“In Atlanta, politics cedes nothing without demand. This is particularly true whenever a new generation stands up to the old guard.” – attorney Robert Hillard Patillo, CBS Atlanta radio
“It’s important we put qualified young people in these City Council seats. People that will be able to learn very quickly and be able to hit the ground running.” – Brionte McCorkle
By Maynard Eaton
She is the youngest political candidate in this current crop of Atlanta City Council hopefuls, and arguably the best of the extensive field some say. Meet 25-year-old Brionte McCorkle, the crafty and compelling Sierra Club executive who is credited for engineering MARTA’s expansion to Clayton County in 2014.
Now, McCorkle is competing to win election to Atlanta’s coveted District 11 City Council seat; the so-called “Gold Coast” of Black Atlanta. It is the seat vacated by mayoral candidate Keisha Lance Bottoms. Despite her impressive, if not, exemplary educational and professional credentials as this “Marvelous Millennial” – which McCorkle has been called – there’s been some angst about her age.
“Yes, some people question if I’m truly committed or if I really understand the district as such a young person,” laments McCorkle, who describes herself as a progressive in the spirit of Senator Bernie Sanders, but equipped with real-world conservative principles and philosophies. “They think that I don’t understand the history. They say things like that was before your time or you don’t know because you’re so young. It’s infuriating.”
That’s because McCorkle is acutely aware of the area’s esteemed history. District 11 encompasses the enviable Southwest Atlanta neighborhoods where Atlanta civil rights legends, millionaire businessmen, prominent politicians and preachers such as Presidential Medal of Freedom Honorees Rev. C.T. Vivian and Dr. Joseph Lowery, Dr. Gerald Durley, Dr. Joseph Williams and former Atlanta mayors Andrew Young, Shirley Franklin among many others. Mayor Kasim Reed lives there also.
District 11 and Southwest Atlanta are often called “the soul and substance” of the city. McCorkle is concerned about how the growing impact of gentrification is likely to disrupt that characterization.
“The part of Atlanta I would represent is the part I’m trying to protect from changing too much,” she says. “Obviously we want it to grow, develop, and all of the things the other parts of town want. We just don’t want everyone in the community to change.”
Much like Atlanta is often referred to as the tale of two cities – the haves and the have-not’s – McCorkle says that same dynamic rings true in District 11.
“There’s a part of the district that’s doing very well and a part of the district that’s struggling,” she reveals. “This is the narrative our neighbors talk about with each other but that doesn’t necessarily get broadcast outside of the district. The work to get elected officials to do the right thing for communities is what ultimately led me to run for office.”
McCorkle adds, with concern, that Southwest Atlanta is “under threat” and she wants to correct that pressing problem and calm the fears of the District 11 constituents as their City Council representative.
“There’s a lot of high income Black people in Southwest Atlanta and many people will say ‘This is one of the wealthiest Black communities in America’,” McCorkle says during a recent Newsmakers Live interview with this reporter. “That’s the source of pride thing that we want to protect. Homeowners and business leaders feel threatened because of all the people moving into Atlanta and slowly but surely moving into the Southwest part of the city. We don’t want to lose our legacy at all.”
There are seven candidates seeking the District 11 seat, but should she win the race as pundits predict, McCorkle will be the first woman of such a tender age ever elected to the Atlanta City Council. She suggests that is a benefit to Southwest Atlanta voters because she brings vigor, vision, gusto and incredible intellect.
“I’d be breaking a record and I say that not to scare off older people or to dismiss their value,” she explains. “I also recognize a lot of old people feel that’s happening that people don’t want to know the history, what they’ve gone through, and that their contributions are being dismissed. I don’t want them to feel that way but what I do want is us to have some representation from younger people in the policy making process. There are a lot of us who are trying to start families, trying to get established, and we’re trying to build businesses. We need people to be thinking about things from our perspective too.”
In Atlanta, politics cedes nothing without demand, opines WAOK-AM and CBS Radio political pundit Robert Patillo, Esq . “This is particularly true whenever a new generation stands up to the old guard,” he says. “From the days of Martin Luther King Jr. having to leave Atlanta to have the space to forge his own destiny to the opposition to the Atlanta Student’s Movement by the old guard in Black leadership, it is a well-worn tradition of the old lions doing everything that they can to cling to power no matter how much it negates progress. The same is true in this race, there is a young and dynamic group of growing leaders coming and they are in no mood to be told ‘wait your turn’. From Mary-Pat Hector to Brionte McCorkle; the future is now for Atlanta area politics and the old folks are going to either have to get with the program or get out of the way.”
McCorkle is a new age cerebral candidate of conscious with the requisite zeal and verve to serve. She is ready to step up to the plate of Atlanta politics.
“Brionte is clever, confident, well versed on public policy, community building and she is truly invested in being a servant to our beloved city,” says community activist Sheryl Brown, her campaign manager.
As Assistant Director of Georgia’s Sierra Club, America’s oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, McCorkle is called upon to manage the organization, as well as focus on transportation issues.
“I am kind of a nerd,” she laughs. “I’m very organized. I like strategic planning, spreadsheets, budgets, and I just like to know we’re making good decisions. And moving forward in a good direction and that it’s sustainable.”
While she readily confesses to having introverted tendencies, McCorkle is an extrovert as well, she says. “I like talking to people and hearing other people’s ideas, that’s the work of an organizer. Hearing how things should happen and trying to figure out how to make it happen.”
Now, this wife and mother of a baby daughter, is bent on employing her exemplar organizing skills for the betterment of District 11 on what promises to be a City Council stocked with newcomers as Atlanta city government embarks on a new era. McCorkle seems destined and determined to become a major player in Atlanta’s political future.
“It’s important we put qualified people in these City Council seats,” opines the Georgia State public policy graduate. “People that will be able to learn very quickly and be able to hit the ground running…not people that have no idea about the policy process or what their true role is as a councilmember.
“We’re going to hear it a lot more about affordable housing because it is an issue about race,” McCorkle adds. “Nobody wants to say that directly but that’s what it’s about, it’s a conversation about black people getting pushed and priced out of the city. If we lose Southwest Atlanta, I think we lose as Atlanta as it is. We lose Atlanta for what it’s always been known for and why a lot of people come here. We can’t afford to throw that heritage away. Many voters tell me they are afraid that one-day people are going to come to Atlanta and say what happened to all the Black people. I’m going to do my best and make sure that doesn’t happen.”