© 2024 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Public Media from Michigan State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
TECHNOTE: 90.5 FM and AM870 reception

Atlanta Mayor Cites Triumphs, Disappointments In Decision Not To Run For Reelection

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms elaborates on her decision not to seek reelection during a news conference Friday at Atlanta City Hall. She surprised the political establishment when she announced Thursday she wouldn't run again.
Elijah Nouvelage
Getty Images
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms elaborates on her decision not to seek reelection during a news conference Friday at Atlanta City Hall. She surprised the political establishment when she announced Thursday she wouldn't run again.

Updated May 7, 2021 at 11:41 AM ET

In an emotional news conference Friday, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms explained her decision not to seek a second term, citing the challenges of her time in office and a desire to make room for a potential successor to prepare a campaign.

The briefing came after Bottoms announced Thursday that she would not run for reelection this year. She first privately told close friends, staffers and allies of her decision, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"The last three years have not been at all what I would have scripted for our city," she said, citing a major cyberattack in her first months in office and a federal investigation into corruption under her predecessor, former Mayor Kasim Reed, "that seemed to literally suck the air out of City Hall."

"There was last summer. There was a pandemic. There was a social justice movement. There was a madman in the White House," she said.

"It is abundantly clear to me today that it is time to pass the baton on to someone else," she said.

Bottoms has been seen as a rising national star in the Democratic Party, making her decision not to seek reelection even more surprising. At one point she was on President Biden's list of potential running mates. Later, she reportedly turned down an offer to serve in Biden's Cabinet.

However, on Thursday night she shocked the political establishment in Georgia by publishing a lengthy open letter and slickly produced video on dearatl.com elaborating on her decision. In it, she ticks off a list of achievements, such as investments in affordable housing and tens of millions of dollars spent on homelessness.

"While I am not yet certain of what the future holds," she wrote, "I trust that my next season will continue to be one full of passion and purpose, guided by the belief that within each of us is the power and responsibility to make a positive difference in the lives of others."

At Friday's news conference, Bottoms tamped down speculation that she might be preparing to run for higher office in Georgia — perhaps governor — and news reports she had accepted an executive position at Walgreens.

"In the absence of my speaking my truth, people will insert a narrative, which is why I am here today," Bottoms said.

Walgreens CEO Roz Brewer, one of the first Black female heads of a Fortune 500 company, "is my girl. I love her dearly," Bottoms said. "But she didn't get to be the CEO of Walgreens by offering jobs to random friends. I am not going to Walgreens in Chicago."

Bottoms said that several weeks ago, she had written two letters — one if she decided not to run for reelection, and another if she did. "Remarkably, they were essentially the same letter."

But she also indicated that thoughts about not continuing in the job were not new.

Of her final decision, Bottoms said, "I can't say I heard a voice. It wasn't like 'Noah go build an ark,'" adding that "even in my first year" as mayor, "I wasn't sure that I would run again."

She'd been thinking of not running again, she said, "for a very long time."

Track record

Bottoms led the city through a federal investigation into the prior administration, and a rise in violent crime, with the city's homicides up about 60% from this time last year, according to The Journal-Constitution.

Her announcement comes just days after Bottoms held a news conference saying she would form a committee to study the growing crime problem.

The city, like the rest of the world, has also been battling the coronavirus pandemic. Bottoms at one point tested positive for the virus.

Despite those challenges, Bottoms pushed back on any suggestion that she feared she couldn't win another term, both in the video and at Friday's news conference.

She said she had raised enough money for a campaign and that opinion polling indicated that "70% of people still like me."

"If I were to run this race today, I would win without a runoff," she said.

Asked what she would have done differently as mayor, "I likely would have asked for resignations sooner than my first 100 days in office," Bottoms said, adding, "I would have changed the leadership team at City Hall much sooner."

In April 2018, months after taking office, she asked for her staff members to tender their resignations in the interest of transparency, saying she would decide which ones to accept.

Bottoms is set to join a short list of Atlanta mayors who served a single term — the last to do so was Sam Massell in the 1970s. Maynard Jackson — Atlanta's first Black mayor — did not seek reelection in 1994, though he had previously been mayor of the city from 1974 to 1982.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jaclyn Diaz is a reporter on Newshub.
Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
To help strengthen our local reporting as WKAR's fiscal year ends, we need 75 new or upgraded sustainers by June 30th. Become a new monthly donor or increase your donation to support the trustworthy journalism you'll rely on before Election Day. Donate now.