Torpy at Large: Mayor’s race heats up as bribery probe keeps cookin’

As the election comes to its final weeks, and as the corruption scandal dumps a new load of fertilizer at City Hall, Mayor Kasim Reed has moved to ensure he'll have as close to a third term in office as possible.

Hizzoner is term-limited, but he wants to keep his hand in his pet project — running Atlanta. So last week he made official what has been known for months: He wants Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms, his top council ally and the person he put on the $135,000-a-year job as head of the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority, to follow him as mayor.

The appointment was a mutual back scratch — the Mayor got a loyalist to do his bidding as the city worked out a deal to fill the Braves-free stadium land. And the second-term councilwoman got some publicity and résumé building to gear up for the mayoral race.

The Mayor’s announcement in the race came as a WSB-TV poll put her solidly in second place behind longtime front-runner Mary Norwood. I figure he waited until then to extend his official blessing because he hates backing losers.

Norwood, the Buckhead resident who seems to be everywhere in the city at once, building relationships with black and white, recently can’t seem to get out of her own way in the campaign.

Norwood calls herself an independent but whiffed on a couple of Atlanta Loyalty Oath questions in recent forums. On one, she dithered when asked if there’s racial profiling in Atlanta. She paused and asked the questioner to be more specific, perhaps not wanting to alienate members of Atlanta’s police union, who back her.

The second Whoops Moment came in another forum when candidates were asked about President Donald Trump. The proper answer in Atlanta politics is, “Trump bad. Real bad.” Instead, Norwood said, “I abhor any racism, any bigotry, any violence,” blah blah. I suppose she worried that Atlantans who voted for Trump might get miffed and sit home.

Dems are already calling her a Republican, just like they did in 2009, when the strategy kept her from the mayor’s chair. The recent salvos knocked her down from 28 percent in previous polls to 22 percent in the WSB-TV poll. Bottoms soared to 19 percent.

Peter Aman, the prosperous business consultant who was the Mayor’s right-hand man during the start of The Reed Reign, was now polling at 13 percent, clawing himself from the single-digit crowd.

Now in striking distance, Aman used the opportunity to do what almost every other candidate has done — earn the Mayor’s ready ire.

This week, Aman told Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Dan Klepal that early in his campaign, a person (whom he wouldn't identify) approached and said: "I'll get a group of city contractors together … and if you can assure them that you have a similar viewpoint on the world, then we'll swing their support behind you."

Hizzoner, in yet another campaign piece disguised as an official city press release, called Aman a jilted suitor who was hurt that he’d turned his love and affection toward another candidate.

“Mr. Aman is coming to grips with the fact that — despite spending more than $1M of his own money attempting to buy a seat that he could not earn — he is going to lose this election,” a mayoral minion typed. The Mayor then bashed The AJC, once again, accusing us of being in the bag for Norwood.

The Mayor’s office told me Wednesday they are simply responding to AJC and Channel 2 Action News stories that are “invariably riddled with errors, inconsistencies and innuendo. The city of Atlanta takes its responsibility to truth and transparency very seriously.” The city is helping the feds with the corruption investigation, they say.

Aman told me the request concerning contributions was “pretty stark,” although there was no quid pro quo, so he did not tell the FBI. He had raised $2.1 million by the end of September, with about half coming in loans from himself. Bottoms has raised about $1.2 million.

The loans, he said, are “to show I have more skin in the game than other politicians.”

I called former Mayor Shirley Franklin. “It’s pretty bold for Peter to admit it publicly. Everybody knows it’s happening,” she said, adding, “Since when do you use the mayor’s office of communications to attack a candidate?”

On Wednesday, she told Channel 2 Action News that the city should hold off on awarding nonessential contracts until a new administration is in place and looks into the procurement process.

A federal prosecutor last week called corruption in Atlanta "prolific" during the sentencing of two contractors who admitted paying more than $1 million in bribes to get contracts.

Also, Adam Smith, the city's procurement director, pleaded guilty to conspiracy. According to the feds, he accepted more than $30,000 from a city vendor, usually $1,000 at a time in various restaurant bathrooms. The vendor was not named.

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Sources with knowledge of the investigation say the unnamed vendor is Jeff Jafari, the recently retired VP of the PRAD Group, an engineering firm that has long done business with the city and whose offices were recently searched. I'm told it was Smith who flipped on Jafari, although the contractor is not cooperating. I'm also told Smith even took it upon himself to record Jafari making some admissions.

It turns out that PRAD Group execs and family members gave $25,700 to Bottoms, which she is returning. Interestingly, that donation came very early on in her efforts to collect money. Last November, barely two weeks after she started raising cash, Jafari, his partner and a family member each gave $2,500 or $2,600. And right before Christmas, the rest of the PRAD money came in, doubling the total take of the Bottoms campaign at the time.

In raising campaign money, it’s vital to show potential donors early on you’re for real. PRAD stepped up and did just that. They’re givers.