For the third time in as many months, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was holding a press conference to acknowledge the tragedy of another child killed, this time among the crossfire of 20 shootings in just one Atlanta weekend. A similar press conference in late March followed the NBA All-Star weekend shooting spree (14) and another child’s tragic shooting earlier. As the body count rises, Atlanta homicides are up 60 percent over the prior year, now surpassing a 50-year high and putting Atlanta on par with Chicago in killings per capita, in what may be a close contest for Murder Capital of the United States in 2021. Generally not the kind of ranking you want to be topping.
This is not the Mayor’s office that Keisha Lance Bottoms campaigned for. The Atlanta of 2017 was still a shining city on the hill in some respects, highly regarded for its civility and perceived racial equity, economically vibrant and routinely atop numerous business and best cities lists and still headed for even greater things. Bottoms won a close first contest, and was considered to be an easy win for re-election. But 2020 had a few other things in mind. A pandemic, job crippling recession, frequent conflicts with the state and its’ GOP leadership, a summer of turmoil and racial justice protests as well as some rioting and, worst of all, a crime surge and shootings spree with seemingly no end in sight.
Approachable, affable and articulate, Bottoms’ star shone and a national reputation developed, enhanced by frequent cable network television appearances and the combined approach of empathetic leader and concerned mother, particularly during the summer of protests, vaulting her onto the national stage. And folks noticed. Biden would vet her for V.P. and a cabinet post or two. And her early support of the then vice president during some waning phases of his own White House bid, including stumping for him in person in Iowa and South Carolina, cemented an already strong bond with the first family. And yet, this wasn’t making Atlanta streets safer, getting trash to the landfills or handling the nitty-gritty that is the management of a city... and Atlanta wanted more.
And now, clearly Mayor Bottoms does not want more of the same. She will finish her term, a self-declared lame duck, with aims to pursue the issues she came to work on — sustainability, affordable housing and equity. Again, important issues, but they remain low on the totem until people first feel safe. The Atlanta of 2021 is larger in part due to annexation, and whiter, due to gentrification and housing in areas where there had been none for decades. This Atlanta will be more demanding. And this Atlanta wants more.
The departure of a popular incumbent will re-open the field. There will be several more to enter this short runway and contest now between June and November. The nonpartisan General Election for mayor and council seats will almost certainly be followed by a runoff.
The clear beneficiary of Bottoms’ voluntary departure is a peer and former colleague on the Atlanta City Council, City Council President and presiding officer Felicia Moore. Moore was elected Council president in 2017 and has served on the council for 20 years, representing the 9th District. Moore is a longtime advocate for transparency and accountability and is highly regarded for her personal integrity and follow through. Far from being a household name, she has a strong campaign team and so far a war chest second only to the incumbent mayor’s, who had a nice assist from President Biden in earlier kicking off her re-election efforts.
A flood of new entrants potentially joining this race is recognizable to many — Mary Norwood, now in the midst of her own campaign for a citywide council post; interim Congressman Kwanza Hall, another previous mayoral contender who sat in the 5th Congressional District seat for slightly more than a month; Kathy Woolard, another former City Council president and mayoral candidate of 2017; and perhaps most intriguing the potential political comeback of former mayor and Bottoms’ mentor, Kasim Reed.
The candidate who proposes the most solid plan that might yield results to turn back the tide of this crime wave will break away from the others sooner rather than later. Though there are few certainties in politics and public life, the benefits of momentum and being in the right place at the right time cannot be overstated. This contest has a ways to go yet, but right now it looks like prime time for Moore.