Negativity begins to bubble up in Atlanta mayor’s race
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
October 7, 2021 Atlanta - Mayoral candidate Felicia Moore speaks during City of Atlanta Mayoral Debate at The Gathering Spot in Atlanta on Thursday, October 7, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
The tone of Atlanta’s mayoral election has become steadily more negative as the days dwindle for candidates to make a case to voters.
Experts say campaigns and their supporters are right on time for starting the intense and emotional negativity — early voting began Tuesday, and with it the electorate should expect to start seeing more dirty tricks.
But the mud-slinging has already begun: on billboards, social media, campaign signs, along with TV and radio ads.
A message was sent Tuesday, purportedly from the Fulton County Republican Party, endorsing Council President Felicia Moore’s mayoral bid.
The message featured two pictures of Moore with Burt Jones, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. Under those was a large picture of Jones with Donald Trump — a harmful connection for Moore, in an overwhelmingly democratic city that opposes the former president.
A connection to Jones is also damaging to Moore because he is a chief sponsor of the Buckhead cityhood legislation loathed by many in the city.
“Taking back Georgia and Fulton County starts with taking back Atlanta. Then the White House,” the message said.
Fulton GOP Chairman Trey Kelly called the image a “manufactured photo.”
“I see it’s the silly season in Atlanta politics,” Moore said in a statement. “Frankly, it’s flattering to be considered enough of a threat to have outright lies spread about me by anonymous sources.”
The campaigns for Kasim Reed and Andre Dickens both denied any link to the message.
Sometimes the negativity is more transparent.
Reed’s campaign is flooding the city with ads linking Moore to increases in crime and taxes if she’s elected mayor.
The “FeliciaMeansMooreCrime.com” effort by Reed’s campaign points out that Moore voted against Reed-era budgets seven times, and that she sponsored a 2010 amendment to not hire new police officers and to not give current officers a pay raise.
His campaign also reported that she was the only councilmember to vote against the purchase of 110 police body cameras in 2015.
Likewise, the Safer Atlanta PAC has a website filled with ads supporting Moore while opposing Reed. And a group identified as Atlantans Fighting Corruption sponsored a billboard with the message: “Elect Anybody BUT Kasim Reed For Mayor. Stop The Corruption.”
Brian Robinson, a Republican consultant, said it’s clear Reed wants to draw attention to any negatives concerning Moore — who isn’t as well known as the former mayor. The idea is to make voters question if Moore can keep their community safe.
“Kasim is letting it be known that his polling shows that Felicia Moore is his biggest threat at this juncture,” Robinson said.
Campaigns usually begin by introducing candidates on a cheery and optimistic note before unleashing dirt, said University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock. But niceness is in the forecast.
“The textbook says that, during the last week or so, you swing back positive,” Bullock said. " … You want to come off looking like a good guy closing, if there is good guy.”
Bullock said voters remember negative advertisements better and longer because: “Hate is the strongest emotion in the world.”
To ensure clean hands, Bullock said, friendly organizations like political action groups will often do the campaign’s dirty work.
Councilman Andre Dickens was targeted by signs saying “Defund The Police Vote For Andre Dickens.”
Dickens has been criticized for his June 2020 vote to withhold $73 million in police funding until Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms released a policing reform plan, but his public safety platform does not include defunding the police department.
“Silly season started a little while ago for me when all of my signs got slashed,” Dickens said. “Some other [fake] signs were made. This is where the false advertising is gonna come, but the people know the truth.”