The Jolt: Why Keisha Bottoms isn’t running for election - and who might jump in now

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Politics is a fickle beast. In the span of two years, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has gone from one of President Joe Biden’s most prominent surrogates -- important enough to get vetted as a potential VP pick -- to abandoning what once was considered a shoo-in re-election bid.

How did Bottoms go from turning down a Cabinet post to turning down a chance at a second term?

First, some background. After narrowly winning a runoff election four years ago, the mayor entered this cycle the odds-on favorite. But a 60% spike in homicides and accusations that she had become disconnected from the community seriously complicated her chances.

In 2013, former mayor Kasim Reed barely broke a sweat as he cruised to a re-election victory, scaring off any legitimate challengers. But despite Bottoms’ institutional support, she had already drawn a range of credible opponents who insisted she was vulnerable.

In a lengthy statement Thursday night, Bottoms nodded to an internal poll leaked to your Insiders earlier this week that showed her with a 68% approval rating. She also noted her financial firepower, most notably a fundraiser headlined by Biden at the end of March that raised more than $525,000.

“‘Is she afraid of the competition?’ NEVER,” Bottoms wrote of herself. “I have engaged in several elections, facing multiple candidates, and never once have I cowarded from the competition.”

Bottoms posted her statement, framed as a letter to the city, at, which also featured a highly produced video of the mayor essentially saying goodbye to City Hall.

What her statement lacked was any sort of explanation about why she isn’t running. So her allies are filling the void. They say she genuinely believed she could have won a second term, but passed because she felt her motivation sapping.

“She just didn’t have her heart in it,” said one close friend.

At her Friday morning press conference, she said there wasn’t a “moment” that crystallized her decision, but that she started having second thoughts in her first year in office. Even her kids have a mixed opinion, she said, adding that she’ll finish her term.

“It is abundantly clear to me today it’s time to pass the baton on to someone else,” she said, framing the move as a decision “made from a position of strength and not weakness.”

Becoming the first Atlanta mayor not to seek a second term since World War II, Bottoms acknowledged standing down is “something that’s not ordinary.”

“I don’t know what the future holds for me,” she said. “I know I will be mayor until the first Tuesday in January, and I have always said I will leave this city better than I found it.”

Watch: Video and transcript of Keisha Lance Bottoms’ announcement on Friday


Mayor Kasim Reed and Chief of Police George Turner stand in the street outside the Governor's mansion meeting with protesters during a fifth night of Black Lives Matter demonstrations on Monday, July 11, 2016, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton /

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Credit: Curtis Compton

Running for reelection could have been a smoother path for Mayor Bottoms if she had a clear field.

She most certainly did not.

City Council President Felicia Moore and Dentons attorney Sharon Gay had already launched challenges, and Councilman Antonio Brown was on the verge of joining the fray when she announced.

But the biggest name out there is former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. He was once Bottoms’ greatest champion and his endorsement helped Bottoms emerge from a tangle of contenders in 2017.

In the last few months, however, Reed has publicly criticized Bottoms while encouraging speculation that he could make a comeback bid. At the same time, business heavyweights in the city have quietly been encouraging Reed to run. Some City Hall insiders say they believe the looming Reed revival certainly factored into her decision.

In her parting note, Bottoms took a direct shot at her predecessor’s scandal-plagued tenure, offering a glimpse at what a campaign between the two allies-turned rivals would have looked like:

“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.”


Many questions remain after Mayor Bottoms’ shock announcement:

Will she run for another office? Bottoms didn’t rule it out, and several statewide offices are up for grabs next year.

Your Insiders are skeptical of this possibility. If she faced a tough citywide re-election bid this year, a statewide race with a more conservative electorate would objectively be an even heavier lift.

What happens to the City Hall race now? The field is about to grow.

Beyond a potential Kasim Reed bid, which City Hall sources believe is imminent, a range of other figures could get in.

Mary Norwood at her election night party at the Park Tavern during the Atlanta mayoral runoff on December 5, 2017, in Atlanta.

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Mary Norwood, a favorite of conservative Atlantans who lost two razor-thin mayoral races to Reed and Bottoms, has already raised about $300,000 for a council bid. An adviser to the former councilwoman said Bottoms’ decision “changes everything.”

Steve Koonin, Atlanta Hawks chief executive and a marketing whiz, is seriously considering a run, we’re told. He would possibly take the “outsider” lane as a business-minded newcomer who could appeal to the Buckhead crowd.

