Fourteen candidates are vying to replace Democratic Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who’s not running for reelection. The contest is happening amid alarm about the spike in violent crime, as well as controversy over an effort by the residents of the wealthy community of Buckhead to break off from the capital and create their own city.
Bottoms announced in May that she would not seek another term after a trying year dealing with vandalism that followed demonstrations over George Floyd’s death, the GOP-controlled legislature restricting voting rights and the rise in violent crime, which she framed — to criticism — as a “Covid crime wave.” Tuesday’s election will be the first since the changes to the state’s election laws, which may offer a window into how those restrictions could impact turnout in 2022 and 2024.
Polls suggest that a large swath of the electorate is still undecided, but the leading candidates — including former Mayor Kasim Reed, City Council President Felicia Moore and Councilman Andre Dickens — have put Atlanta’s crime rate at the forefront of their campaigns. Shooting incidents have increased dramatically from 406 at this point in 2019 to 629 this year, according to Atlanta Police Department’s Oct. 23 report.
Crime is motivating some of the Buckhead leaders who are championing the split from Atlanta. Foes say the proposal to break off the wealthy, 25-square-mile area in northern Atlanta would be a devastating blow to the city’s revenues, while proponents say crime has simply become unmanageable and that they are not seeing a high enough return for their tax dollars.
There are also concerns about low morale at the Atlanta Police Department and the number of officers who have departed the force. Tensions were high after Bottoms called for the firing of the officer who shot Rayshard Brooks in the parking lot of a Wendy’s in June of 2020. (The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Brooks scuffled with officers and ran away with one of their stun guns). In June, CNN reported that more than 200 officers had resigned or left the force over the previous year, and only about 60 were hired during that period, according to the department.
Dickens’ public safety plan calls for increasing the police force by 250 officers during his first year in office while requiring new training for every police department employee on de-escalation techniques and racial sensitivity. Moore has proposed police reform measures like requiring the release of body camera footage within 72 hours of every police shooting and requiring officers to intervene when they see excessive force. But she has also spoken at length about the need to address low morale in the department — by promising incentives for retired police officers if they return to their jobs for one to two years, for example.
Reed, who served two terms as mayor from 2010 to 2018, has pointed to the lower crime rates during his tenure. His public safety plan includes hiring and training 750 new police officers, ramping up implicit bias and de-escalation training and tripling the city’s network of traffic cameras and license plate readers.
Moore and some community activists have raised concerns about the federal corruption investigation that led to indictments of some of Reed’s former aides, which has been exhaustively chronicled by The Atlanta Journal Constitution. In a statement provided to CNN by Reed’s campaign, his attorneys said that during an Aug. 2021 call, two assistant US Attorneys informed the candidate’s lawyers that the federal inquiry was completed and had been closed. The US Attorney’s office did not respond to CNN’s request to confirm those details.
The controversy drew fresh scrutiny recently when Richard Rose, president of the NAACP’s Atlanta branch, issued a public rebuke of Reed on the group’s letterhead — stating that voters deserved better. Reed responded by posting a statement on Instagram that said his campaign was “being attacked because we sought and received the support of the women and men of the Atlanta Police Department at a time when crime and violence is devastating our city.” The general counsel of the NAACP subsequently sent a cease-and-desist letter to Rose noting that the bylaws for units of the NAACP prohibit officers from endorsing candidates for office.
A key note about this race: If no candidate receives at least 50% plus one, Atlanta will hold a run-off election on Nov. 30 to decide the winner.