Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms posed for a picture with Gov.-elect Brian Kemp.

Kemp extends an olive branch to Atlanta City Hall 

Gov.-elect Brian Kemp took a step toward thawing his icy relationship with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms when he walked on Wednesday to City Hall for a sit-down with the Democrat.  

The Republican said the two discussed economic development initiatives and that he would continue “working with the mayor to keep Georgia moving forward.” And aides to Bottoms characterized it as a positive meeting. 

It was the most significant olive branch yet from Kemp to Democrats after he narrowly won a divisive election against Stacey Abrams a month ago, and followed his victory by pledging to carry out his conservative campaign vows and stocking his new transition team with well-known Republicans. 

Advisers to both politicians noted the symbolism of the setting: Kemp walked the roughly 300 steps from the Gold Dome to the mayor’s office, rather than the other way around, in a sign of respect for one of the state’s top Democratic leaders. 

The two have a thorny history, particularly compared to the fabled friendship built over much of the past decade between Gov. Nathan Deal and former Mayor Kasim Reed. 

On the campaign trail, Kemp took a much cooler tone toward City Hall. 

He invoked the ongoing federal corruption probe as he threatened to support a state takeover of the city’s crown jewel, the bustling Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. And he slammed Bottoms after her decision to block the city jail from holding any more U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees.

Bottoms shot back, mocking a Kemp campaign ad by saying she doesn’t “take advice from people who hold shotguns at children.” And she vigorously campaigned for Abrams, saying her victory would offer Democrats a chance to “change the world.”

The meeting was an effort to soothe those tensions. A spokeswoman for the mayor said Kemp and Bottoms addressed the perennial state legislative efforts to seize more control over the airport as well as affordable housing issues.

It was not clear whether the $5 billion makeover of downtown Atlanta’s Gulch, which was recently approved by city lawmakers with Deal’s vocal support, was also discussed. 

Tharon Johnson, a veteran Democratic strategist and Bottoms adviser, described the conversation as a fruitful discussion on economic issues that will “benefit everyone.” 

“All Georgians will benefit from a governor of a state and the mayor of its capital city having a good working relationship,” said Johnson. “And going into the legislative session, it’s important that the mayor and the governor show legislators that there’s a commitment to working together.” 

The city and state have weathered far stormier relationships.

Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen and Gov. Lester Maddox were poisonous rivals ever since Allen beat Maddox, then a firebrand segregationist restaurateur, for the city’s top job in 1961. And Maynard Jackson’s election as the city’s first African-American mayor jolted state politicians.

Still, Jackson was able to form relationships with influential state lawmakers to press the city’s needs and help pave the way toward the 1996 Olympics. So did his successor, Andy Young, who used his national contacts to work with Gold Dome allies to promote international investment in the city and state.

Those strained ties — often toxic during the 1960s — gave way to a new era of cooperation at the start of this decade as Deal and Reed’s close relationship quickly became the toast of the city’s business community.

Both rallied behind a failed transportation tax, headlined the push for the new $1.6 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, doubled-up the lobbying offensive to deepen Savannah’s port and paved the way for the Gulch overhaul

And that partnership survived many political - and real - storms, including the disastrous response to the icy weather in 2014 that made Atlanta the butt of national jokes. 

The two were so cozy that Deal’s chief of staff donated to Reed’s re-election campaign — and Reed predicted Deal would win a second term over a Democrat 18 months before the vote.

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.