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Hopefuls vie for say in Riverdale's future

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

On Tuesday, citizens of Riverdale will vote to decide the future direction of their city, with staunchly opposed candidates running for mayor, as well as for Ward 2 and Ward 4 Council Seats.

Today, those candidates will share their campaign platforms and take pre-screened questions from citizens during a public forum at Riverdale First United Methodist Church, located at 6390 Church Street in Riverdale. The event will start at 6:30 p.m., with an informal meet-and-greet session and the forum will begin at 7 p.m.

The Riverdale election takes place in the wake of four years of discord between the mayor, Phaedra Graham, and the majority of the current city council. At several times during her tenure, the mayor has vetoed ordinances the majority of the council saw as vital, and has also vetoed appointees to various city positions made by some council members.

City councilmen have also accused the mayor of not showing up at various meetings and not making an effort to retrieve vital information available to the mayor and council.

Three candidates -- Evelyn Wynn-Dixon, Jewell Lewis, and Stephanie Campbell -- have decided to challenge Graham.

"We need to have more accountability for those who hold key positions in the city," said Wynn-Dixon. "I want to be a mayor that is accessible to the people ... someone who is available at all times and is approachable."

She said the city has lacked a sense of "team play" between the mayor and the council. "You bite your tongue, but you don't cut it out," said Wynn-Dixon, vice president of community relations at Metropolitan Hospice in Atlanta. "You come up with an amenable plan."

Lewis expressed a similar desire to create a better union between the mayor and the council. "The mayor is only one person," said Lewis. "It takes a team to make things work. I am not threatened by other people's opinions ... we have to learn how to disagree."

Graham said, while she has not always agreed with the council, she has the knowledge and experience to move the city forward. "Just like in any family, family members disagree on certain issues," said Graham. "That does not mean that everyone does not have the same focus. I would like to see the city continue on its path of progress. I believe that I have gained the experience and the knowledge as mayor, even though there have been times that I would call joyful challenges."

Lewis, secretary of Christians for Change Baptist Church in Riverdale, said the city is currently experiencing growing pains, particularly in the wake of its plans to create a new Town Center complex. Plans for the Town Center -- a tax allocation district, which includes plans for a new city hall, an amphitheater, new restaurants, and residential units -- were nearly derailed by the mayor's veto last Thursday. The veto was overridden by the council in an emergency meeting.

Campbell, a banker by profession, expressed that she is in favor of the Town Center project, as long as the growth is managed properly. "We need to bring Riverdale into the 21st century," said Campbell. "The people have voiced their opinion, and if its what the people want, that's what the people get."

While Wynn-Dixon, Lewis, and Campbell expressed similar enthusiasm for the Town Center project, they also said there are different initiatives they want to pursue. Wynn-Dixon's focus would be on creating more programs for the elderly and youth, Lewis would concentrate on being approachable and making house calls to constituents, and Campbell expressed a need for proactive public safety and code enforcement.

Two city council members, Michelle Bruce, of Ward 2, and Kenny Ruffin, of Ward 4, will be defending their seats on Tuesday. Bruce has opposition from three candidates -- Roberto Advincula, a meter reader for the Clayton County Water Authority; Wayne Hall, a 30-year veteran of the Atlanta Fire Department, and Georgia Fuller, a clerk at McDowell's Cleaners in Atlanta. Ruffin faces Stan Harris, a general contractor in Riverdale.

Bruce and Ruffin have similar views on city development, although Bruce wants to concentrate on keeping taxes low, while Ruffin wants to diversify the city's tax base.

"We need to make decisions for the next 20 years, instead of the next five years," said Ruffin.

Two of the challengers, however, Harris, who opposes Ruffin, and Advincula, who is running against Brice, have different views on the Town Center project. "The people are going to suffer, if the city builds a Town Center," said Advincula. "What will happen to the smaller businesses? We already have a downtown Atlanta. We don't need that. You're going to bring more taxes and more crime."

Harris said, "I don't know too many people who want to pay $12 for a chicken sandwich," in Riverdale. "We also have to think of our constituents here. We already have restaurants here, sucking air, not making it as it is."

Wayne Hall, another candidate for the Ward 2 seat currently held by Bruce, said his focus would include improving public safety response times and taking advantage of more federal aid programs.

Georgia Fuller, also running in Ward 2, said she would concentrate on improving streets, neighborhood beautification, and community-based policing.