It seemed the perfect opportunity for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to slam a bitter rival.
Days earlier, he had called Atlanta mayoral contender Mary Norwood and City Council President Ceasar Mitchell “losers” after they appeared together in a joint press conference. And just as he was wrapping up an event Monday, news broke that former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin also backed Norwood.
Instead, after he was informed of the news by an aide, he declined an immediate comment. There was no scathing statement later in the day from his office about the former candidates rallying around Norwood to oppose his preferred candidate, Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms.
And when he did comment, he steered clear of the biting rhetoric he’s used previously during the campaign.
"Democrats at home & across America are supporting Keisha Lance Bottoms' campaign," he wrote in one post touting the endorsement of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. "Today would be a terrific day to early vote for Keisha Lance Bottoms. We need 60K votes," he wrote in another.
Reed’s endorsement of Bottoms in early October - and his bruising attacks of her rivals - helped her emerge from a crowded field of contenders in the November vote and gave her access to his donors. But he seems to be playing a more understated role in the final days of the campaign.
In a lengthy statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Reed focused on the other Democrats who have supported Bottoms and painted Norwood as a Republican - but didn't take aim at the string of former contenders, many of whom he criticized during the campaign, who backed Norwood.
In the last week, former Fulton County Commission chair John Eaves, ex-Atlanta official Peter Aman and former City Council President Cathy Woolard joined Franklin and Mitchell to support Norwood. And ex-state Sen. Vincent Fort refused to pick a side.
Norwood’s new supporters said they picked her because of her experience and policy proposals and not because of their own clashes with the mayor. But several suggested he has complicated Bottoms’ race.
Woolard, the third-place finisher in November’s contest, said Reed’s outspoken comments throughout the race has made it more difficult for Bottoms to run as her own candidate.
“It’s made it much harder for her to be heard in her own voice, and that’s unfortunate,” Woolard said shortly after holding a forum with both candidates to help make up her mind. “And that’s why I wanted her to have an opportunity in this group to be able to speak about it.”
Bottoms isn’t holding Reed at arm’s length, but she has more vigorously sought to put daylight between her and the mayor. When she invoked Reed's name at a Tuesday forum, it was to push back at attacks that paint her as a puppet of the incumbent.
“This will not be a third term for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed,” said Bottoms. “I will not be controlled by anyone when I become mayor of the city. We need to put to bed this conversation, because the mayor is not responsible for me. I’m not a pixie dust candidate. I’m an independent candidate with an independent mind.”
Bottoms has also sought other ways to burnish her independence. Her latest TV ad scrolls through a series of her high-profile endorsements but doesn't include Reed, who played a prominent role in her earlier spots. And her policy proposals reflect a shift as well.
She once regularly said that just “a few bad apples” created a cloud of suspicion and led to a federal corruption probe of City Hall. This week, she took a different tack by unveiling a major ethics package that includes an independently-funded Chief Compliance Officer to enforce transparency rules.
As Tuesday's vote nears, some political strategists have encouraged Reed to take a quieter role in the campaign even as they point to signs of his popularity.
Internal polls, they say, show him with high approval ratings. He is one of the most prominent Democrats in the state, a reliable draw on the campaign trail and a magnet for media coverage.
In the statement, Reed said not to expect him to shirk from speaking his mind about the race.
"I have not been shy about talking to you or anyone about this campaign and I don’t plan to be,” the mayor said. “I have exercised my rights as a citizen, as have others. I endorsed prior to the general election because Keisha Lance Bottoms is the most qualified candidate to be the next mayor of the City of Atlanta.”
Here’s the mayor’s full statement:
"I have not been shy about talking to you or anyone about this campaign and I don’t plan to be. I have exercised my rights as a citizen, as have others. I endorsed prior to the general election because Keisha Lance Bottoms is the most qualified candidate to be the next Mayor of the City of Atlanta.
Strong Democrats and leaders like Ambassador Andrew Young, Jason Carter, Stacey Evans, state Democratic Party Chair DuBose Porter, Elena Parent, Nan Orrock, Kathy Ashe, Hank Aaron and Kwanza Hall have all announced their support and are standing with Keisha because they know she is the right candidate to move Atlanta forward. It’s exciting to see so many leaders from our city and state join with her in this campaign.
I have continued to work tirelessly to support her campaign because there is so much at stake in this election. I tell every voter I speak with that I do not believe that Atlantans will turn the clock back and elect a Mayor like Mary Norwood who wasn't even sure whether racial profiling exists.
I do not believe Atlantans will elect the candidate who voted in 12 Republican primaries and has stronger ties to the GOP than Donald Trump, and who refused to denounce Trump on multiple occasions.
I do not believe Atlantans will elect a Mayor who bowed to pressure and voted for bloated pensions, which put this city in the worst financial condition it had been in in 40 years.
That's why Norwood's support in the general election this year was less than half of what it was eight years ago, and that’s why Keisha has a strong and diverse group of Democrats backing her today.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.