Georgia Government Relations Update: Atlanta Mayor’s Race

October 16, 2017

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The 2017 Atlanta mayoral election highlights the changing politicallandscape of a diverse city. The size of the field, and the down-ballotraces that have emerged subsequently, ensure the impact of this electionwill be unparalleled. On Jan. 1, 2018, Atlanta will have a new mayor, newcity council president and at least seven new council members.

The following is a look at the nine major qualified candidates with activecampaigns.

Mary Norwood

As of today’s most recent polling data, the current city councilwoman,representing Post 2 at large, is the perceived frontrunner to succeed MayorKasim Reed. She has maintained a strong polling advantage, with aconsistent double-digit lead over the rest of the field. Though she beganher campaign relatively late, the councilwoman has closed the fundraisinggap with well over $1.4 million raised and over $525,000 in cash on hand.With approximately one month remaining before Election Day, it is highlylikely that Mary Norwood will be one of the two candidates headed for aDecember runoff. It is important to note that the councilwoman has run formayor once before, falling slightly over 700 votes short in a 2009 runoffelection with Mayor Reed.

Keisha Lance Bottoms

Councilwoman Bottoms, an attorney and legal analyst, joined City Council inJanuary 2010 and is executive director of the Atlanta Fulton CountyRecreation Authority. Though the councilwoman did not enter the race withhigh public name identification, she has quickly moved into a competitiveposition in the field — consistently polling in second place. In addition,Mayor Reed has hosted multiple fundraisers for the councilwoman and she hasthe backing of many key Reed supporters. She has raised well over $1million and has close to half of that left for a final early votingcampaign push. Lance Bottoms is in an excellent position to make the runoffand polling suggests she would be a formidable head-to-head opponent forNorwood.

Peter Aman

A former city of Atlanta chief operating officer and a former partner atconsulting giant Bain & Company, Aman assisted former Mayor ShirleyFranklin in a consulting role in the early days of her administrationbefore becoming Mayor Kasim Reed’s COO for two years. He has loaned hiscampaign close to $1 million, all spent on early voter contact, andmaintains close to $800,000 in cash on hand. Public polling shows hiscampaign gaining some ground — with a recent Landmark Communications pollshowing Aman at 12 percent, up from the 1.8 percent he had heading into thesummer. Much of the polling suggests that Aman has a solid hold on thethird spot at the moment, with former Sen. Vincent Fort and CouncilPresident Ceasar Mitchell trailing by close six percentage points in themost recent public poll.

Ceasar Mitchell

Mitchell is completing his second term as council president after servingeight years as a citywide elected councilmember. He has been endorsed bymany prominent members of Atlanta’s civil rights community, including Rev.Joseph Lowery and C.T. Vivian. Also, he has received the endorsement offormer Mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young. Based on the most recentdisclosure reports, Mitchell has raised the most (more than $2.1 million)and spent the most (nearly $1.7 million) of any candidate in the field.Despite this, his polling average has remained static. Apart from his workwith the City Council, Mitchell practices real estate and finance law withDLA Piper. He and Sen. Vincent Fort are running neck and neck for fourthplace, according to the most recent polls.

Vincent Fort

Longtime Georgia state Senator Fort has positioned himself as the“outsider” in the mayoral contest. The senator has a loyal followingbolstered by an endorsement from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. Fort’s campaignmessage focuses largely on social and economic equity — almost identical toSanders’ 2016 presidential campaign themes. In addition, he has the backingof the last Democratic governor of Georgia, Roy Barnes. Sen. Fort does nothave a reputation as a robust fundraiser, yet he has raised almost $450,000for his mayoral bid and, as of the most recent disclosure, has $210,000 incash on hand.

Kwanza Hall

Hall was elected to City Council in 2006 after serving on the AtlantaPublic School Board. He is known for his energetic support of the Atlantabicycling community, the Ponce City Market development, and his work withthe World Affairs Council at Georgia State University. Hall’s poll numbershave stayed consistent, yet slightly behind numbers for Bottoms andMitchell. He is seemingly in a similar position as Sen. Fort. Also of note,while the councilman is running for mayor, his wife, Natalie Hall, isrunning for District 4 on the Fulton County Commission. WithAfrican-American support beginning to consolidate around Bottoms, Mitchelland Fort, Hall appears unlikely to make the runoff.

