A former state legislator is now one of eight LGBTQ candidates in the November races for Atlanta City Council. Former state Rep. Keisha Waites touts her work in the Georgia House in her bid for the Post 3 At-Large seat.
In 2012, Waites became just the second Black LGBTQ woman elected to the state legislature. She sponsored bills on hate crimes, employment discrimination, anti-LGBTQ bullying, HIV and conversion therapy during her three terms.
“We need to start electing people that bring a level of competency and compassion to the conversation,” she told Project Q Atlanta. “I understand how to move policy through all levels of government.”
Waites resigned her House District 60 seat in 2017 to run for Fulton County Commission chair and lost to Robb Pitts in a 2018 runoff. She was also among seven candidates running to fill the remaining weeks of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis’s term in the 5th Congressional District in 2020. The seat ultimately went to former Atlanta City Councilmember Kwanza Hall.
This time, Waites eyes the citywide post of City Councilmember Andre Dickens, who vacates the seat to run for mayor. Her campaign focuses are public safety, restoring public trust, regional transit solutions and affordable housing.
Waites wants to expand the security camera network throughout the city to help address crime. She cited the murder of Katie Janness, the LGBTQ bartender who was stabbed to death along with her dog as they walked in Piedmont Park last month.
“I’m an Atlanta native and have been around Piedmont Park all my life,” Waites said. “The fact that some of the [park] cameras were inoperable I find deeply disturbing.”
Policy and platform
Waites also supports the Policing Alternatives & Diversion Initiative, which connects vulnerable people with vital social services and keeps them out of the criminal justice system.
“Arresting and jailing people who have issues with substance abuse or mental health or people in survival mode doesn’t seem to be effective,” she said. “It seems to push people further into criminal activity. We need to get folks the resources for recovery and wellness.”
Waites would push a combination of rezoning, community land trust agreements and community benefit agreement to address Atlanta’s affordable housing issue — especially on the south side.
“I don’t know a lot of people who can afford to buy a home in the City of Atlanta right now,” she said. “We need to make an honest concerted effort to drive development south of the city.”
Waites said the city needs to clean up its long-troubled HOPWA program. The federal program provides rent subsidies to the city for distribution to low-income people with HIV. Late payments from the city, mismanagement and a revolving door in leadership perennially plague the program.
“As someone who lost a brother to HIV, this is deeply troubling to me,” Waites said. “The mismanagement speaks to vulnerable and marginalized populations not getting the resources they deserve.”
“I think it’s necessary that we’re good stewards of funding,” she added. “The funding is there.”
Crowded field and LGBTQ representation
Qualifying for the Post 3 At-Large election began Tuesday and ends Friday.
Diversity, equity and inclusion consultant Jodi Merriday leads in fundraising with $102,000 raised and about the same amount on hand. Management consultant Jackie Labat ($76,000 with $61,000 on hand) and former state Rep. Ralph Long III ($4,000 with $1,700) follow.
Waites and civic activist Sherry Williams launched their campaigns in July after the latest campaign finance disclosure reports were due.
If elected, Waites 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 Mike Russell, who is running for council president.
Atlanta City Council elections are Nov. 2, with any necessary runoffs on Nov. 30.