The Jolt: Vetted for VP, Bottoms faces upside and downside of being mayor during crisis

May 30, 2020 -  Atlanta -  Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced a 9pm curfew as protests continued for a second day.  Protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody spread around the United States on Saturday, as his case renewed anger about others involving African Americans, police and race relations.    Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal Constitution
May 30, 2020 - Atlanta - Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced a 9pm curfew as protests continued for a second day. Protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody spread around the United States on Saturday, as his case renewed anger about others involving African Americans, police and race relations. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal Constitution

Riding a wave of positive press, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is being formally vetted as a potential running-mate for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Politico reports.

Citing two sources, the outlet says the first-term Democrat is among several prospects not initially considered among the top tier contenders who are suddenly under contention. Another is Florida Rep. Val Demings, who has confirmed she's being vetted.

No Georgia Democrat has done more than Bottoms to boost Biden's candidacy and her profile has soared with her handling of the demonstrations that rocked Atlanta,  beginning with that impromptu City Hall address on Friday, May 29, in which she urged protestors to go home. We took note of it then:

It was one of those moments when gender made all the difference. Her tone and language would have been out of reach for a Kasim Reed, Andrew Young, or even a Maynard Jackson.

Over the weekend, Sam Walker of the Wall Street Journal pointed that same address as a textbook example of worthy rhetoric:

The mayor's speech on May 29 seemed to simultaneously convey vulnerability and strength, passion and reason, shame and inspiration. Not everyone can pull that off.

If nothing else, however, any leader who needs to talk some sense into people can simply follow the mayor's pronouns.

Start with "I," pivot to "you" and finish with "we."

As the weekend broke, Aaron Blake of the Washington Post handicapped the 11 most likely choices as a running mate for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who clinched his party's nomination over the weekend. Stacey Abrams came in at No. 8:

The former Georgia gubernatorial candidate has been the most forceful of all in campaigning for the job — something for which she makes no apologies. "Tradition does not serve those who have been marginalized or disadvantaged," she [said].

Mayor Bottoms of Atlanta finished a step ahead of Abrams, at No. 7. But with a significant caveat:

The 50-year-old Atlanta mayor has impressed Democrats far and wide with both her handling of the unrest in Atlanta and — importantly — her public appearances. She was also one of Biden's earliest endorsers and has served as a surrogate for his campaign.

But being a mayor of a big city doesn't always translate well to running for higher office, given the many difficult local decisions for which you can be held accountable — and which may not have previously been unearthed.

And in fact, big-city mayors are often subject to harsh criticism at home. In Minneapolis on Saturday, Mayor Jacob Frey told protesters that he couldn’t support disbanding his city’s police force, and counseled reform instead. He was shouted down, and told to go home. Which he did.

In Atlanta, Mayor Bottoms has faced critical reaction over a weeklong curfew lifted Saturday. A few lines from the AJC's latest protest roundup:

"Imposing a curfew sent a message that silenced the voice of the people, and I'm glad the mayor corrected course to listen to Atlantans calling for change," said State Sen. Nikema Williams, who chairs the Democratic Party of Georgia and represents part of Atlanta. 

"This is only a first step — now it's time for Atlanta, Georgia and the rest of the country to take real action to end the police brutality that disproportionately plagues black people and put our community first."

Then there was this comment from Vincent Fort, a former state senator who lost to Bottoms in the race for mayor in 2017.

Fort said her response last Saturday sent a message to cops that “anything goes, to respond in an aggressive manner.” He also said she waited too long that day to impose the curfew, giving people just a few hours of headway.

“It’s celebrity-mayoralty to the extreme,” he said. “Anybody who has been in the city and understands the grinding poverty gets it. And City Hall’s flimsy response -- it’s not surprising at all.”

***

Speaking of Stacey Abrams and Mayor Bottoms, both of them will be discussing racism and the current state of the country during town hall events hosted by Oprah Winfrey and airing live on Tuesday and Wednesday evening.

The special, titled “OWN Spotlight: Where Do We Go From Here?,” will be simulcast on the Oprah Winfrey Network and 17 others under the Discovery Inc. umbrella, in addition airing to online.

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Early voting lines in Fulton County on Friday, which required those in line to wait until well past midnight to cast a ballot on the last day of early voting, has unleashed another round of finger pointing between Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's office and county election officials. It does not bode well for Election Day on Tuesday.

Still, this notation from GeorgiaVotes.com is striking:

-- 609,252 (49.1%) people have voted with Democratic ballots in the 2020 primary.

-- 611,084 (49.2%) people have voted with Republican ballots in the 2020 primary.

Our AJC colleague Mark Neisse notes this:

Turnout rose every day last week, especially among black voters, who accounted for 44% of all in-person voters Friday, exceeding their 30% of the state's registered voters. Four years ago, black voters accounted for 26% of the total on the last day of early voting.

The surge began in the days after the May 25 Memorial Day killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police.

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Already posted: About 100 protesters gathered outside the state Capitol on Saturday night, vowing to tear down a bronze statue of John Brown Gordon in full Confederate regalia on the Capitol grounds:

Unveiled in 1907, the statue of the former Georgia governor and U.S. senator is one of the most controversial monuments to the Old South on the Capitol grounds, and is frequently at the center of protests and calls for removal.

Aside from being a Confederate war commander, Gordon is generally acknowledged as being a leader of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia.

