How Andre Dickens became Atlanta’s next mayor in a landslide

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Dickens takes 64% of the runoff vote after finishing a distant second to Felicia Moore in general election

The first time voters in Inman Park went to the polls this fall, Felicia Moore was their top pick for mayor. In this predominantly white, liberal and affluent area of town, the council president is well-known among longtime residents and received the plurality of votes on Nov. 2.

The mayoral runoff election, just three weeks later, was a different story.

Inman Park was one part of a shift that spanned the city’s entire Eastside, swinging heavily toward Andre Dickens — the city councilman who had secured a spot in the Nov. 30 runoff against Moore by less than 600 votes.

Dickens would go on to win the race to become Atlanta’s 61st mayor with 64% of the vote, the largest margin for an open mayor’s race since 1993.

A precinct-level analysis of Tuesday’s results, along with interviews with campaign insiders, experts and residents, reveal a more complete picture of how Dickens went from finishing in a distant second place to Moore in the general election to a blowout victory over her in the runoff.

Dickens built a racially and geographically diverse coalition by picking up the bulk of former mayor Kasim Reed’s voters in southwest Atlanta, and taking the Eastside by flipping white liberal voters who supported Moore in the general election. It was a stunning feat for a candidate who, just a few months ago, was polling in the single digits and whose name recognition was under 30%, according to Atlanta Journal-Constitution polls.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Inman Park resident Eric Goldberg, a 52-year-old conference producer who staunchly opposed Reed’s candidacy, said he voted for Moore in the first election because she seemed like the most sober and steady candidate. Goldberg flipped to Dickens in the runoff.

Nearly 80% of his precinct agreed with him.

“My thinking was that Felicia would be less susceptible to a developer sweet talking her with the political winds of the day,” Goldberg said of his vote in the general election.

“I think Andre may have more vision. ... That was sort of the calculation” in the runoff, he said. “Andre’s super dynamic and super personable.”

In many ways, Moore had the advantage going into the runoff: She was well-known throughout the city, had over two decades of public service under her belt and garnered 41% of the vote on Nov. 2.

But Dickens quickly gained momentum, an advantage in fundraising and big-name endorsements, especially in southwest Atlanta and the Eastside.

The decisiveness of Dickens’ victory was a shock in itself given that the last three open mayor’s races in Atlanta — 2001, 2009 and 2017 — were all decided by less than 1,000 votes.

Dickens got over 20,000 more votes than Moore on Tuesday, nearly doubling her vote total. Precincts that voted for Moore were mostly resigned to Buckhead neighborhoods north of I-75 and I-85.

“Fundamentally, he won this race through positivity,” said Nick Juliano, a Democratic strategist and consultant who supported Dickens’ campaign. “He ran a very forward-looking, upbeat, positive campaign about what the future of the city of Atlanta should look like.”

Austin Wagner, the communications director for Dickens’ campaign, told the AJC that the runoff strategy didn’t drastically change from the general election — it just did everything on a much bigger scale, allowing them to reach more voters. The campaign grew its army of door-to-door canvassers and volunteers making phone calls and sending text messages to encourage voter turnout. Wagner guessed there were 300 people knocking on doors on Election Day.

“All of those things just grew exponentially,” he said Wednesday.

Appealing to the Eastside

Outlining how Dickens won so decisively, campaign strategist Chris Huttman said they split the city into three and recognized that Moore winning the Northside and Dickens taking the Southside could effectively balance each other out.

The key was east Atlanta — the mostly white, liberal area where former mayoral candidate Cathy Woolard dominated in 2017.

Huttman said Dickens zeroed in on bread-and-butter issues that would resonate with those voters, such as a “balanced” approach to crime, increasing affordable housing and investment in infrastructure.

Some of his earliest endorsements were candidates who thrived in that part of town, including state Sen. Nan Orrock and former state Sen. Vincent Fort. During the runoff, he rolled out endorsements from Eastside figures like former state Sen. Jason Carter, Rep. David Dreyer and his former opponent, Sharon Gay. Influential neighborhood leaders recorded robo-calls in support of Dickens.

