Queer teacher launches campaign for Atlanta City Council

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A queer educator is making her first run for public office, hoping to succeed a longtime incumbent on the Atlanta City Council and focus on affordable housing, infrastructure and small businesses.

Kelly-Jeanne Lee wants to succeed Carla Smith in the District 1 seat. She is at least the seventh LGBTQ person running for the council this year.

“Running for city council just seemed like a logical next step to serve our community and our families,” Lee told Project Q Atlanta.

“When I’m thinking about any decision I’m making, I’m not just thinking about my family. I’m thinking about the hundreds of families I’ve served over the years in education and how I can best serve them,” she added.

The 40-year-old is a Spanish teacher at Riverwood International Charter School in Sandy Springs. She lives with her wife and daughter in Lakewood Heights.

Lee is on the board of the Lakewood Heights Neighborhood Organization and said she worked on projects for her local neighborhood planning unit. She wants to continue that civic activism on the council. Smith announced in May that she’s not running for a sixth term. 

The campaign is Lee’s first run for public office. She launched her campaign in March with a focus on affordable housing, street-level infrastructure and small business support.

Lee said there needs to be a better variety of options for people looking to buy homes and rent in the district.

“I think about protecting our legacy residents because they live in a community where they have relationships and are receiving services and it’s important that they continue to have access to that,” she said. “Our district isn’t affordable.”

Lee said the district also needs more sidewalks and crosswalks.

“Sidewalks have been treated as a luxury and we just can’t do that,” she said.

She called thriving small businesses “a crucial part of health overall in the community.”

“Some of the most vulnerable ones are owned by people of color and women and LGBT people and we should be supporting those communities,” she said.

“In Lakewood Heights, we have a row of empty storefronts. How great would it be to have new small businesses to support there?” she added.

Lee is joined in the District 1 race by Clarence Blalock, a geographic information system analyst; civic activist Nathan Clubb; medical sales professional Russell Hopson; and marketing consultant Jason Winston.

The district includes Summerhill, Peoplestown, Grant Park, Capitol Gateway, Ormewood Park, Chosewood Park. Boulevard Heights, Leila Valley, Rebel Valley Forest, South Atlanta, Custer/McDonough/Guice, Benteen, Woodland Hills, Thomasville Heights and Norwood Manor.

Cathy Woolard won an Atlanta City Council race in 1997 and became the first LGBTQ person elected to office in Georgia. (Photo by Matt Hennie)

‘Representation matters’

If elected, Lee would continue LGBTQ representation on the council. City Council member Antonio Brown became the first Black LGBTQ member of the council in 2019, but he is running for mayor instead of seeking a full term in the District 3 post.

Lee said the council needs LGBTQ people among its 16 members.

“Representation matters,” she said. “Our city council should look as much like the community it represents as possible.”

Other LGBTQ candidates running for Atlanta City Council include project manager Larry Carter in District 4, community activist 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.

Qualifying for the races is in August. The election is in November.

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. Woolard resigned as council president in 2004 to launch a failed bid for Congress.

Fauver served two terms. Alex Wan continued LGBTQ representation on the council when he won the District 6 seat and took office in 2010. He served two terms before an unsuccessful run for council president in 2017. The council had no LGBTQ members for the first time in 20 years until Brown won a special election for the District 3 seat in 2019.

This story is made possible by Google News Initiative’s Journalism Emergency Relief Fund.

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