This article originally appeared in the Spring 2017 edition of GPR Magazine.
With Mayor Kasim Reed term-limited, Atlanta’s search for a new mayor is a wide open battle. Candidates will appear on a nonpartisan ballot on Nov. 7, and if no one reaches 50 percent of the vote, which is practically guaranteed, the top two will fight it out in a runoff for the four year term.
Typically, many mayoral candidates come from the state legislature or Atlanta’s city council. The council has three at-large seats, 12 district seats based off of geography, and a President who serves as a de facto vice mayor.
The Top Contenders
Norwood, a council member serving in the Post 2 at-large seat, is a favorite after her close miss against Reed in 2009. After finishing first with 46 percent of the vote on the first election day, an unprecedented jump in voter turnout and attack ads from the Georgia Democratic Party resulted in Norwood losing to Reed by 714 votes out of nearly 84,000 votes cast in the runoff.
Back then, Norwood ran on a straightforward platform of fiscal responsibility and transparency. For round two she’s sticking to it.
At a January forum hosted by the Buckhead Coalition, Norwood called for a “forensic audit” of funds and spending by the municipal government, along with online postings of city expenses. Norwood’s platform on safety provides for an increase in community based intervention programs for juvenile offenders as well as “repeat offender intercession” and “more vigorous prosecution of chronic offenders who have historically wreaked havoc on the community.”
Two polls released in July have Norwood hovering around 30 percent of the vote. This puts her in a very strong position to capture the highest vote total in November’s election. In effect, the fall vote will decide who gets that second spot to compete with Norwood on the runoff ballot. Overall, her fundraising has also been strong. The July quarterly report had her at just over $1 million dollars raised, which is good for third overall, and the second most amongst candidates who did not loan their campaigns significant amounts of money.
The state senator for district 39, which covers a wide swath of downtown Atlanta, is looking to take his hard-nosed, confrontational style all the way to the mayor’s office.
Fort has been a state senator since 1997; outside of that, he is a professor at Emory University who just last year stumped for Bernie Sanders ahead of Georgia’s primary. He’s a key player in the Democratic side of the Georgia Legislature, serving as the whip in the Senate. He has since been endorsed by Senator Sanders and the political organization “Our Revolution” for Mayoral race. Former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes has also endorsed Fort.
At the forum hosted by the Buckhead Coalition, he took a similar reformist note to Norwood.
“One of the things I’ve done in the last year and continue to do is tell the people of Atlanta the truth,” Fort said, “Atlanta has lost its way. Atlanta City Hall has lost its way, not the people. There are people there more interested in serving their interests than the people’s interests.”
The two polls released this summer have Sen. Fort at around 8 or 9 percent. If Fort can wholly tap into the active Bernie Sanders voting bloc, it could very well raise his floor enough to see him to the runoff. As of the July fundraising deadline, Fort had raised just north of $375,000.
Keisha Lance Bottoms
Bottoms is a council member representing District 11, which covers the extreme southwest section of Atlanta. She also serves as the Executive Director of the City of Atlanta and Fulton County Recreation Authority (AFCRA). The AFCRA overlooks iconic landmarks across the city, including Turner Field, Philips Arena, Zoo Atlanta, and more.
Interestingly, Bottoms has a wild card. The AJC reported in January that an invitation to a fundraiser for her campaign was advertised over outgoing Mayor Kasim Reed’s mailing list. This, along with other commonalities in donors and staffing choices, indicates that Bottoms is probably Reed’s chosen successor. This could help or hurt Bottoms; it gives her access to a winning coalition that has followed through before. It could also hurt as more information comes to light about some scandals from the Reed administration, especially the Department of Procurement scandal that has already unearthed millions of dollars in bribes for city contracts.
Bottoms is right in the thick of things for the second runoff spot. She has averaged about 9 percent in the two polls that have been publicly released so far, and she had raised about $665,000 as of the July reporting deadline.
Ceasar Mitchell is a common sight in Atlanta politics. He has served as the current Atlanta City Council President since 2010, and prior to that he served as the Post 1 at-large representative for eight years. Born in Atlanta, he graduated from Morehouse with honors and later from UGA Law.
Outside of his work within the municipal government, Mitchell has worked with a number of charitable organizations. He has served on the boards of Hands On Atlanta, Points of Light, and Outward Bound Atlanta, and was he appointed to the Georgia Commission on Volunteerism and Service by Governor Deal.
Mitchell has also posted the strongest fundraising numbers, having raised around $1.7 million as of July. That being said, Mitchell is also facing questions about campaign finance violations related to his leadership PAC and his 2013 campaign for Council President- a large determining factor will be if he can move on quickly from that.
