Beefs and bonds
How political friendships and tensions could impact Atlanta’s mayoral race
Nineteen weeks before Atlantans elect their next mayor, the pool of candidates is still crammed with hizzoner hopefuls, and some of them are getting testy. Since the election kicked off, one candidate blasted his opponents, some candidates clashed with Mayor Kasim Reed and a campaign staffer might’ve even tweeted weirdly racist messages at his employer’s competitor.That all comes with the territory, of course, so Creative Loafing as part of our new, weekly column devoted to covering the mayoral race whipped up a snapshot of the beefs and bonds that could sway the course of the heated contest to replace Mayor Reed.As with any big political showdown, some of the candidates are at each other’s throats, lobbing attack ads, posting ill-tempered tweets and even ragging on one another in person. But the man who seems enveloped in the most spats isn’t running at all; he’ll be stepping down in January, after his successor is selected.Reed has clashed with several of the candidates vying for his seat. He said state Sen. Vincent Fort would be a “disaster” at the helm of the city. He said Cathy Woolard, Atlanta’s former Council president, is running a “failing” campaign and is a quitter for leaving her City Council post to run for Congress. And he recently sparred with Councilwoman Mary Norwood (Reed barely beat her in the 2009 race), Council President Ceasar Mitchell and Fulton Commission Chairman John Eaves on Twitter, in a dispute over Atlanta’s millage rates. Keisha Lance Bottoms during an October 2016 City Council hearing at Atlanta’s City Hall.Joeff Davis/CL FileReed, however, seems keen on Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms, the former head of the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority who’s overseen much of the controversial Turner Field redevelopment deal. (Woolard and Fort take issue with plans to use stadium sale cash to revamp Philips Arena.) In January, Reed put on a campaign fundraiser for Bottoms, although his office refuses to call it a de facto endorsement.But if you ask Harvey Newman, professor emeritus of Georgia State University’s Department of Public Management and Policy, he’ll tell you that neither a Reed endorsement nor a condemnation will tip the scales come election time. Now that the mayor is a term-limited lame duck, his political clout won’t pack as much punch as it used to. Newman says the mayor has indeed done some swell stuff for the city economically and culturally but barbs exchanged with his office likely won’t hamper anyone’s chances in this contest. Friction with other runners, however, might turn some voters’ heads, he says: “That’s the thing about negative ads: Everyone complains about them, but they seem to work. Otherwise they wouldn’t keep running them.? Peter AmanCourtesy Peter AmanWhen it comes to calling out the competition, Peter Aman, the city’s ex-chief operating officer, leads the pack. The candidate recently email-blasted digs at a few contenders, although his camp maintains that’s just par for the course. “Why is Mary Norwood ducking the public?” Aman asks in a June 8 email. “She and her campaign team have decided she will skip as many public forums as possible, denying voters the opportunity to truly compare the full slate of candidates.?Not so, says Norwood. Aman cries foul on her absence at five public forums, calling his opponent “Missing Mary.” She says she missed one event because she was in Adamsville to learn about Atlanta’s blight problem, and she claims she was unable to make it to others because she was feeling under the weather for a couple weeks.Norwood, who says she hardly knows Aman, is scratching her head about why his campaign is so hung up on the competition. “I’m really not focused on any other candidates in the race,” she says. “Everybody runs their own race and their own campaign.?Aman’s campaign manager, Fred Hicks, however, claims Norwood’s people have attacked Aman as well, pointing to a tweet allegedly shared by her campaign treasurer, Jamie Ensley. According to a screenshot shared by Aman’s team, Ensley called @PeterAmanATL a “HONKY CRACKER.” Norwood says that might just be fake news, but Aman’s camp again railed against her because he’s “troubled by any candidate who tolerates hate on their staff,” according to a June 16 press release, which questions her passive response to Ensley’s alleged post.Another rivalry that could cause a rift on the campaign trail is that of Fort and Councilman Kwanza Hall, both of whom want to claim the title of champion of marijuana reform. Since the inception of his campaign, Fort has been trumpeting his commitment to decriminalizing cannabis possession. He’s backed some weed law reform efforts at the state capitol, but none of those bills survived the legislative session. Hall, however, has made some progress albeit sluggish progress in a municipal fight to relax the punishments for marijuana possession. Fort says Hall was dragging his feet with the ordinance he pitched to the City Council, and he claims Hall only recently booted his efforts back up because of citizen uproar over the police shooting of DeAundre Phillips, a 24-year-old black man killed in January by Atlanta Police Officer Yasin Abdulahad.When reached for comment, Hall tells CL only that he’s “going to be everyone’s mayor.? Sen. Vincent Fort speaking in February 2016 at Morehouse College’s Forbes Arena during a rally for Bernie Sanders.Joeff Davis/CL FileBut a good handful of the candidates don’t feel any inclination to attack their competitors. Newman calls Woolard a “squeaky clean” candidate save for discourse with Reed over the Turner Field deal who’s kept her head low and her boots on the ground to win grass-roots, progressive support.”There’s distinction between people’s positions, and then there’s negative politics, and I think voters can tell the difference,” Woolard says. “People want to hear contrast. They don’t want to hear condemnation.? Cathy WoolardCourtesy Cathy WoolardNewman says Woolard can look forward to reeling in a sizable chunk of the progressive vote, but her 13 years away from the City Council might help and hurt her chances at the polls. But, he adds, her distance from the Council means she won’t have to worry about possible indictments that could come of the city’s bribery investigation. Anyone with recent ties should be ready to answer to their involvement (or lack thereof) with the scandal. “She can stand back as an independent person and be critical of what’s gone on for the last eight years,” Newman says. “Now the fact that she’s been out of city government for a while also means not as many voters may remember her contributions to the city.?Fort has kept relatively quiet about his opponents, although a campaign catchphrase of his is “City Hall has lost its way.” The mayor has repeatedly knocked him for his record at the Georgia Legislature, claiming Fort hasn’t been quite the legislative boon that his liberal supporters fancy him. “Well, he’s a Democrat,” Newman says. “This is a Republican-controlled House and Senate, and the ability of any Democrat to get anything done in the General Assembly is severely limited.?But Fort flaunts the friendships of a few seriously influential leftists. Roy Barnes, Georgia’s 80th governor, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders are both backing Fort’s bid for mayor, which means he should be able to claim some votes from the little guy, the voter opposed to establishment politicos backed by deep-pocketed developers and other private interests.Michael Sterling, former head of the city’s workforce development agency, is running on a similar platform, although few people Newman included know much else about the candidate. Sterling tells CL his “only opponent is the status quo.? Kwanza HallCourtesy Kwanza HallBut that vague stance might not be enough to combat well-funded candidates, such as Aman, who has strong support in Atlanta’s business community. Newman says Aman, who’s raked in more campaign cash than most of his rivals, has a competitive edge because “he can outspend most of the other candidates.”But Norwood came within an eyelash of winning that 2009 election,” says Newman, and a few of the other candidates boast formidable name recognition that could woo the electorate.But the race is still too jam-packed to deem anyone a shoo-in, so we’ll keep checking in with Atlanta’s mayoral wannabes until election day in November.