The Jolt: Business owners have a right to be angered by protest violence, Atlanta mayor says

June 1, 2020 Atlanta: Businesses along Peachtree Street across from Woodruff Park were all boarded up Monday morning after losing glass to vandals. Atlantans coming into downtown for work on Monday, June 1, 2020 saw boarded up buildings and debris strewed across sidewalks and streets following weekend cleanup efforts. Over the weekend vandals left a trail of smashed windows and graffiti in their wake. A third day of protests in Atlanta over recent incidents of police violence across the country ended with 64 arrests. According to Atlanta police, the arrests were made without major incidents. A citywide curfew went into effect at 9 p.m. Sunday. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
June 1, 2020 Atlanta: Businesses along Peachtree Street across from Woodruff Park were all boarded up Monday morning after losing glass to vandals. Atlantans coming into downtown for work on Monday, June 1, 2020 saw boarded up buildings and debris strewed across sidewalks and streets following weekend cleanup efforts. Over the weekend vandals left a trail of smashed windows and graffiti in their wake. A third day of protests in Atlanta over recent incidents of police violence across the country ended with 64 arrests. According to Atlanta police, the arrests were made without major incidents. A citywide curfew went into effect at 9 p.m. Sunday. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

On Wednesday, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms spent more than an hour with the editorial board of the AJC, answering questions from both editors and reporters. The conversation generated two front-page pieces in today's print edition. The first:

Ever since Saturday night's devastating shooting of 8-year-old Secoriea Turner, the question has persisted. Why were armed civilians allowed to commandeer a public street without any pushback by law enforcement?

…Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said police had planned on clearing the area weeks earlier but were encouraged to wait after City Councilmember Joyce Sheperd requested more time to negotiate with activists.

Then there was the issue of pandemic masking. After her session with the AJC, Bottoms issued a mandate requiring people in the city to wear masks in public to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a move that follows similar decisions by other local governments -- in open defiance of Gov. Brian Kemp.

In the AJC conversation, the mayor said she felt secure establishing a mask requirement after Kemp took no action against those other Georgia cities, which include Savannah and the governor's hometown of Athens.

In fact, a morning Tweet from one of the governor's top aides did not challenge the legitimacy of Bottoms order, but merely offered this criticism;

Regarding @KeishaBottoms "public health" mask mandate, there's no exception for exercise, but there's an exception for smoking.

Also during the AJC meeting, the mayor was asked whether she understood the anger felt by the owners of small businesses in Atlanta whose livelihoods had been damaged or destroyed during a month of sporadic street violence. Said Bottoms:

"I think they should be upset and it's understandable That they are upset. I was upset. I've been upset by the violence, I've been upset by the shootings, I've been upset by the injustices. The entire country is upset. What we saw erupt in Atlanta on May 29 -- it was something that we had not seen in a very long time in this city. If my recollection is correct, the last time we saw that was around the time of the Rodney King verdict [in 1992].

"So this was literally a once-in-a-generation thing that we saw erupting that night, and it was as bad as it looked. I also know that it could have been a whole lot worse that night. Because we saw worse. We've seen worse in other cities.

"But it certainly doesn't feel that way if your business was the one that was damaged. That's the reason we immediately became proactive, in the same way we did with COVID, and started putting things into place to help people with small business grants."

Bottoms also forcefully denied the accusation that she has been distracted by talk that she is being considered by Democratic presidential presumptive Joe Biden as his running mate.

She said a recent spate of national appearances on cable news networks took up only a fraction of each work day.

“You don’t get to be the mayor of Atlanta without being able to multitask. I multitask multiple issues, problems and concerns each and every day,” Bottoms said. “That’s been from the beginning of our administration. I am not distracted. I have a pretty big job in front of me and I do it every day. I don't have the luxury to think about a lot of things, including a job that I don’t have.”

Asked if she actually wanted the job of vice president, Bottoms said:

"It's never been my goal. To the extent my name was brought up as a contender, my name was brought up by others. It's not because I asked for it or bargained for it or negotiated for it.

"[Biden] is the best person to beat Donald Trump. That's how strongly I feel about where we are in this country. And everything I felt in June of last year has proven my point even more about the need to have strong leadership in the White House."

***

During an appearance on Fox News Radio, U.S. Sen. David Perdue joined other Georgia Republicans in accusing Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of allowing street protests to get out of hand.

“To have an 8-year-old girl shot down on the streets of Atlanta. My question is, where is the outrage? Seriously, this is unacceptable,” Perdue said. “I applaud the governor for stepping up and bringing out the Guard to bring law and order back.”

Perdue also criticized Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard for seeking criminal charges against the two police officers involved in the shooting of Rayshard Brooks. “We had a district attorney for political reasons who jumped the gun and got out of the sequence,” said Perdue.

***

We've got three separate items this morning that need to be read in tandem. The first comes from our AJC colleague James Salzer:

While Stacey Abrams was being talked up as a possible Democratic vice presidential pick this spring, the voting rights organization she founded was collecting more donations than all of the state primary candidates and two major political parties in Georgia combined.

