Pubdate: Thu, 20 Mar 2014
Source: Athens Banner-Herald (GA)
Copyright: 2014 Athens Newspapers Inc
Author: Jim Thompson
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Sharp distinctions were drawn Wednesday night between the two 
candidates in the nonpartisan race for mayor of Athens-Clarke County, 
but a debate sponsored by the Young Democrats of UGA also revealed a 
point of near-agreement between incumbent Nancy Denson and her 
challenger - no relation - local activist Tim Denson.

The mayor used Wednesday's debate on the UGA campus, in front of 
dozens of students, a handful of Athens residents and a couple of 
commission candidates, to announce for the first time that she favors 
the decriminalization of possession and use of small amounts of marijuana.

"I'd like to see small amounts of marijuana decriminalized," she 
said. Having small amounts of marijuana for personal use, Denson 
said, shouldn't "create a criminal record that follows someone for 
the rest of their life."

Tim Denson, who was active in Occupy Athens and has worked locally 
with the Economic Justice Coalition and the NAACP, has had as part of 
his platform the local decriminalization of possession of less than 
an ounce of marijuana. That would run counter to state law, which 
makes it a misdemeanor.

At Wednesday's debate, some time prior to Mayor Denson's revelation 
of her new stance on marijuana, Tim Denson reiterated his long-held 
stance, calling for "deprioritizing marijuana" in part because 
criminal charges related to the drug tend to impact minorities more 
than other people.

Otherwise, there were wide differences between the two mayoral candidates.

Early in the debate, Tim Denson, who said he came to Athens from 
Florida a decade ago because of the music scene, framed his candidacy 
as working for "a 21st-century vision to make an Athens for everyone."

The mayor, noting she is a lifelong Democrat, struck a decidedly 
conservative tone. She countered Denson's calls for increased public 
transit service and for governmental help with child care by asking 
where he'd take existing funds from, in order to fund his proposals.

She suggested "raising taxes on people already here" could prompt an 
exodus from Athens, and argued the best way to find funding for 
government programs and opportunity for residents is to "make the pie 
bigger," in part through economic development initiatives.

"Everything comes down to money," she said.

The mayor went on tout recent business locations and expansions in 
Athens, most notably the opening of the Caterpillar manufacturing 
facility, as "an emphasis of my administration."

Tim Denson countered economic development initiatives should be 
concentrated on high-tech startups and incubation. "We're not 
supporting those people like we should," he said. "We should be 
harnessing those people."

Another notable difference between the two candidates emerged over 
the implementation of a fee for the use of plastic grocery bags as a 
means of moving toward getting them out of the waste stream, a move 
favored by Tim Denson.

The mayor, arguing such a fee might disproportionately affect the 
poor, a constituency that is a focus of Tim Denson's campaign, said 
whoever might be affected by the bag fee, it's "not going to be the 
little yuppies who climb into their SUVs and go to Earth Fare" with 
their canvas grocery bags.

Answering a question on the rate of property crime in Athens, Tim 
Denson broadened the issue to argue for increased use of badge 
cameras among Athens-Clarke police, based on the potential for that 
equipment to cut down on use of force by police.

Nancy Denson, taking a more straightforward approach to the question, 
suggested that Athens' urban character contributes to the high 
property crime rate, as does the fact that students often don't 
secure their cars or apartments adequately.

The mayor and the local activist will face off at the polls on May 
20. Between then and now, the Federation of Neighborhoods will host a 
forum featuring the mayoral and commission candidates, and another 
local forum is reportedly in the works.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom