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Atlanta's 'cop city' referendum becomes a new political battleground

Greg Bluestein and Riley Bunch, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

ATLANTA — Sharp new political battle lines are being drawn over Atlanta’s proposed police training center, this time over a complicated petition process seeking to force a referendum to block the $90 million complex.

After largely keeping silent on the project, two of Georgia’s most prominent Democrats have expressed concerns about the city’s handling of tens of thousands of signatures submitted to get a training center question on the ballot — underscoring the growing Democratic rift over the project.

Meanwhile, Gov. Brian Kemp and other Republicans have only intensified their support for the center, dubbing it as crucial for public safety and the morale of officers — and challenging their political rivals to take a firmer stand on the debate.

The dynamic only ratchets up the pressure on Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, the first-term Democrat and chief champion of the project, who faces a new round of withering criticism from both activists and a federal judge over the city’s legal strategy.

Dickens told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he “is looking forward to seeing what’s in the boxes” and unequivocally opposed an effort in City Council to short-circuit the referendum process — something legal experts say would likely be unconstitutional.

The developments have cast a brighter spotlight on the brutal intraparty battle over the proposed 85-acre facility, which has pitted mainstream Democrats against a coalition of environmentalists and social justice activists who have accused party leaders of a betrayal for not forcefully condemning the center.


“As voters, we are not going to forget,” said Mary Hooks of the Movement for Black Lives, one of the key opponents of the complex. “I think it’s going to be hard-pressed for us to continue to show up for Democrats in this state when they continue to turn their back on us.”

‘Honesty is the best policy’

The new divide centers on the city’s handling the more than 116,000 signatures delivered to City Hall on Sept. 11.

Georgia law requires signatures of 15% of registered voters, or roughly 58,000 signatures, to force a referendum. But first, each of the signatures must be verified to ensure they are valid Atlanta residents. Activists opposing the project say they delivered more than enough signatures to get the question on the ballot.


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