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Candidates weigh incorporating socialist principles in Athens city government

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Editor’s Note: This is an abridgment and republishing of a longer Athens NEWS article that initially appeared in the 6/27 print edition and appears online HERE. The New Political has express permission from The Athens News to republish this article.

Left-leaning candidates running for local offices engaged in a discussion forum at the Athens public library Thursday, June 20 where they discussed the application of socialist principles to city government.

Those who participated in the forum were Damon Krane, a democratic socialist contesting incumbent Mayor Steve Patterson; Ellie Hamrick and Chris Monday, both socialists running for at-large Athens city council positions; and McCray Powell, a socialist running for Nelsonville City Council.

The event was hosted by Athens for Bernie Sanders 2020, a group seeking to promote local liberal candidates and campaign for Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2020 Democratic primaries.

Athens residents can cast their votes November 5 in the general election.

Here are five big takeaways from the event:

Predatory housing practices

Several candidates expressed concern about predatory landlord practices and rent pricing in Athens.

Krane and Hamrick discussed their proposed “operation slumlord smack down” policy, which, if implemented, could expand Athens Code Enforcement, an agency that ensures rental properties follow city housing laws.

“Athens is an absolute paradise for predatory slumlords,” Krane said, “Our city government won’t crack down on them. Our city government won’t even allocate the resources necessary for our code enforcement office to be able to enforce the housing code that’s on the books right now.”

Both Hamrick and Monday demanded that the city regulate rent pricing. Monday, who returned to Athens after living elsewhere for a few years, was shocked at the sharp increase in rent pricing over a short period of time.

“Bosses, landlords, and top university officials prosper, while the rest of us struggle to make ends meet,” Hamrick said.

Local law and order

A few candidates discussed crime and policing issues, such as immigration and drug abuse.

Hamrick denounced the police, an agency she believes does not exist to serve the working class. If elected, Hemrick hopes to “take as much money from the police as possible at every opportunity,” she said.

She wants to decriminalize all drugs, and implement clean needle exchanges, free narcan, and safe injection sites for heroin users.

Hamrick also believes Athens should help undocumented immigrants and refuse cooperation with federal agencies that work to curb undocumented migration.

“Athens should be a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants,” Hamrick said. “Moreover, all Athens residents should have the right to vote in local elections regardless of citizenship status.”

Powell hopes to introduce an ordinance in Nelsonville similar to The Athens Cannabis Ordinance, a local ballot initiative Athens voters approved in 2017, which eliminated the penalty fine for marijuana misdemeanors of up to 200 grams worth of possession or cultivation within Athens city limits.

He wants to compel all emergency services in Nelsonville to carry narcan to protect the lives of heroin users.

“In Nelsonville, the police do not carry narcan — they refuse to,” Powell said. “There is no recovering for someone who is dead.”

If elected, Powell also plans to reduce Nelsonville’s “bloated” police budget in order to fix the city’s ongoing “budget crisis.”

Protecting the land

Hamrick described the global environmental prospects as dire and believes immediate action is required to change course.

“I don’t think we have time to waste, moderating our demands, pandering to people, we assume are to the right of us,” Hamrick said. “We literally have 10 years to make an actual revolution, to overthrow the government in 10 years.”

She cited an Athens NEWS article published in June about dozens of residents lacking running water access in Nelsonville, calling the conditions described in the article unacceptable and proclaiming that clean water is a human right.

She also proposed banning fracking in Athens County, which she would not have the power to do if elected. A county-wide ban on fracking would require the Athens County Commissioner’s office to take action, not the Athens City Council.

Parking policies

Krane described Athens’ new parking policies as “regressive taxation,” something he said disproportionately affects lower income residents.

“City officials can’t ensure that three-quarters of city residents have a safe place to live, but get to the meter five minutes late, and you’ll lose an hour of your hard-earned wages,” Krane said.

Monday does not think the city should be prioritizing widespread parking changes because he believes there are other more pressing matters to be addressed.

Political discourse

Hamrick denounced the local and national Democratic Party.

“It is pretty clear that the Democratic Party at all levels of government does exactly nothing for poor and working class people, and isn’t going to,” Hamrick said. “It’s proved itself un-reformable time and time again.”

Monday also expressed dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party.

“I think even a lot of Democrats are frustrated with the two party system,” Monday said.

He decried the economic conditions in Nelsonville as bleak.

“These communities were betrayed by the mines, the factories, and the state,” Powell said. “And what we have to show for it is the pollution, poverty, and despair those entities left behind.”

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