OPINION: Keisha Lance Bottoms is calling it quits. Who can blame her?

May 7, 2021 Atlanta:  Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms held a press conference Friday, May 7, 2021 at Atlanta City Hall speaking about 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. “In the same way that it was very clear to me almost five years ago that I should run for mayor of Atlanta, it is abundantly clear to me today that it is time to pass the baton on to someone else,” Bottoms said at an emotional news conference at City Hall. She added that “the last three years have not been at all what I would have scripted for our city,” referencing a crippling cyber attack, a widening federal corruption investigation into the previous administration, the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest last year. Bottoms said she doesn’t know what’s next for her; she denied rumors that she or her husband Derek have taken jobs for Walgreens out of state. “I can’t get Derek to move two miles off Cascade Road,” she said. Bottoms, who was seen as a strong incumbent candidate despite a spike in violent crime, told friends and supporters Thursday evening she won’t seek a second term. She released a video and statement online a few hours later elaborating on her decision and reflecting on her time in office. “This is not something I woke up and decided yesterday,” Bottoms said Friday. “This is something I’ve been thinking about for a very long time.” (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
May 7, 2021 Atlanta: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms held a press conference Friday, May 7, 2021 at Atlanta City Hall speaking about 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. “In the same way that it was very clear to me almost five years ago that I should run for mayor of Atlanta, it is abundantly clear to me today that it is time to pass the baton on to someone else,” Bottoms said at an emotional news conference at City Hall. She added that “the last three years have not been at all what I would have scripted for our city,” referencing a crippling cyber attack, a widening federal corruption investigation into the previous administration, the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest last year. Bottoms said she doesn’t know what’s next for her; she denied rumors that she or her husband Derek have taken jobs for Walgreens out of state. “I can’t get Derek to move two miles off Cascade Road,” she said. Bottoms, who was seen as a strong incumbent candidate despite a spike in violent crime, told friends and supporters Thursday evening she won’t seek a second term. She released a video and statement online a few hours later elaborating on her decision and reflecting on her time in office. “This is not something I woke up and decided yesterday,” Bottoms said Friday. “This is something I’ve been thinking about for a very long time.” (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

She told Atlanta to go home. As tension wound itself around the neck of the city like a snake last May, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms held a press conference at 9 o’clock on a Friday night and told angry protestors at CNN Center — and all across Atlanta — to go home.

Her voice brimmed with fury, not just as a mother, but as she said, a mother in the city to four Black children.

“This is not a protest. This is not in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. This is chaos,” she said. “If you care about this city, then go home.”

The crowds had gathered first at the state Capitol to stand against the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Like so many places across the country, Atlantans marched and cried and grieved and called out in pain for only the most recent Black man to be killed in police custody.

But at CNN Center, a protest curdled into a riot. Police cars were bashed and at least one incinerated. Windows of the famous landmark crashed, then crumbled down. The CNN sign, a symbol of the city’s outreach to the world, was smeared with paint and homegrown rage.

“You are disgracing this city, you are disgracing the life of George Floyd and every other person who has been killed in this country,” Bottoms said. “We are better than this as a city. We are better than this as a country.”

And then Keisha Lance Bottoms told Atlanta to go home.

Her words didn’t stop all of the violence that night. By morning, dozens of businesses had been burglarized between downtown Atlanta and Buckhead, and National Guard troops were called in to assist police.

But her words did tell residents to do better than that because Atlanta is better than that.

If Bottoms never did another thing in office, we would owe her a debt of gratitude, not just for diffusing the violence in that moment, but for keeping Atlanta from burning out of control once again.

Like the children who grew up here before ours, our kids can live in a city with the pride of knowing it didn’t destroy itself when it could have.

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The year that’s unfolded for Atlanta since that night has been better in some ways, but even worse in others — and the same could be said for the mayor herself. As a Bottoms insider told me recently, it’s mostly been one disaster after another.

COVID-19 raged across the city, closed the economy and shuttered schools that some children have never returned to.

The June police shooting of Rayshard Brooks not only cost a man his life, but also the city its police chief and Atlanta its fragile peace. Secoria Turner, an 8-year-old girl, was shot and killed across the street July 4 from the burned-out Wendy’s where Brooks died as she and her mother were driving home.

“Enough is enough,” Bottoms said the next day.

Maybe enough is enough for Bottoms now, too.

Since the moment the mayor made her shocking announcement Thursday night, people have asked me, “Why would she leave?” The better question in my mind is: Why would she stay?

The problems that the mayor has grappled with throughout her term have no easy answers.

The fired Atlanta Police officer who killed Brooks in June was reinstated last week — and a high-profile trial awaits.

Homicides in the city have spiked 60% compared to the same time a year ago. Crime infuses parts of the city that once thought themselves immune, especially Buckhead.

Residents there have become so incensed with Bottoms they’re trying to form their own city rather than wait for her and her administration to make it better, if they ever can.

All the while, instead of finding support in the governor’s office, the mayor and Gov. Brian Kemp have seen their relationship devolve into near constant partisan battles.

As she put her campaign for reelection together, including President Joe Biden’s endorsement and a $500,000 fundraiser right off the bat, challengers lined up against her, with rumors of even bigger names eager to get into the race.

Her ally-turned-nemesis Kasim Reed was often at the top of that list and the former mayor had made his criticism of Bottoms more frequent and public by the day.

But when she leaves office next year, Bottoms will have more than her night at the microphones to show for her efforts, especially the less glamorous work that a city requires to function.

She’s balanced the city’s budget since her first year, even through COVID, without selling city assets, as has been done in the past.

She dealt with the cyberattack that struck at the beginning of her term, but also upgraded the systems that were vulnerable when she got there.

Early in her administration, she announced pay raises of up to 30% for the Atlanta Police Department, which led to a subsequent increase in recruiting and retention at the time.

In 2019, she announced a 20% raise for firefighters, too. The city’s fire chief called them historic.

Bottoms also managed to keep Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport under city control, despite attempts by legislators to force a state takeover, and cut the ribbon on the massive Gulch development deal now underway in downtown Atlanta.

History will be the final judge of how the city fared under her watch. But as of today, she’ll leave office without any major personal or political scandal. She’s not resigning under a cloud of FBI raids or talk of a secret family.

As she said on Friday, she’s ready to leave. And who can blame her?

Keisha Lance Bottoms has a way of knowing when it’s time to go home.

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