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Commissioner Melissa Link faces Jason Jacobs in District 2 Race

Downtown property owner Jason Jacobs is challenging incumbent Commissioner Melissa Link in District 2, an area that includes Boulevard, Normaltown and part of downtown East Athens.

Link has served as ACC commissioner since 2015, except for a brief hiatus in 2022-2023 when the state Legislature placed her in former Commissioner Mariah Parker’s district, causing Link to lose her seat. When Parker resigned, Link ran again and won by a wide margin in former school board member Kirrena Gallagher’s new district.

On paper, a progressive incumbent like Link should be difficult to beat in this district, which is among the most liberal of all districts in Athens. Despite this, Jacobs believes she is not as popular in the district as previous election results indicate.

Recently, Link sparked outrage among conservatives for a statement she made following the murder of nursing student Laken Riley. Although Riley’s alleged killer is Latino and did not use a gun, Link criticized “white men with weapons of war” in her speech and called them “monsters.” In the same speech, she denounced former President Donald Trump as a “treacherous, insurgent, bigoted, lying, cheating, fraudulent, philandering rapist.”

Over the years, Link’s many controversial statements have not only offended Republicans. In 2022, she was roundly criticized for an offhand comment accusing UGA football players of “rape and murder.” Alvin Sheats, president of the Clarke County NAACP, called the comments “outrageous” and demanded she apologize. Jeremy Longo, a former UGA defensive lineman, even sued Link for defamation.

“The language that has come from my opponent in the past has caused more division than it has united,” Jacobs said. Flagpole. “I would like to see us become more united. It feels like the extremes on both sides are drifting further apart and the people in the middle are being forgotten.”

Link was referring to former UGA linebacker Adam Anderson, who recently pleaded guilty to sexual assault, and former UGA wide receiver Akhil Crumpton, who was convicted on charges of murdering a RaceTrac employee in 2021 and will spend 30 years in the federal police. jail.

In the uproar over her previous comments, Link has not apologized. She has refused to back down, especially when it comes to statements she has made about Trump and the growing far-right movement in the US. “There is a rising movement towards fascism that has been documented,” Link said. Flagpole. “The intention is to install autocratic fascism and theocracy in this country. In half the states in the union, women don’t even have control over their bodies. We must speak out. We have to fight. Those of us who are able to do so have an obligation to do so.”

When it comes to local issues, Link’s main focus is on historic preservation and protecting city neighborhoods from gentrification. For example, she worked to save the historic Mack-Burney House on Reese Street, which could have been demolished as part of The Varsity redevelopment but was instead preserved as permanently affordable housing managed by the Athens Land Trust.

Link was instrumental in the creation of the West Downtown Historic District, which she believes will help preserve the unique character of downtown. “I advocated for the West Downtown Historic District because the rest of downtown could be covered with student housing in no time. That important history of Athens as a musical and cultural mecca would be erased,” Link said. “I really believe in protecting these neighborhoods in the city.”

Link’s determination to keep student dorms as close to campus as possible will likely win her support in the district, but some housing advocates are frustrated by her protectionist tendencies. In 2022, Link cast the deciding vote against allowing homeowners to build accessory two-bedroom units such as garage apartments or “in-law suites.” Proponents see additional housing as a relatively painless way to increase housing density and help lower rents. However, Link said at the time that allowing two-bedroom accessory units would be a “betrayal” of her constituents.

“I believe (one-bedroom accessory units) should be completely legal in most of our communities,” Link shared Flagpole. “What made me stop and think about that (two-bedroom) ordinance was I see what’s happening in our extremely dense communities in the city, where we already allow that type of multi-unit development… It’s a mess, the parking is a big chaos. rubbish. Almost every week I get a call from a little old lady stuck in her driveway.

Jason Jacobs

Jacobs said at a recent candidate forum that he supported additional housing units, although he was not specific about the number of bedrooms he would allow.

Jacobs’ main policy priority is tackling the problem of homelessness in Athens. When his pregnant wife was accosted by an aggressive beggar in 2015, Jacobs said he contacted the local government for help, but to no avail.

“I talked to the mayor at the time, Nancy Denson, and thought we were going to do something, but I didn’t see much being done,” Jacobs said. “I kept being told that there is nothing we can do about this. We can’t do that, we can’t do that, instead of: how should we do that?

With the influx of federal funds following the COVID-19 pandemic, local government has finally started taking the issue seriously. Last year, the commission approved a strategic plan to reduce and prevent homelessness, made possible by $5 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan. As the committee prepared to vote on the plan, Jacobs spoke out in opposition to it. During public comments, he expressed concern that the plan would be ineffective and even potentially dangerous because it would encourage more people experiencing homelessness to come to Athens.

“One of the things this plan doesn’t talk about is the consequences of what could go wrong if the homeless come into our city,” Jacobs told commissioners. “I want to do something with the homeless, don’t get me wrong, but this plan is not it. For me it’s just throwing money at the wall and seeing what sticks.”

Jacobs later applied to serve on the board of the Athens Homeless Coalition, but ultimately resigned after just a few months. In his resignation letter, he explained that the reason he resigned had to do with the murder of Laken Riley.

“In light of the recent tragedy of Laken Riley’s murder by someone who was not from Athens and should not have been in Athens, I cannot in good conscience be part of actions that would welcome such a person into our community. ,” writes Jacobs. “I don’t think this work has any positive impact on Athens.”

Since Jacobs became a candidate, he has moderated his tone. He now says the Athens Homeless Coalition “will do a good job of bringing many organizations together to work more effectively.” He said they are “taking some good steps” but still believes the plan has problems that are “being talked about or swept under the rug.”

Jacobs specifically opposes the idea of ​​building a new accessible shelter for the homeless, intended to get people off the streets as quickly as possible and into recovery programs. He fears such a shelter would be dangerous for residents and could encourage them to return to alcohol and drugs.

“A low barrier actually meant no barrier. There was no requirement for sobriety,” Jacobs said Flagpole, explaining that the proposed shelter was a major reason why he resigned from the homeless coalition. “People who are trying to get sober would then have to be with people who aren’t, and that could trigger them and threaten their sobriety. I also thought that the low-threshold shelter’s non-criminal background check might be a bit dangerous… Those two things were really eating at me and I felt disillusioned because I didn’t think I could make a difference in changing that .”

Jacobs emphasizes that he is not against the creation of a new homeless shelter, just that he wants treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues to be a focus. “We need to address the root cause (of homelessness) and not necessarily the symptom of not having a home,” he said.

Studies have shown that the “housing first” approach favored by the Homeless Coalition is more effective than the “treatment first” approach at stabilizing clients in the long term, especially for those experiencing chronic homelessness.

Link said she strongly supports the homeless coalition’s approach. “How do you get sober on the street? Let’s get people into a safe, controlled environment where they can collect their thoughts and have some peace and immediate access to services,” Link said. “The concept is to have services on site, to have advisors on site. To provide people with the most convenient, convenient and immediate access to treatment and support.”

This election will take place on May 21. Early voting begins on April 29.