Atlanta mayors encourage voter participation before Election Day

Former Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin at the Center for Civil and Human Rights in August. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: Jim Galloway

Credit: Jim Galloway

Former Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin at the Center for Civil and Human Rights in August. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Many of Atlanta’s former mayors are saying the same things that this year’s mayoral candidates are saying — the next administration has to turn the tide against the rise in violent crime.

A runoff seems nearly certain this year with a plurality of likely voters in Tuesday’s election still undecided in a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll and the top two candidates, Felicia More and Kasim Reed, locked in a virtual tie at the top of the pack.

There are four living former mayors of Atlanta, along with Keisha Lance Bottoms who will leave office in January after one term and who has not yet thrown her support behind any candidate. It is unclear if she will.

The former mayors who have weighed in on this year’s race reflect the chasm of opinion among Atlanta’s political class.

The most notable is U.S. ambassador Andrew Young, who was the city’s 55th mayor from 1982-90. Young supports Reed and also endorsed Reed’s first run for mayor in 2009.

“The kind of things this city needs now, most of the people running have never heard of,” Young said. “I always knew I was going to support [Reed].”

Former mayor Shirley Franklin, whose two mayoral campaigns in 2001 and 2005 were managed by Reed, has endorsed Andre Dickens while simultaneously slamming Reed as a bully who abused his power during his first two terms in office.

“I am going to vote for Andre Dickens because I think he is the best qualified candidate,” Franklin said. “He’s honest, he’s hardworking, but he’s also very innovative. I think he is the right person for this time moving forward.”

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin , center sits enjoys the Hawks game next to former mayor Andrew Young and State Senator Kasim Reed, who also serves as her campaign manager. Atlanta Hawks home opener against the LA Lakers at Philips November 8, 2005. (Brant Sanderlin photo/Staff)

Credit: George Mathis

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Credit: George Mathis

The other two former mayors were more coy.

Bill Campbell (1994-02) declined to comment on the race. Campbell’s administration ended shattered by corruption convictions of a dozen city officials, businessmen or contracts with ties to the former mayor and a tax evasion conviction for Campbell himself.

And Sam Massell (1970-74), who was the last white mayor of the city, declined to endorse any of the candidates but said decreasing crime should be the next mayor’s top priority.

“Crime and [Buckhead] secession … are two issues that have to be addressed,” Massell said.

Massell called Buckhead cityhood’s chances “nil,” but added the debate highlights Atlanta’s divisions. Massell said the city’s nonpartisan elections encourage collaboration among leaders to cultivate good city services and quality of life for all residents.

Benjamin Taylor, a political science professor at Kennesaw State University, said the difference of opinion among the city’s former leaders demonstrates the competing power centers in Atlanta.

Taylor said a lot of people favorably recall how Reed “worked really well with the state of Georgia” during his two terms as mayor. But the federal corruption investigation of Reed’s administration cuts against that, he said.

The Rev. James Woodall, former president of the Georgia chapter of the NAACP, said the race is a referendum on the performances of the candidates who held office, and that voters want to see a candidate’s civic engagement instead of their endorsements.

Reed has attacked City Council President Moore for her votes against the city budget and against raises for police officers.

“The legacy of what those leaders have done up until this point are being heavily scrutinized,” Woodall said.

Even so, there’s a recent precedent in Atlanta where a mayor’s blessing ensured a candidate’s success. Campbell was supported by his predecessor, Maynard Jackson. Franklin had support from Jackson and Young. And finally, Bottoms was endorsed and received fundraising assistance by Reed in October 2017.

12/29/2017 -- Atlanta, GA, - Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed and mayor elect Keisha Lance-Bottoms talk amongst themselves during the Reed's final workday at Atlanta City Hall, Friday, December 29, 2017. In addition to unveiling last minute decisions that he oversaw during his time as mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed also celebrated with food and a live dj in the auditorium of the building.  ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM


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Woodall said it’s “politically wise” for Bottoms to avoid an endorsement by focusing on the end of her administration. Instead, Woodall said Bottoms and the candidates need to prioritize their solutions for Atlanta’s wealth gap and housing, as well as public safety, to ensure people can afford to live in Atlanta safely.

Taylor said Bottoms’ endorsement might not be particularly helpful given how people criticized her administration. The AJC polls found many people think Atlanta is “on the wrong track” in dealing with crime (69%), affordable housing (62%), and traffic congestion (61%).

Franklin endorsed Dickens’ successful city council campaign in 2013. She appeared in his final ad before Election Day. She called him an “honest” leader with the best plan to fight crime and create jobs. She said Dickens went to school with her son, and she’s watched Dickens grow into an open-minded visionary with integrity.

“If you have humility, that means you have respect for other people,” Franklin said. “No one person has the answer to all of the problems, so you need someone who can develop a consensus.” She added that Dickens possesses the same “basic love and appreciation for the city” that was shown by Young and Jackson.

Young said he’s known “Reed off and on since he was 13.”

“If anyone knew what was really necessary to run the city, they would want the smartest, the wisest and the toughest person that they could find to represent them in City Hall. And I think Kasim is it,” Young said.

Young said Atlanta needs someone with the thick skin required to make hard decisions because “Atlanta is a $399 billion corporation.” He said a “prosperous” and “relatively crime free” city requires someone who can handle criticism.

The ambassador said he and Reed “had all kinds of faults” as mayors, but Young said Reed is the only candidate with the experience to represent and defend Atlanta beyond its city limits.

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