A year later, the Kemp-Dickens reset is in full swing with two working closely

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens opened his remarks Tuesday by saying he “cannot agree more” with Gov. Brian Kemp’s plan to target human trafficking. The Republican praised Dickens’ leadership. And the governor’s wife, Marty, took the camaraderie a step further.

“We must remain steadfast and committed to working alongside each other,” she said. “And if I remember correctly, the mayor so proudly said last year that he considered us friends. So I knew then we would have a great partnership working together.”

Not long ago, it would have been hard to imagine the scene that unfolded at the towering atrium of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport as officials promoted anti-human trafficking initiatives.

Over much of Kemp’s first term in office, he warred with then-Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms over some of the region’s most pressing issues. Kemp blasted Bottoms for rising crime rates. Bottoms called Kemp’s pandemic response “reckless” and deadly.

They clashed in the courtroom over the city’s mask mandate and bickered over the state’s deployment of the Georgia National Guard on Atlanta’s streets. They feuded over immigration policy and firearms restrictions.

Dickens pledged on the campaign trail in 2021 to “reset” city-state relations. With the threat of a Buckhead breakaway and the ever-present specter of a new push to give the state control of the airport, he wanted to be on more stable footing with Kemp.

Over the past year, the two have seemed to channel at least a hint of the era of cooperation between then-Gov. Nathan Deal and Bottoms’ predecessor, Kasim Reed, that was the toast of Georgia’s corporate and civic community.

Tuesday’s event was a prime example. Both starred in a public service announcement highlighting the scourge of human trafficking and applauded a team led by Attorney General Chris Carr’s office that has brought charges against 46 defendants.

And they promoted bipartisan legislation that would increase penalties for those who don’t post legally required information aimed at deterring the crime.

“Traffickers do not take time off, and they do not let their guard down,” said Georgia first lady Marty Kemp, who has made increasing penalties for the crime the focus of her agenda. “So neither will we in our efforts to bring them to justice.”

Among the supporters is Democratic state Rep. Debra Bazemore, who spoke of the “holistic” approach between City Hall and the Gold Dome on public safety.

“Once we come together around a common goal you can see what can happen with legislation and collaboration,” she said. “We have come together because we understand our children are in danger.”

‘We’re going to work together’

It was part of a broader strategic shift away from more combative tactics that defined city-state relations for parts of the past century, as governors turned City Hall into a useful political foil to energize their bases — and mayors swung right back.

The governor joined Dickens last year to open a new police precinct in Buckhead to quell talk of the secession movement, which the governor has pointedly declined to endorse. Kemp also hasn’t taken steps to interfere with Atlanta’s bid for the Democratic National Convention next year.

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Dickens has avoided a head-to-head clash with Kemp, too. For instance, while he backed Kemp’s Democratic rival, Stacey Abrams, in last year’s race for governor, he didn’t serve as one of her chief surrogates — and he refrained from personally criticizing the governor.

This month served up another test of the renewed alliance as a protest over Atlanta’s planned public safety center turned violent, and Kemp mobilized Guard troops amid concerns about new clashes in connection with the death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tenn.

When Kemp deployed Guard troops in 2020 after the Georgia State Patrol’s Atlanta headquarters was ransacked by vandals, Bottoms told “Good Morning America” that she disagreed with the move — and was not consulted about it.

This time, aides say City Hall and the Gold Dome were in direct coordination — and so were the mayor and governor. Kemp told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Dickens was a “great communicator” and praised Police Chief Darin Schierbaum.

“Last weekend and the weekend before is a great example of the mayor being forward-leaning on public safety,” Kemp said. “They’ve been in the fight, our officers have been in the fight, and our folks have been right there standing shoulder to shoulder.”

The bipartisan bonhomie has its limits, particularly with a 2024 race for the White House and all the acrimony it brings on the horizon. But both politicians say they are eager to find common ground.

“When it comes to keeping our people safe, we’re going to work together,” Kemp said. “When it comes to creating good-paying jobs, we’re going to work together. Those are the things we can agree on regardless of where your politics are.”