Atlanta mayor strives to maintain good relationship with Kemp amid gubernatorial race

On Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens participated in the Georgia Municipal Association's annual Cities United Summit. Dickens introduced Gov. Brian Kemp at the event before Kemp addressed Georgia's city leaders. (City of Atlanta)

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On Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens participated in the Georgia Municipal Association's annual Cities United Summit. Dickens introduced Gov. Brian Kemp at the event before Kemp addressed Georgia's city leaders. (City of Atlanta)

David Perdue primary could push Kemp on collision course with Mayor Dickens

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens never misses a chance to say he draws circles instead of lines.

It’s important for Dickens to tout that notion after the rift between former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Gov. Brian Kemp led to public headbutting and legal battles between the two. It also pushes against the movement to split Atlanta apart with a new city of Buckhead.

Still, Dickens knows at some point he’ll have to draw an X between himself and the governor.

“There’s gonna be times that we disagree about things,” Dickens said. “Especially going into this wacky season of his election.”

ExploreDickens courts lawmakers in fight against Buckhead cityhood

Kemp is a devoted conservative, but he faces one of the most contentious reelections in the nation this year.

Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue is challenging Kemp in the Republican primary. And Democrat Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost to him in 2018, is trying again after she contributed to a Democratic sweep in last year’s U.S. Senate runoffs.

And then there’s Donald Trump, who wants Kemp to resign after the governor refused to overturn Georgia’s results in the 2020 presidential race.

Political experts say all of that pressure could push Kemp further right, and on an eventual collision course with Dickens and his plans for the city.

ExploreAnalysis: Kemp moves further right to woo GOP voters

Kemp already wants to sign legislation for Georgians to carry concealed handguns without a permit. He wants more police officers and stronger penalties for criminal gangs. He also wants to ban critical race theory in schools and the ability for transgender girls to play on female high school teams.

“He is speaking to a Republican primary electorate with his agenda at a time when he faces a competitive primary, but it’s on-brand for him,” veteran Republican strategist Brian Robinson said.

Dickens, 47, is the newest powerhouse among Georgia’s Black democrats. But Robinson said Kemp can win over Black voters — without weakening his conservative agenda — by working with the new mayor.

Kemp and Atlanta

Kemp hasn’t criticized Atlanta’s state of affairs so far this year.

He previously characterized Bottoms as soft on crime, and sued her and the city over her mask mandate in 2020. But Dickens received no blowback from Kemp for reinstating the same mask mandate this month.

That’s a stark contrast to Bottoms and Kemp’s repeated war of words.

Bottoms criticized Kemp for deploying the National Guard in Atlanta to confront vandals and gunmen in the streets last July. She compared his rhetoric to Trump’s politics and blamed crime on the state’s gun laws.

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Gov. Brian Kemp’s lawsuit accuses Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of violating his executive orders by banning gatherings of more than 10 people on city property and requiring people to wear masks in Atlanta.

Credit: BOB ANDRES / ROBERT.ANDRES@AJC.COM

Gov. Brian Kemp’s lawsuit accuses Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of violating his executive orders by banning gatherings of more than 10 people on city property and requiring people to wear masks in Atlanta.

Credit: BOB ANDRES / ROBERT.ANDRES@AJC.COM

caption arrowCaption
Gov. Brian Kemp’s lawsuit accuses Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of violating his executive orders by banning gatherings of more than 10 people on city property and requiring people to wear masks in Atlanta.

Credit: BOB ANDRES / ROBERT.ANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: BOB ANDRES / ROBERT.ANDRES@AJC.COM

She also called his COVID response “reckless,” and she frequently criticized his leadership on national cable shows such as CNN and MSNBC.

If Bottoms was still mayor, she would’ve likely used national media to criticize Kemp on gun rights. Bottoms is a Joe Biden confidant and vice chair in the national Democratic party, but she’s stayed away from Atlanta politics thus far after Dickens took office.

Dickens has stopped short of blaming the city’s persistently high homicide rate on gun laws. But he acknowledged “guns are just easy to come by now, and too many people are choosing to settle their disputes with a gun.” He advocates for the conflict resolution programs used by the city’s new Office of Violence Reduction.

Crime spurred a movement to pull the Buckhead neighborhood out of Atlanta’s jurisdiction. Perdue supports GOP-led legislation to give Buckhead a referendum in November, but Kemp isn’t taking a public stance on it.

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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (left) and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens joined the Georgia Municipal Association and city leaders for the annual Cities United Summit on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. (City of Atlanta)

Credit: City of Atlanta

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (left) and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens joined the Georgia Municipal Association and city leaders for the annual Cities United Summit on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. (City of Atlanta)

Credit: City of Atlanta

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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (left) and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens joined the Georgia Municipal Association and city leaders for the annual Cities United Summit on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. (City of Atlanta)

Credit: City of Atlanta

Credit: City of Atlanta

Michael Leo Owens, a political scientist at Emory University, said Kemp’s rhetoric is fueled in part by the election.

“Everything that the governor does is about trying to get as many votes as he can get to win his primary,” Owens said. “We might expect less bombast from him because David Perdue is going all in. He’s trying to claim, I think, the most extreme of the Republican voters that are out there.”

Dickens described his relationship with Kemp as “great” and said it has been built through meetings, phone calls and text messages. He also supports Kemp’s push to enhance the state Department of Public Safety budget.

“I want our city to be safe, so I expect and hope for their help as well,” Dickens said during a recent City Hall roundtable. “I’m not going to say ‘no, we don’t need Georgia State Patrol, and no, we don’t need your help in any of these matters.’”

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New Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens met with members of the press to talk about a range of issues. Video by Ryon Horne

On the other hand, Dickens wants to remove confederate monuments from Atlanta. Kemp signed a law to reinforce protections for those monuments in 2019. Dickens says he and Kemp also have different opinions on the state of voting rights locally and nationwide.

“I’m disappointed in some of the things that we do as a state to harm free and open access to the polls for everybody,” Dickens said.

Dickens told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that when the time comes, he and Kemp will convene to discuss their disagreements to see if they can find common ground.

“I’ll continue to disagree and be forceful about my position on policy,” Dickens said. “If we don’t come to an agreement, it’ll be about policy, or program, but it won’t be about the person. We’ve made that commitment.”

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