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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

A ‘betrayal?’

The rift has opened a door for Republicans, who have long supported the plan, to eagerly rejoin the fray. Kemp on Monday fired off a social media post that reinforced his support for the complex — and challenged other politicians to join him.

“Instead of hiding behind ballot processes or legal questions for a referendum, I hope elected leaders of both parties from across our state will voice their unequivocal support for the training center to enhance public safety in our capital city and our state for every Georgian we serve.”

Some Democrats see the governor’s remarks as an excuse to exploit a divide among his rivals — and change the subject from the ongoing tumult surrounding former President Donald Trump, a Kemp adversary who faces unprecedented charges in Fulton County.

State Rep. Ruwa Romman, one of the few Democratic elected officials who publicly oppose the project, said the governor “will do anything to shift the conversation away from Trump and his crimes.” (Trump has pleaded not guilty.)

But others warn that the clash could have a lasting impact on Democrats as the 2024 presidential election approaches. President Joe Biden is facing a potential rematch against Trump in a state he carried by fewer than 12,000 votes in 2020.

Hillary Holley, a veteran activist and former Abrams deputy who currently serves as executive director for Care in Action, warned that Atlanta leaders are “betraying basically every single organization” that helped elect them.


“Instead of Atlanta Democrats allowing voters to decide, they are using voter suppression tactics to silence over 110,000 constituents ahead of a very hard 2024 presidential cycle,” she said.

“This is a slap in the face to voters and those who worked hard to get Democrats elected and politically dumb.”

Meanwhile, organizations are continuing to ramp up the pressure on Atlanta’s elected leaders to bypass the courts and put the referendum directly on the ballot.

Dozens of national, state and local organizations — from civil rights groups to voting advocates — sent a letter to Atlanta City Council last week urging them to pass legislation to put the training center question on the ballot.

“A referendum will provide the residents of our city an opportunity to directly decide how millions of taxpayer dollars are spent and how–– not whether–– our city invests in public safety,” they wrote. “A referendum will also give leaders affirmation and some closure on where residents stand on this decision.”

It’s not immediately clear whether the City Council has the power to put the question directly on the ballot.

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