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Monday, July 15, 2024

Atlanta Mayor Declines 2nd Term; May Be Eyeing US Senate or Ga. Gubernatorial Race

'Leadership sometimes is about passing off the baton...'

(Headline USA) Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Friday she has wrestled since her first year in office with whether to seek a second term, and this week she made a final decision to step aside even as she insisted she doesn’t know what she’ll do next.

“Leadership sometimes is about passing off the baton,” Bottoms told reporters at City Hall, the morning after releasing an election-year surprise public letter and video announcing that she wouldn’t run for re-election this year.

It was a stunning announcement for the 51-year-old politician who is just the second Black woman to lead Atlanta and who, less than a year ago, was among the women President Joe Biden considered as a possible running mate.

Bottoms called it a decision rooted in her faith, and pushed back at any notion that she is afraid of a bruising campaign.

“There is a divine voice that lives inside each of us … that may not make sense to anyone else…. But when you know what you know, it becomes less and less important what other people think,” Bottoms said, adding that she considered the matter as early as the opening months of her administration.

Bottoms is the first Atlanta mayor since World War II not to seek a second term, and only one mayor since then has been defeated for reelection. She acknowledged that history Friday, saying “this is something that’s not ordinary.”

The mayor emphasized she will finish out her term, which runs through early January.

EYES ON THE PRIZE?

While she offered no immediate plans, Bottoms notably did not rule out a future post in Biden’s administration.

“We’ll see. I can tell you being mayor with President Biden in the White House has made a world of difference,” said Bottoms, one of Biden’s earliest endorsers in a crowded Democratic primary campaign.

Bottoms also may have her sights set on a bigger race with both a US Senate seat and the governorship up for grabs next year.

Democrat Sen. Raphael Warnock narrowly defeated incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler last year in a special election to replace retired Republican Johnny Isakson.

But that race, on the heels of a highly contentious presidential election that had thrust Georgia into center stage, may have led some Republicans to boycott the special Jan. 5 election in protest of state leaders’ refusal to fully examine evidence of vote fraud.

Republicans may be looking to rebound in the race next year to win the seat outright at the end of what would have been Isakson’s term. Former University of Georgia football great Herschel Walker, a black Republican, has been floated as a potential challenger.

Warnock, meanwhile, has maintained a low profile in his first few months as a senator. During the campaign, serious allegations of spousal and child abuse surfaced about the former pastor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Ebenezer Baptist Church that could impact his decision to run again in 2022.

As for the governor’s race, Republican Brian Kemp was another casualty of the political climate, having sustained heavy criticism from both Right and Left.

President Donald Trump has vowed to primary him in the upcoming re-election race following Kemp’s perceived inaction in allowing Georgia’s disputed election results to be certified.

However, Kemp stood his ground after the state legislature passed a major reform bill directed toward resolving some of the loopholes that undermined election integrity.

Democrats—and several “woke” corporations based in Georgia—all unleashed a furor that could help mobilize Democrats next year’s race.

Kemp narrowly beat activist Stacey Abrams in 2018, and it is unclear whether she, too, may be in the political mix.

Meanwhile, Bottoms noted that she’s built a flush campaign account—with Biden’s help—and maintains a strong standing with the electorate, even as she navigates a sometimes rocky relationship with the City Council and with her one-time ally and political benefactor, former Mayor Kasim Reed.

As for the mayoral race, Bottoms said donors to her reelection account will receive a letter offering to refund their contributions. While Bottoms said she has no plans to “anoint a successor,” she said she’ll “make it known at the appropriate time who I will cast my vote for.”

The last time a candidate who was not a Democrat held power in the city was 1879, when Republican carpetbagger Nedom Angier helped usher in the end of Reconstruction and was replaced by former Confederate Capt. William Lowndes Calhoun.

Since then, throughout the Jim Crow era and beyond, Democrats have maintained an unbroken line of succession, electing the city’s first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, in 1974. Every mayor since then has been black in the blue, urban bastion of an otherwise deep-red and mostly rural state.

The City Council president, Felicia Moore, has announced her candidacy to replace Bottoms.

Some political observers believe Reed, who endorsed Bottoms in her 2017 bid, is angling for a return, after being dogged by a federal investigation into city contracts and finances during his administration.

Signaling a falling-out with Reed, Bottoms pledged not to interfere with her successor. “Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case, always, during my term,” she said.

The mayor also lamented the federal investigation, saying it sometimes “sucked the life out of City Hall.”

RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME

Bottoms’ tenure has been a mix of rough-and-tumble City Hall politics and an ever-brightening national spotlight for her.

She frequently traveled and appeared on national television to campaign for Biden. He later considered her for the vice presidency, though he eventually chose Kamala Harris, now the first woman to hold the national office.

Bottoms’ profile rose during the coronavirus pandemic and with attention on policing after George Floyd’s killing by a white Minneapolis officer last spring.

She drew plaudits for a nationally televised news conference in which she chided protesters to “go home” while sharing her own experiences as a mother of black sons to empathize with citizens distraught over police violence. She pledged to review police procedures.

Yet Bottoms met criticism herself weeks later when an Atlanta police officer shot and killed Rayshard Brooks. The officer, Garrett Rolfe, was fired last June, a day after he shot the black man in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. Rolfe was later charged with murder.

The Atlanta Civil Service Board on Wednesday reversed the firing, finding the city failed to grant Rolfe due process. Bottoms said Rolfe would remain on administrative leave while criminal charges against him are resolved.

The mayor didn’t mention Floyd or Brooks in her announcement letter, focusing instead on having given the city’s police and firefighters raises and alluding to a “social justice movement [that] took over our streets … and we persisted.”

Bottoms also noted her family’s deep ties to the city.

“My ancestors, direct descendants of the once enslaved, traveled by horse and buggy from the cotton fields of east Georgia in search of a better life for themselves and their children in Atlanta,” she wrote in her open letter Thursday.

“I have carried their belief for a better tomorrow in my heart, their earnest work ethic in my being, and their hopes for generations not yet born on my mind, each day that I have been privileged to serve,” she said.

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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