Jason Carter could emerge as a potential wild card. The former state senator and gubernatorial nominee in 2014 has high name recognition, a deep fundraising network and close ties to U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.

Peter Aman finished far behind Bottoms and Norwood in the 2017 race, but Democratic consultants say he could launch another bid honed by lessons learned four years ago.

And City Hall observers aren’t counting out former City Council President Cathy Woolard, who finished in third place in the 2017 mayor’s race and remains very involved in Atlanta politics.

To echo a quote earlier in this post, Bottoms’ decision “changes everything.”


Gov. Brian Kemp headed to UGA’s Sanford Stadium Thursday to sign House Bill 617, a bill to pave the way for college athletes in Georgia to be paid for use of their names and images.

The bill won’t open the door for athletes to be compensated right away, but on Thursday, former UGA quarterback Aaron Murray tweeted a thank you to Kemp and called the bill, “a HUGE win for Georgia football and UGA athletics.”

And Elijah Holyfield, the former UGA standout running back, tweeted, “College athletics is changing before our eyes. Thank you to @GovKemp for finally giving student-athletes the opportunities that they deserve!”


More on the Brian Kemp bill signing watch:

Look for the governor to sign the “Anti-Defund Police” bill Friday.

The bill, which is meant to prevent cities and towns from cutting police department budgets, passed the General Assembly after heated debate this year. Our colleague, Maya Prabhu, covered the progress of the bill extensively.


Georgia’s new political order faces an early test with a special election for the Marietta-based seat held by retiring Republican state Rep. Bert Reeves, who managed to keep winning office despite the district’s changing demographics.

On the heels of disastrous statewide defeats fueled partly by suburban voters, Republicans are trying to set a new tone for 2022.

The voter mobilization group Greater Georgia, founded by former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, launched a registration drive this week and outlined plans to deploy staff, volunteers and organizers to register conservative-leaning voters.

“At such a pivotal time for our state, Greater Georgia is laser-focused on sending elected officials to the General Assembly who will champion the pro-growth, conservative values that uplift all communities,” said Loeffler.


As vaccine hesitancy is blamed for a number of conservative Georgians choosing not to get the COVID-19 vaccine, two Republicans from the Georgia House delegation have put out PSA’s with the House GOP Doctors’ Caucus about why they received the vaccination.

U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, a dentist, and U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, a pharmacist, each cut their own video to share facts about the benefits of getting inoculated against the deadly virus.

First Ferguson’s video:

Carter’s video here:


President Joe Biden has approved a major disaster declaration for portions of Georgia affected by severe storms and tornadoes last month. U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock and U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, whose district includes the affected areas, had all lobbied for the declaration.

The three released a rare bipartisan joint news release Thursday to announce that federal resources and aid will be headed to the eight affected Georgia counties as a result.


Stacey Abrams’ glossy national media attention continues as she lands the cover of the June edition of InStyle magazine.

While Republicans gripe that it’s just more liberal media softballs, the timing of Abrams’ new book release, along with the announced re-release of three of her past romance titles, is giving the likely gubernatorial candidate the rarest of opportunities: National visibility outside of the polarized (and polarizing) frame of politics.

An excerpt:

InStyle: Well, you've always been looking ahead. I read that when you were 18, you made a spreadsheet of your life for the next 40 years. Do you still access it?

Stacey Abrams: I do.

LB: I'm sorry you didn't meet all of your goals and are a resounding failure.

SA: Actually, what I do is copy the previous iteration, so I know what I thought I was going to be doing. Then I update it with where I ended up and the moments when I had to make changes. Like when I decided I didn't want to run for mayor [of Atlanta], I had to reorganize a bunch of things.

LB: When did you last edit your spreadsheet?

SA: In 2018. I did not get a big job I had on there [Abrams lost the Georgia governor's race to Brian Kemp], so I had to think about what I was going to do next.

- InStyle


Vernon Jones’ campaign put out a silly internal poll in his longshot bid for governor.

Suffice it to say we have not found one person with proven knowledge about Georgia politics who believes the poll is credible.


Kimberly Ballard-Washington will be the next president of Savannah State University.

The University System of Georgia announced Thursday that Ballard-Washington is now the sole finalist for the position. She was named the university’s interim president in 2019 after multiple posts within the university system.

The Board of Regents is expected to finalize Ballard-Washington’s appointment at its next board meeting.

Savannah State made other news this week when U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff visited campus for a student roundtable and announced the HBCU will soon receive $17.5M through American Rescue Plan funds.