Cathy Woolard

Woolard has not held elected office since an ill-fated run for Congress in2004, though she has remained aggressively involved in Atlanta politicswhile out of office. A nonprofit executive, Woolard became the first openlygay person elected to office in Atlanta in 1997 and the first woman councilpresident in 2002. She has raised over $1 million and has $250,000 left inthe bank. Given the short amount of time remaining before Nov. 7, and herpoll numbers still hovering in the mid-single digits, it is highly unlikelythat Woolard will make the runoff.

Michael Sterling

A former assistant U.S. attorney and senior advisor to Mayor Reed, Sterlingwas appointed as interim director and later director of Atlanta’s workforcedevelopment agency in 2014 after allegations of mismanagement of the agencysurfaced. Sterling has not been included in several major public polls —making it difficult to judge what effect, if any, he will have on theoutcome of the race.

John Eaves

The former Fulton County chairman is the most recent candidate to enter themayoral race. Prior to resigning his chairmanship to qualify for themayoral race, Eaves spent the past decade leading Georgia’s most populouscounty. Eaves used publicity surrounding the Fulton County property taxincrease to coin a new campaign nickname, “tax freeze Eaves.” ChairmanEaves’ primary campaign themes of ethics and transparency have focusedlargely on Mayor Reed and the highly publicized and ongoing federalinvestigation of Atlanta’s City Hall. Eaves will have a long way to climbin the mayor’s race — with public polling consistently placing him at thebottom of the field.

What makes this race differentfrom previous open-seat mayoral elections is the changing demographics ofthe city. Atlanta’s African-American voting population, once thepredominant demographic, has now reached near parity withnon-African-American voters.

In 2009, Mary Norwood lost a runoff to Kasim Reed by less than 800 votesand, since 2009, the demographic trends have continued. (U.S. Censusmodeled data shows a 1.3 percent increase in white population from 2010 to2016, along with a 1.1 percent decrease of the African-American populationof the city — equaling a net demographic shift of 10,575 people.) Thisshould work to a non-African-American candidate’s advantage — right?

Maybe not …

Though Atlanta’s baby boomers and older generations historically votedalong racial lines, voters under the age of 45 (53 percent of theelectorate) have displayed different voter tendencies. A good example isthe coalition supporting Sen. Vincent Fort — a coalition that combineselderly, socially conservative African-American woman, and 20-somethingEast Atlanta Village Caucasian millennials. Kwanza Hall, whose current CityCouncil district may be the city’s most diverse, hails from a famous civilrights lineage, but also has championed many projects that have hastenedthe city’s redevelopment and gentrification. These are just two examples ofwhy this field is difficult to handicap and why many traditional campaigndonors and constituent groups have taken a “wait and see” approach to thisrace.

And don’t forget about the City Council races…

There are eight open seats on City Council and every seat is up for a votethis year — with Andre Dickens holding the only uncontested seat. Threecurrent council members are running for the open City Council presidentposition and many of the incumbents face serious challengers. For example,Cleta Winslow must defeat more than 10 challengers to retain her seat andCouncilman Michael Julian Bond faces a known and well-funded challenger,school board member Courtney English. With the open seats and challengersacross the field, it is highly likely that there will be more than justseven new faces on Atlanta’s City Council Jan. 1.

Here are three takeaways from where the race stands today:

  • Mary Norwood is likely on her way to a runoff.
  • The race for the other spot in the runoff has narrowed to two likely contenders (Lance Bottoms and Aman).
  • Atlanta’s City Council will have at least seven new faces and probably more.

Election Day is Nov. 7, and early voting begins Oct. 16.

For additional information, please contact Ashley Groome or a member of McGuireWoods Consulting’s Georgia State Government Relations Group.

Ashley S. Groome, Senior Vice President rel=”noopener noreferrer” and Director

Robert rel=”noopener noreferrer” L. Fortson, Senior Vice President

Lauren rel=”noopener noreferrer” C. Greer, Assistant Vice President

Misty rel=”noopener noreferrer” H. Holcomb, Senior Vice President

Danica R. Key, Assistant Vice President

Michael T. Shelnutt, Senior Vice President