Since February, the political action committee for Fair Fight has raised about $6.3 million, most of it from out-of-state donors and a good bit of it funneled to 18 state Democratic parties to help efforts to get out the vote this fall, according to new reports filed Wednesday.

And then there is a massive look at modern Georgia politics by J. Miles Coleman and Niles Francis over at Sabato's Crystal Ball, by way of explaining why they are changing the state's rating from "likely Republican" to "lean Republican." A taste:

This time around, a preponderance of recent polling suggests Georgia is competitive. The Biden campaign will aim to hold and expand on Democrats' new coalition of suburban voters, but outreach to Black voters in rural Georgia should be a priority.

Still, the state has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1996, so Democrats' optimism needs to be tempered with some dose of caution. But if the national picture doesn't improve for Trump, Georgia's 16 electoral votes could end up in the blue column.

And finally, Fox News reports that One Nation – the nonprofit advocacy arm of American Crossroads – has placed an $8.65 million ad buy to run TV spots for four weeks in Georgia starting in August.

The Senate Leadership Fund is set to add another $13.5 million to start airing ads in mid-September, the network reported. And the National Republican Senatorial Committee has already shelled out about $2 million for ads in July.

All total, Republican groups aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are planning to spend roughly $24 million to help U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler keep their seats.

***

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's office is working with county elections officials to avoid a repeat of June's chaotic primary elections that included hours-long lines to vote, according to our AJC colleague Mark Niesse:

Poll worker jobs will be advertised through social media, newspaper and radio. Tech experts will be dispatched to set up voting equipment. State election officials will tell counties where precincts need to be added.

These efforts are designed to help county election offices prevent problems in primary runoffs Aug. 11 and the presidential election Nov. 3, when election day turnout is expected to be three times higher than the primary.

***

Marjorie Taylor Greene, the leading candidate in a GOP run off for the 14th District congressional seat, has hired famed libel attorney Lin Wood to threaten legal action against her rival, neurosurgeon John Cowan.

In this 30-second video ad released Tuesday, Cowan charges that Greene's business failed to participate in a federal program that screens workers to make sure if they are not in the country illegally. From the cease-and-desist letter:

"Contrary to your accusations, U.S. Department of Homeland Security records established that Taylor Commercial, Inc. has, in truth and in fact, used E-Verify since 2010 well before the 2013 legal requirement by the state of Georgia."

***

The Wednesday print edition of the AJC included a column in which we pointed to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms' remarks about Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard's decision to charge two APD officers in the June 12 killing of Rayshard Brooks after a five-day investigation. The column also made this observation about a mayoral balancing act that is more rule than exception:

Perhaps the most important element of success for any mayor of Atlanta is a good working relationship with the city's police force. Business leaders, shop owners and those on the Buckhead side of town emphasize the need for safety and security.

That demand has always had to be weighed against Atlanta neighborhoods that also want that safety and security, but don't always see the police as a force for good. Witness the 2006 death of Kathryn Johnston, a 92-year-old Vine City resident shot in her own home by undercover cops serving a no-knock warrant.

Former state senator Vincent Fort of Atlanta took exception to that passage and other points in the column, to wit:

"Your essay reflects how black and white people see the police differently in Atlanta and throughout the country. The most offensive part of the column was the passage which said the mayor should act based on what 'the Buckhead side of town,' which is predominately white, wants because residents there 'emphasize the need for safety and security.'

"That is, white Atlantans should be given priority in how decisions are made regarding policing in Atlanta. This is a shocking statement at a time when there is a national conversation going on regarding race and white supremacy.

"Paul Howard's decision to bring charges in the shooting of Rayshard Brooks in the back came after viewing eight different videos of the killing. The DA's office interviewed multiple witnesses from the crowded scene at the Wendy's. Howard would have been derelict if he had not brought charges with the mountain of evidence available.

"Since the district attorney made the decision to charge officers, the police union has mounted a public relations campaign against the decision. The union has insisted Paul Howard should have waited for the conclusion of the GBI investigation. It's obvious they are anticipating that the GBI's conclusion will be that Brooks' death was a justifiable homicide. In reality, the police union would prefer no charges at all against any officer. 

"Police unions are the No. 1 impediment to transforming policing. Their influence with voters and campaign contributions allow them to intimidate cowardly elected officials. The police union's support of Paul Howard's opponent and their consorting with U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, is indicative of the influence they wield.

"The union also knows they can depend on the mainstream media to carry their message on television and in the newspaper."

***

Already posted: Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black endorsed Doug Collins' bid for U.S. Senate on Wednesday, making him the second statewide Republican official to break ranks with Gov. Brian Kemp and incumbent Kelly Loeffler.

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Veteran lobbyist Nick Juliano has joined Impact Public Affairs as a partner. Juliano previously worked as Uber's go-to lobbyist in the Southeast, and before that was a key voice for the city of Atlanta and Hartsfield-Jackson.

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