Atlanta isn’t the only Georgia city with a mayor’s race this year

Early voting for November’s city elections began this week, and while only a handful of Georgia’s municipalities are holding contested mayoral elections, Atlanta’s will undoubtedly have the most impact throughout the state.

“Lots of groups rate Georgia very highly as a business-friendly state, and Atlanta as a forward-looking city,” said Tom Smith, an economics professor at Emory’s Goizueta Business School. “Atlanta’s mayors have historically been very aggressive in what the city has to offer businesses, making sure those workers are protected, and that they have access to housing, libraries and roads.

“People underestimate the mayor’s overall impact in coordinating and creating relationships with the state’s domestic and international partners.”

In a shocking move earlier this year, incumbent Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced she would not seek reelection, thus setting up a wide-open race that brought out more than a dozen hopefuls, including Bottoms’ predecessor, former Mayor Kasim Reed.

Also running are Atlanta city councilmen Antonio Brown and Andre Dickens, city council President Felicia Moore, real estate investor Kirsten Dunn, attorney Sharon Gay, nonprofit founder Kenneth Hill, insurance executive Rebecca King, legal scholar Walter Reeves, businessman Roosevelt Searles III, public accountant Richard Wright, and Glenn Wrightson, Nolan English and Mark Hammad.

Like many other major American cities, Atlanta was hammered by the effects of the coronavirus as well as a spike in violent crime and civil unrest. In a survey released this week by the personal finance website WalletHub, Atlanta ranked No. 1 among 50 American cities with the highest increase in homicide rates during COVID.

“The last three years have not been at all what I would have scripted for our city,” Bottoms said on May 7.

The mayor cited a major cyberattack on city offices in her first months in office and a federal investigation into corruption under Reed. She also blamed former president Donald Trump.

“There was last summer,” Bottoms said. “There was a pandemic. There was a social justice movement. There was a madman in the White House. It is abundantly clear to me today that it is time to pass the baton on to someone else.”

During the 2020 presidential election, Bottoms was seen as a rising star in Democratic Party politics and was briefly mentioned as a possible running mate for Joe Biden. After Biden picked Kamala Harris as his vice presidential choice, Bottoms was also rumored to be in line for a top Cabinet position.

Earlier this week, Bottoms’ hopeful successors met in a televised debates in which they clashed over crime, ethics and other issues. The debates were part of the Atlanta Press Club Loudermilk-Young debate series and were aired over Georgia Public Broadcasting stations.

Brown, Dickens, Gay, King, Moore, Reed and Wright have scored highest in recent polls, and a runoff is all but assured.

Reed continues to be dogged by allegations of corruption during his previous two terms as mayor but is assuring voters he has been cleared of any wrongdoing. Moore in particular has made Reed’s tenure a central theme of her campaign.

“People jailed, indicted, awaiting trial. Thirty million dollars and counting for [Department of Justice] responses, and it keeps going,” Moore said to Reed during the debate. “The tone is set from the top, criminals like your melody. Why should Atlanta voters believe that you are singing a different tune?”

“The bottom line is I never dishonored my office and I kept my word to the people of Atlanta,” Reed responded.

Atlanta’s new mayor will also have to deal with a movement in the wealthy residential and financial district known as Buckhead to form its own city.

A proposed city of Buckhead would carve out about 25 square miles – or about 18% of the city of Atlanta’s land area – as well include about 20% of the city’s population. It would also cost Atlanta more than $250 million in property, sales and lodging taxes, as well as business license revenues. The General Assembly is expected to address the cityhood proposal during the 2022 legislative session beginning in January.

Many of Georgia’s other contested mayoral races are inside metro Atlanta, including the cities of Marietta, Sandy Springs, Dacula, East Point, Fairburn, Johns Creek, Roswell, South Fulton, Stone Mountain and Tucker.

On the edge of the metro area are contested mayor’s races in Braselton and Sugar Hill. Voters in Warner Robins in Middle Georgia also will choose a mayor.

Voters in Columbus will decide a 1% special-purpose local-option sales tax that would collect $400 million over 10 years for public safety and governmental projects.

And a special election will be held in Chatham County to fill the state House seat that became vacant with the death of Rep. Edward “Mickey” Stephens, D-Savannah. Five candidates are seeking the seat.

Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, the dean of the General Assembly, is awaiting U.S. Senate confirmation as President Joe Biden’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic. A special election has not yet been called to replace him, should the Senate approve his nomination.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.