OPINION: Atlanta mayoral job in a spin as Bottoms bows out

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms speaks at a press conference Friday morning, May 7, 2021, at Atlanta City Hall regarding her decision not to run for a second term. In her first public appearance since announcing her decision to supporters Thursday night, Bottoms said her decision was guided by faith. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
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Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms speaks at a press conference Friday morning, May 7, 2021, at Atlanta City Hall regarding her decision not to run for a second term. In her first public appearance since announcing her decision to supporters Thursday night, Bottoms said her decision was guided by faith. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

In the end, it seems Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms didn’t have the stomach for the job — or at least for what the job had become.

In recent months there had been talk around Atlanta City Hall that the mayor had been absent in day-to-day operations. City Council members complained that they could not reach the mayor. And the world has become a harsh, unforgiving and crazy place.

Bottoms’ announcement last week that she would not run for a second term was a surprise but then, again, not really. On Tuesday the mayor gave a press conference to address the crime wave that has been gripping the city, and she appeared to be weary, frustrated and out of answers. She looked like she would rather be anyplace other than the mayor’s office.

It was the third time in the past year, Bottoms noted, that she was having a press conference following the death of a child. This time it was 15-year-old Diamond Johnson, who was hit by crossfire as some idiots shot it out last weekend. Last summer, 8-year-old Secoriea Turner was shot to death near the burned-out Wendy’s that had become a symbol of a city out of control. And then as Christmas approached, 7-year-old Kennedy Maxie was killed by a random gunshot near Phipps Plaza.

Months ago, I noted that Atlanta’s murder rate rivaled Chicago’s. There were 157 homicides in Atlanta last year, up from 99 in 2019, and murders are up nearly 60% again this year. And, as the mayor noted, it isn’t even summer yet.

“I wish I could wave a magic wand or make some speech to make it stop,” Bottoms said, sounding like someone pleading with the ocean to stop crashing on the shore.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Police Chief Rodney Bryant and Lt. Peter Malecki update journalists on the shooting death of 7-year-old Kennedy Maxie during a press conference on Dec. 29, 2020, at Atlanta Police Department headquarters. (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
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Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Police Chief Rodney Bryant and Lt. Peter Malecki update journalists on the shooting death of 7-year-old Kennedy Maxie during a press conference on Dec. 29, 2020, at Atlanta Police Department headquarters. (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

“If you have some suggestions” to stem the wave of shootings and rampant disregard for the law, “if you have something new, give it to me,” she said last week, sounding absolutely flustered. She then made Interim Police Chief Rodney Bryant the permanent police chief, just to take away one more criticism of her efforts.

Two days later, she was hanging it up.

True, the Bottoms administration has been hit by some devastating body blows, which she detailed during her press conference Friday as she announced that she would not seek reelection. There was the crippling cyberattack that came shortly after Bottoms took office in 2018. There was the pandemic, the protests and the crime wave. She lost the confidence and support of much of the police force last summer when several cops were fired quickly after two students were stunned with Tasers, and then when Rayshard Brooks was shot to death after fighting with officers at the Wendy’s.

And then there’s former Mayor Kasim Reed. He was there to help birth her mayoral career and has resurfaced as it nears the sunset.

Reed was the man who helped Bottoms get into office in the brutal, photo-finish mayoral race in 2017 against his old nemesis, Mary Norwood. Reed helped line up Bottoms with the generous campaign-contributing crowd, and then became the battering ram on Bottoms’ behalf against the dozen or so other candidates who were running to replace him.

But Bottoms, with her close ties to Reed, could barely distance herself from the ongoing federal investigation into pay-to-play allegations at City Hall that began during Reed’s tenure. (The feds have looked at Reed but have not charged him with anything, and he says he has done nothing wrong.)

During her news conference Friday, while expounding on her administration’s uphill fight, Bottoms noted that a “far-reaching and ever-growing federal investigation into the prior administration consumed City Hall, leaving employees paralyzed and fearful of making the smallest mistakes, lest they too be investigated or castrated on the evening news.”

For Atlanta police chief talks about spike in crime across city
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For Atlanta police chief talks about spike in crime across city

An interesting choice of words, to be sure. She also took a swipe at her predecessor, who is clearly renting real estate in her head: “I will be available without interfering with the new mayor. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case always during my term.”

Reed has largely laid low since his two terms, a time when he was Everywhere, All The Time. The federal investigation had something to do with this, to be sure. You don’t want to antagonize the guys with subpoenas. But Reed has had time to realize that his worst day as mayor is better than the best day of being a Used-To-Be.

It has been a rumor for months that Reed has considered running again for office. He did not respond to my query Friday. Lately, he has resurfaced to tout his time at City Hall. “The level of crime and violence is wholly unacceptable,” Reed said recently on the Frank Ski show on KISS 104.1 FM. “It’s not COVID-driven.”

Bottoms has been calling it a “COVID crime wave.”

Late last year, it appeared that Bottoms might be headed to Washington to serve in the administration of President-elect Joe Biden. She has cachet with Biden, being one of the African American politicians in the South to support him early and not waver.

Back then, when it looked like the incumbent might not seek a second term, all sorts of young, ambitious Atlanta City Council members started quietly running polls to gauge the strength of their support to enter the mayor’s race. At least one of them discovered that Bottoms remained popular. And when it seemed she would stay, they melted away. It makes sense because in the past 80 years just one sitting mayor has been beaten — Sam Massell in 1973. That was when the city’s demographics changed, allowing Maynard Jackson, a Black man, to take the seat.

This time, only one politician, City Council President Felicia Moore, was either crazy or brave enough to announce a run against the incumbent.

Moore, a free-thinker who’s liable to say what’s on her mind and has been on the council for 20 years, was Public Enemy No. 1 to Kasim Reed. She was primed for an uphill battle against Bottoms. Now she is running against the unknown.

Kasim Reed adjusts his tie before a group photo including then-Mayor-elect Keisha Lance-Bottoms (left) during his final workday as mayor of Atlanta at City Hall on December 29, 2017. (ALYSSA POINTER / Alyssa.Pointer@AJC.com)
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Kasim Reed adjusts his tie before a group photo including then-Mayor-elect Keisha Lance-Bottoms (left) during his final workday as mayor of Atlanta at City Hall on December 29, 2017. (ALYSSA POINTER / Alyssa.Pointer@AJC.com)

Now that Bottoms has decided she’s had enough, the ambitious will again start coming out of the woodwork. (A lawyer named Sharon Gay, who used to work at City Hall, has already announced she is running.) But the election is less than six months away, so there’s not a lot of time to build an organization, raise cash and get one’s name out there.

Councilwoman Marci Overstreet, who took over Bottoms’ southwest Atlanta district after she became mayor, said she is “not ready to make a definite decision yet.” Councilman Andre Dickens, who has thought about such a run, is still mulling, saying this is an important turning point for the city.

My guess is that Reed, if he is serious about running, will announce his intentions soon to frighten away any possible interlopers. So folks in the political circles are going to have to make some hard, life-changing decisions. And quick.

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