights.

His husband first convinced Russell to get more involved in the politics and the community.

“I was upset about what was happening last year and he told me to stop yelling at the TV and start doing something,” Russell said.

Russell was frustrated with how the city addresses crime.

“I felt that the reaction of the mayor was lacking,” he said. “And that a lot of politicians were playing politics with issues and not trying to solve it.”

‘Common sense conservative’

Other issues on Russell’s radar include the movement to defund the police. The concept “was not well thought out” and demotivated those in law enforcement, Russell said.

Russell also disagreed with the decision to quickly fire police officers involved in publicly debated incidents last year. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms terminated officers who tased two college students, as well as the one who killed Rayshard Brooks.

“She fired them without due process,” Russell said. “Everybody deserves due process.”

The candidate calls himself a “common-sense conservative.”

“I’ve voted for both parties,” he said. “I’m not an ideologue, and I think that confuses a lot of people who try to put you in a box.”

For their part, Atlanta City Council needs to be more accountable for residents’ tax dollars, Russell asserted.

“I’ve watched a couple times where council members voted on bills they hadn’t read,” he said. “I just think that’s dysfunctional and that’s wrong. It’s an abuse of taxpayer dollars.”

Russell also thinks the city’s zoning laws could be “devastating” to its tree canopy and green spaces.

“It’s being sold as an ability to allow homeowners to build secondary buildings to rent out, but that’s not what’s happening,” he said.

LGBTQ representation on the council

Russell hopes to replace Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore, who is running for mayor. He trails far behind the other candidates in fundraising so far, with $17,000 raised and $15,000 on hand.

Former Woodruff Arts Center and National Center for Civil & Human Rights CEO Doug Shipman leads with $374,000 raised and $252,000 on hand. Atlanta City Councilmember Natalyn Archibong ($222,000 with $193,000 on hand) and Atlanta School Board member Courtney English ($121,000 with $79,000 on hand) follow. Like Russell, Samuel Manuel launched his campaign in July after the latest campaign finance disclosure reports were due.

If elected, Russell would continue a long tradition of LGBTQ representation on the council.

Cathy Woolard became the first LGBTQ elected official in Georgia when she unseated a longtime incumbent on the Atlanta City Council in 1997. In 2002, she took office as the first woman and LGBTQ person to serve as City Council president.

Anne Fauver, a lesbian, replaced Woolard in the District 6 council seat in 2002. Fauver served two terms. Alex Wan took over in District 6 in 2010 as the city’s first gay male council member. He served two terms before an unsuccessful bid for council president in 2017.

The council then had no LGBTQ members for the first time in 20 years. Antonio Brown won a special election for the District 3 seat in 2019 and became the first-ever Black LGBTQ council member. He launched a campaign for mayor instead of seeking a full term in District 3.

Other LGBTQ candidates running for Atlanta City Council this year include teacher Kelly-Jeanne Lee in District 1, neighborhood activist Larry Carter in District 4, community organizer Liliana Bakhtiari in District 5, community organizer Devin Barrington-Ward in District 9, business consultant Jereme Sharpe and attorney Brandon Goldberg for Post 1 At-Large, and former state Rep. Keisha Waites for Post 3 At-Large.

Atlanta City Council elections are Nov. 2, with any necessary runoffs on Nov. 30.

Visit the Mike Russell campaign online. 

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