“We focused on how to speak to east Atlanta white liberals,” said Huttman. “There was a real concerted effort to energize those voters.”

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Dickens ended up improving on Keisha Lance Bottoms’ standing from 2017, winning some swaths of the Eastside that went for Mary Norwood in the last runoff election. Dickens also performed better in Buckhead than Moore did in southwest Atlanta; he took over a third of the vote in several Northside precincts, even winning in a few neighborhoods on the eastern side of Buckhead.

Much of Dickens’ Eastside support came from people who voted for Moore the first time around, but switched in the runoff.

“I voted for her (on Nov. 2) because I thought she had the best chance of beating Kasim,” said Sally Flocks, a Midtown resident and the former head of PEDS, a pedestrian advocacy organization. Flocks said she respects and admires the council president, but once Dickens made it to the runoff, “he was clearly my first choice.”

“He’s definitely an innovative person that’s going to solve problems,” Flocks said.

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Midtown was one of several neighborhoods, along with places like Morningside, Candler Park, East Atlanta and Grant Park, where Moore was the top vote-getter on Nov. 2, but Dickens overwhelmingly won in the runoff.

“I think a lot of those people had viability questions about Andre and came back around for the runoff,” Juliano said. “And were like, ‘Yeah this is the guy.’”

Securing the Southside

The Eastside becoming somewhat of a bellwether also underscores shifting demographics in Atlanta.

An influx of new white residents over the last 10 years outpaced new Black residents, and predominantly Black neighborhoods are slowly becoming whiter as gentrification accelerates. Black residents are no longer a majority in Atlanta, and more white voters than Black voters went to the polls in the general election.

ExploreAs Atlanta’s population changes, so does the race for mayor

Still, the Southside, a predominantly Black and politically powerful part of town, was critical to Dickens’ success, too.

Moore did not make up much ground there from the general election. Dickens, who is originally from the area, rolled out new endorsements from local figures like Bottoms, former Mayor Andrew Young, Councilwomen Andrea Boone and Marci Collier Overstreet, helping him pick up support from former Kasim Reed backers.

“He’d been present. People knew who he was,” Wagner said of southwest Atlanta. “They know the people who are endorsing him. Those kinds of things all helped to consolidate (support).”

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

In the final days of the race, Dickens’ allies also sought to tie Moore to the conservative white interests of the north, which Moore saw as a misleading tactic to hurt her standing among Black residents.

Moore said Dickens and his supporters co-opted the negative attacks Reed made against her during the general election.

She said it was hurtful to be painted as being against Black people because “all these white people like her.” She also pointed to the last-minute rumor that she wanted to shut down Atlanta’s strip clubs, a falsehood amplified on social media by celebrities like T.I. and Isaac Lee Hayes III.

“What hurt me was of course low turnout, but I’m not gonna blame it on that,” Moore said. “I would just say lies and misinformation.”

Her campaign also made a few blunders that critics jumped on, including posting, deleting and then reposting a statement denouncing the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict in Kenosha, Wis.

ExploreRittenhouse verdict reverberates in Atlanta mayor’s race

Before the general election, Moore’s campaign also posted a video of her standing with a supporter as he said no Atlanta mayor in 40 years — a list made up of numerous Black leaders — has had a conscience.

Moore said Tuesday’s results were “certainly shocking,” adding that she and her supporters were “so hopeful the city was ready to let go of the old established order and the ways of doing things and moving in another direction. The result for me didn’t show that we’re totally ready for that as a city.”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

But Shirley Franklin, one of Dickens’ earliest high-profile supporters, said she wasn’t surprised by the outcome. Like Dickens, Franklin had low polling numbers at the end of the summer of 2001, before winning her first election for mayor that fall.

“There’s a saying in politics that it’s addition and not subtraction,” she said. “In politics, you’re looking for ways to add to your network, to add to your base, to add ideas, and (Dickens) is able to do that.”

Staff writers Wilborn P. Nobles III and Greg Bluestein contributed to this report.