Voices from the 5th district: “This is where I want to be”


As the mom of a bright and busy 4-year-old, Monique Smith has been trying to figure out how best to discuss the impending presidential inauguration with her son, Michael.

“You try to teach kids in general when you say something make sure you’re telling the truth,” she said. She also imparts lessons in how her little guy should treat others. So when the big guy about to lead the country takes to Twitter to berate his political adversaries or disparage their congressional districts, what then?

“He needs to do a little more research before he opens his mouth,” Smith said of President-elect Donald Trump, whose Twitter feed made headlines (again) on Saturday, when he said U.S. Rep. John Lewis should “should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results.”

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Smith’s mom, Earleen McLain, was more direct.

“I feel like our president-elect should stop Twittering and take care of business,” she said, adding with a sigh, “It’s going to be a long four years.”

Smith and McLain were at the playground outside the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site on Saturday, two days before the national King holiday. A steady stream of visitors poured into the building, where exhibits include a film about King in which Lewis is quoted. While Michael climbed on playground equipment, his mom and grandmother debated how to talk with him about current events.

“He’s a sponge,” Smith said. “If he watches a (Trump) speech he’ll say, ‘He’s being silly.’ If a 4-year-old can pick up the fact that the president-elect is being silly, it can be a challenge.”

If Trump had driven around Atlanta on Saturday, a warm and only partly cloudy day, he’d have found thousands of folks headed to the Georgia Dome to cheer on the Falcons, enjoying gathering spots like Piedmont Park or strolling through development success stories like Ponce City Market. Exactly the opposite scene his blistering tweet portrayed, in other words.

Newlyweds Chris and Corina Shelton moved to Edgewood two years ago just to be near the Beltline, and were out for a stroll on Saturday. They just happened to be passing by a Freedom Park marker telling the story of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. while discussing Trump’s latest Twitter tirade. “Crime infested?” Come on.

“The Beltline made things 100 percent better,” Corina Shelton said.

Georgia’s 5th congressional district is home to the King Center and numerous other popular, high-profile attractions: the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, the Georgia Aquarium, the Georgia Dome, the World of Coca-Cola Museum and the Center for Civil and Human Rights, to name a few.

At another attraction, the Atlanta’s Wren’s Nest – home of author Joel Chandler Harris – storyteller Curtis Richardson had about reached the point of “a turn-off switch” with Trump.

“He’s childish and clownish. It’s almost cliché; now, that’s what he says about everybody,” Richardson said. “You have to consider the source.”

In East Point, Lauren Lagasse and Carl Vardeman spent the day moving into their new home.

“We bought a house in this location because we liked it,” Lagasse said. “We definitely don’t feel like Atlanta has fallen apart and is crime ridden.”

She attended Georgia Tech as an undergraduate and then earned her master’s degree from Georgia State University (both also in Lewis’ district).

“We did the research. Crime rates have been going down and dropping. It’s a developing area and there are lots of good things happening here,” she said. “Atlanta is home. This is where I want to be.”

Vardeman wondered if Trump puts any thoughts into his tweets.

“Trump cares more about getting reactions than understanding any issues,” he said. “He changes the subject of what everyone’s investigating and thinking and talking about. It’s no longer about what John Lewis is saying. It’s now about his opinion on Atlanta.”

Noreal Johnson, the manager of Loveland BBQ in College Park, also wonders whether Trump bones up on subjects he spouts off about. As for the “crime ridden” comment, Johnson said the area has crime, like any other, but the only police action he has seen in the three months or so the restaurant has been open is a police car pulling a driver over in the last week.

“I love my community. I live and work here. In the last five years, I’ve seen the crime rate go down,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, Donald has no idea. And that’s the scary part of him.”

Contributing: Chris Quinn, Arielle Kass, Michelle Baruchman and Ben Brasch

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