The date of the statue’s placement is more important than you might realize. The Atlanta race riot had occurred only a year earlier. White mobs killed dozens of African Americans and, yes, caused considerable property damage. Local newspaper reports of alleged assaults by black males on white females were the immediate catalyst for the mob violence.

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Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton, who is African American, sent The Daily Report a statement on the demonstrations against racism that he shared with staff of the Administrative Office of the Courts. Wrote Melton:

"The prominence and horror of the George Floyd murder does point to continued divisiveness. But, at the same time, it also points to unparalleled unity as exhibited by unprecedented numbers of people of all ages, races, and walks of life who are: (1) expressing outrage at the continued unnecessary violence by some police officers against African Americans; and (2) asking 'What can we do to make things better going forward?'

"We are grieving right now. And that is proper and healthy. I don't know if we have ever grieved like this before. But by grieving together, coming together, and supporting one another through all of this, I know that we will come out of this better than we were before. And for that I am encouraged."

***

David Moody Jr., owner of Moody Construction, is the current president of the Atlanta Rotary Club. Over the weekend, Moody published an open letter to New Orleans Saint quarterback Drew Brees – who last week faced a backlash for his continued opposition to kneeling protests during the national anthem at NFL games.

Moody said the pain he felt had everything to do with his father, who was a teenager during World War II, but whose brothers fought under George Patton. From the AJC reprint:

During the war, some of the (White) German prisoners of war were imprisoned in an Army base in Baton Rouge. However, German POWs were allowed to go to local all white-movie theaters while under guard-something that Black officers and enlisted men could never do in the segregated South.

German POWs during and after their release at the end of war had more constitutional rights in Baton Rouge than my dad’s brothers did when they came home from WW II.

***

We've told you that Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard is facing a strong primary challenge that has pointed to a GBI investigation into his use of a nonprofit to augment his salary, and several allegations of harassment from women in his office.

Most of the broadsides have come from his former chief deputy, Fani Willis, who has been endorsed by several Democratic elected officials and two-time Atlanta mayoral candidate Mary Norwood, an avowed independent.

Several of you have sent images of the anonymous mailer that has arrived in your mailbox. Using Norwood as an entry point, the mail piece accuses Willis of Republicanism. And Trumpism. And more. “Don’t let them lynch District Attorney Paul Howard,” the flyer says. As you can see:

ajc.com

On his Facebook page, Howard disavowed any connection:

I strongly denounce the use of the word used yesterday in a flyer that circulated without claim of ownership and without attribution. This word represents a tragic and violent racial history in my community and in America. It should never be used lightly.

Its use yesterday by unnamed cowards is offensive to me, as I am sure it is offensive to others. My name is Paul Howard. I am the Fulton County District Attorney, and I did not write or approve that flyer.

We’re assuming Howard meant “lynching’ and not “Republican.” The Willis campaign assures us that Willis “has never voted in a primary other than a Democratic one. The claim that Trump supports her is a flat lie with no basis in truth.”

***

Toward the end of last week, Gov. Brian Kemp was in Savannah.

With Hutchinson Island in the background, the governor made and Tweeted a video announcing that the state was backing a bid for something known as The Basketball Tournament, a $2 million, winner-take-all event seeking a site for its seventh annual championship this summer.

The Savannah Morning News confirmed the news:

Organizers have changed the usual 64-team tournament format because of the coronavirus pandemic to one site for 24 teams to play 23 games in 10 days — with zero fans.

The games will be broadcast live on the ESPN Networks.

Here's the Saturday message that Savannah Mayor Van Johnson sent out via Twitter, over the governor's announcement:

Would have been nice if the@cityofsavannah knew about this, because I certainly did not.

Michael Owens, CEO of the Tourism Leadership Council in Savannah, told us Saturday he asked the governor to make this video. He said he didn’t intend it as a slight.

“It would be tremendous business, not just for the tax inducement. We need this shot in the arm.”

***

Whoops. Twitter moderators disabled a video of Dr. Rich McCormick, a GOP candidate in Georgia's Seventh District congressional contestt, doing push-ups with his sons to help raise awareness for post traumatic stress disorder.

The Daily Caller reported that it was flagged by some users as "sensitive content," though those who followed the candidate or were logged into the site had access to the video.

Meanwhile, 14th District candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican, said Facebook pulled down a campaign ad where she is holding a semi-automatic rifle and telling “antifa terrorists” to avoid northwest Georgia.

GPB reporter Stephen Fowler shared a photo that was reportedly of the email Greene received from Facebook that said the ad violated its advertising policy.

***

A bigger whoops, noted by Aviation Week magazine:

A new hypersonic weapon concept has emerged inadvertently on a social media page managed by U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy that proposes describes a Mach 5-plus projectile with the ability to penetrate into defended airspace and dispense a multi-role loitering air system over a target area.

***

President Donald Trump posted a series of endorsements to his Twitter account on Sunday, including a trio of Georgia congressional candidates.

Trump reiterated his support of Karen Handel, who hopes to retake the Sixth District seat now occupied by U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta. The president also said he backed the two Republican incumbents who have primary challengers this year: U.S. Reps. Buddy Carter of Pooler and Austin Scott of Tifton.

Both Carter and Scott have backed Trump while in office, but his relationship with Handel is a bit more complicated. He supported her successful 2017 special election for the seat, but she distanced herself somewhat from the president in 2018. Now, Handel is back to more fully embracing Trump again.

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Visit the AJC's elections page for the latest on voting and our series of profiles and candidate guides.

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