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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

Dickens said in an interview with the Politically Georgia podcast that he consulted with U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, former gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams, and other party leaders to shape what happened next.

The city didn’t immediately begin the work to verify the petitions, instead citing an ongoing legal battle over whether non-Atlanta voters can help collect signatures and whether the overall issue can be put on the ballot.

That led to a rebuke from the U.S. District Court Judge Mark Cohen, who accused city officials of moving the goalposts about whether they would accept the referendum in the first place.

“A proverb dating back over four centuries ago once again applies here,” he wrote. “Honesty is the Best Policy.”

As the scrutiny intensifies, key party leaders are taking steps to distance themselves from the city’s legal strategy.

Warnock on Friday issued a three-page letter demanding that the mayor answer more than a dozen questions about the process, while urging him and other city officials to “err on the side of giving people the ability to express their views.”


And Abrams, who honed a reputation as one of the nation’s leading voting rights advocates, explicitly endorsed putting the training center referendum on the ballot.

“The rarely used citizen referendum is designed for precisely this type of fraught issue,” she told the AJC. “Regardless of one’s position on the subject matter, the leadership of the city should make every effort to allow direct citizen engagement by vote.”

Dickens hasn’t directly responded to either of the Democratic leaders. But in the Politically Georgia podcast, he said the project’s opponents should shoulder the legal burden of proving why the referendum should move forward. He cast it as a battle over public safety.

“We still are in a place of trying to bring down violent crime through policing and non-policing activities,” Dickens said. “But if police officers don’t feel like we have their backs, if firefighters feel like we don’t have their backs, that will affect them.”


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