However, Mitchell also has some strong points because he has received a lot of support from the older school black political establishment in Atlanta. Former mayor and UN ambassador Andrew Young as well as the Reverend Joseph Lowery, who are both beloved civil rights icons, have both endorsed Ceasar Mitchell. So far he has battled hard for the runoff spot and seems to have a razor thin advantage over the others; he’s sitting at around 10 percent in the polls.
The Dark Horses
Peter Aman previously worked in the lesser-known position of Chief Operating Officer of Atlanta, but managed many agencies crucial to the city. These included the Police, Fire, Corrections, Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, and several other administrative agencies.
“I have the insight in how the private sector creates jobs, in how the private sector can work with the public sector and partner to lift communities up. I have demonstrated track record of results that has been proven time and time again,” Aman said at the forum, “I have the integrity to lead the city of Atlanta, all Atlantans, because I’m not a politician like the others on this stage.”
Aman had the second best fundraising numbers in July, with around $1.6 million dollars; that being said, roughly half of that amount was from Aman self-financing the campaign with loans. He could possibly supplant one of the top-tier candidates, making him one of the stronger of the underdogs; he got 6 percent in the most recent poll. Interestingly, his support appears to come primarily at Mary Norwood’s expense; if Aman started entering the top tier, it could throw a curveball into an already complicated race.
Woolard is a former Atlanta City Council President and an ardent LGBTQ activist. She became the first openly gay elected official in Georgia history when she was sworn into the city council in 1997 and was the first woman to serve as the council’s president. Since her departure, she has lobbied for Planned Parenthood and served as the interim Executive Director for AID Atlanta in 2012.
A recurring issue in her campaign is income inequality in Atlanta, as a quarter of Atlanta’s population lives at or below the poverty line.
“To reach our city’s full potential, we must engage ALL in our community, especially those residents that our city’s growth is leaving behind,” Woolard wrote in a letter on her website, “Only through the strength and talent of our residents can big projects, projects like the Atlanta BeltLine, be accomplished.”
Woolard averaged 6 percent over the two polls, and had raised $900,000 by late July. Overall, these numbers bode well for a respectable result, but because Woolard has been out of the public eye for nearly a decade, she may struggle to connect with a lot of the voting population of Atlanta the way other candidates have. The most recent poll, by SurveyUSA, indicates that around 15 percent of likely voters have lived in the city for less than 10 years. Even more than that probably do not remember Woolard’s time in office.
Hall represents District 2 in the city council, which covers a diverse and vibrant part of Atlanta, ranging from Midtown, to Candler Park, to Sweet Auburn, Atlantic Station, and the MLK Historic District.
“I’m going to be everybody’s mayor,” Hall said at the Buckhead Forum, “Atlanta’s not asking for a black, white, gay or straight mayor. I’m the only one with a proven track record for improving neighborhoods. We’ll use a transit-oriented plan for development to get our transportation working. We’ll have a neighborhood police program to mentor others. We’ll build out our city in a way to help others.”
Councilman Hall averaged around 7 percent in the two polls, and reported just over half a million dollars raised in July. Similar to Aman and Norwood, the success of Hall and Keisha Lance Bottoms are pretty exclusive from a demographics standpoint. Because of this, Hall will have a difficult time reaching striking distance to the runoff unless Bottoms’ campaign falls apart or she drops out. Both are not very likely.
Eaves disrupted the race even more by jumping in relatively late; he declared his candidacy in February, whereas as many of the candidates declared in the summer or fall of 2016. His late start is the primary weakness in his position, but he has a considerable amount of experience and connections that could compensate for his lateness. Eaves is the current Fulton County Commission Chairman, which effectively puts him in charge of the county level government.
Since then, he has made minor waves for speaking out during a controversial property tax hike that was subsequently canceled. Unfortunately for Eaves, he has struggled to capitalize on much else. He averaged 4 percent in the two polls and was last in fundraising amongst major candidates in the July report, having raised just short of $140,000. Due to these factors, it would not be surprising if Eaves ultimately decides to drop out before the qualifying period ends.
Sterling served under Mayor Reed as the Director of the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency, and before that, he was a Senior Advisor to the mayor.
“I think I’m going to be better on crime,” Sterling said at the forum, “I’m the only person who has experience with law enforcement and prosecuting criminals. I have worked with the FBI, U.S. attorney’s office and Secret Service to fight crime. Crime is a nuanced issue you can’t handle with a simple solution.”
Sterling has struggled to get off the ground, and has almost no name recognition to stand upon; although he is considered a credible candidate, he has not polled above 1 percent in a poll, and has only raised around $200,000. Along with John Eaves, Sterling may drop out instead of paying the filing fee and committing to the November election.