Athens resident Alan Swank is serving as Councilwoman Chris Fahl’s first primary challenger since she was elected in 2009.
Fahl, D-4th Ward, has long focused on environmental issues in the city, and she said she is continuing to follow that focus. Currently, Fahl is working on updating Title 37 in Athens City Code, which deals with landscape regulations, as it has not been updated in 25 years.
“What I want people to think about is that I've done a lot of very progressive and sustainable things with the City Council to get the city towards a more sustainable and resilient future because of climate change, and so I'm gonna be continuing that work,” Fahl said.
In her time on City Council, Fahl has served on many commissions and committees, including City and Safety Services Committee, the Athens City Comprehensive Plan, the Shade Tree Commission, the Arbor Tree Committee and the Planning and Development Committee, Clerk of Council Debbie Walker said.
Swank, however, is focusing on housing issues in the city and listening to residents — especially seniors — within the fourth ward to gauge what else he should be bringing up to Council.
“One of the first things that I heard was a real lack of affordable, quality senior housing,” Swank said. “A second thing that I heard from many, many people is that despite the fact that we have newspapers … there just aren't that many print newspapers circulating on a daily basis. People say, ‘well I gotta go online and get it.’ Well, some people just aren't adept at doing that.”
As part of his campaign, Swank is planning to try and connect with every voter in his ward. He will do this largely through knocking on doors and leaving flyers with contact information so citizens can contact him and let him know their concerns.
In order to connect with voters while still being cognizant of COVID-19 risks and regulations, Swank will be knocking on doors in a socially distant manner, much in the same fashion as he did when collecting signatures. He plans to knock on citizens’ doors and then proceed to back up around 6 to 10 feet away and conduct the conversations fully masked and distanced.
“For the people that I don't see, I will leave some sort of flyer or some sort of written statement of several things: what I've heard from neighbors, what I'm about and also how to get a hold of me,” Swank said. “I would think in that way I could reach those people and give those who are not comfortable talking in person the opportunity to either email me or pick up the phone and have a good old fashioned phone call.”
Fahl, on the other hand, has elected to avoid door-to-door communications due to the pandemic. She is instead currently working on finding the best ways to reach out to her constituents, especially students.
“I talk with constituents all the time because they have no problem just calling me up,” Fahl said. “I'm trying to think of creative ways of reaching out to people, so we'll see. Most of it's going to be personal communication but just not face-to-face.”
Fahl is not worried about the race at the moment.
“It's Athens and it's early in the campaign,” she said. “I think either of us haven't really put it out there, what we want and stuff.”
As of now, Swank is focusing on “creative problem solving” in order to get his message out and hear from voters. He is especially interested in eventually creating what he calls “street hall meetings.”
The meetings will be similar to town hall-style meetings, but are intended to be on a smaller scale and more personal.
“I'm going to call street hall meetings, where we might take over on this side, these nine streets, and I do half of them this week, and the other half next week,” Swank said. “So, the people have an opportunity to not necessarily hear from me, but for me to hear from them, because at the end of the day, the legislation the council passes really needs to be driven by the citizens, not by the elected official.”
Swank said he would prefer for the meetings to be in-person, but is fine with conducting them through Zoom during the pandemic.
“One of the things I plan on doing is getting a Zoom account, so that those who aren't comfortable meeting in a group setting can do the whole thing by Zoom,” Swank said. “At the end of the day, my candidacy is not about my agenda. My candidacy is about the agenda of the citizens of Athens — not only those in the Fourth Ward, but those across the rest of the city. The only way we know what that agenda is, is to ask people. We have to ask people.”