Groups Vying for Influence Give Generously to Atlanta’s Mayoral Candidates

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2020
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Atlanta mayoral candidates Kwanza Hall (from left), Mary Norwood and Vincent Fort

As the race to replace term-limited Kasim Reed for mayor of Atlanta in November heats up heading into the summer months, the picture of who is behind the major candidates has become clearer.

The next deadline for candidates to file their campaign fundraising disclosure reports is Friday, June 30, but they likely will not all be publicly available until after the Fourth of July holiday, said Atlanta’s municipal clerk Rhonda Dauphin Johnson, who handles the process.

However, a review of filings from the most recent quarterly reporting period that ended March 31 found that each candidate has already staked out financial support from specific special-interest groups, including the nightlife industry, airport services sector and some of Atlanta’s most prominent business and community leaders. In some cases, these donors have financed more than one candidate.

Though three-term City Councilman Kwanza Hall entered the race in January, later than most of his opponents, he has managed to raise an impressive $308,608 during the time period. Overall, he has raised $313,034 and had $238,549 in cash on hand.

“Obviously, many people in Atlanta believe in me and my ideas and also in my solid prospects for a winning campaign,” Hall said in a statement after he learned he’d raised more than most of his rivals.

Many of Atlanta’s nightclubs and lounges, restaurants and entertainment companies seem to similarly believe in Hall, who sits on the City Council’s zoning committee, as they have handsomely contributed to him.

In January, the zoning committee considered legislation placing restrictions on music recording studios in the city, including requiring a special-use permit and that they could not be within 300 feet of a residential building. Hall was among the majority that voted against the measure, which was ultimately not approved by the full City Council.

Donations to Hall include the 617 Club on Spring Street, which gave $1,000; Bar Stars LLC, which owns M Bar on Auburn Avenue, gave $1,000; Kenya Amos, owner of BQE Restaurant and Lounge on Edgewood Avenue, donated $1,000; Patricia Reid, owner of Club Crucial, contributed $1,000; Bobbie Robinson, co-owner of Harold’s Chicken and Ice Bar on Edgewood Avenue, donated $1,000; Steve Simon, chief executive officer of Fifth Group Restaurants, donated $2,600; Twelve Studios, a recording studio in Midtown Atlanta, donated $1,300; MKD Nightlife Ventures donated $100; and Justin Williams, manager at SG Entertainment, gave $100. A number of entertainers also have contributed to Hall.

Councilwoman Mary Norwood, who was barely bested by Reed in a run-off election in 2009, followed Hall, raising $275,803 in the period. She had $531,832 in cash on hand and has raised $682,534 to date.

According to the most recent election poll, a WSB-TV poll in March of 1,200 likely voters, Norwood was the frontrunner in the race with 28.6 percent of the vote, the only candidate in double digits.

“The significant grassroots support I have from voters in every part of our city is extraordinary and I am extremely grateful,” Norwood said in a statement at the time.

However, the disclosures showed prominent Atlanta citizens have generously donated to her campaign as well as a noticeable number of attorneys, particularly from King & Spalding, a white-shoe Atlanta firm. Many women who self-identified as “homemakers” also have contributed a wide range of donations.

In Atlanta, where Democrats outnumber Republicans, a $250 donation from former GOP U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, now a lobbyist at Squire Patton Boggs in Washington, probably does not help Norwood, who was plagued in 2009 by accusations that claimed she was a closeted Republican. Neither does a $1,000 contribution from Republican state Sen. Jeff Mullis.

Other donations came from Xernona Clayton Brady, a prominent civil rights leader, who gave $200; Rodney Cook Jr., a leading advocate of landmarks, donated $600; Patrick Battey, CEO of Piedmont Hospital, donated $1,000; Vivian DuBose, president and CEO of Atlanta-based Noble Properties, donated $1,000; Ron Hinson, Georgia Power’s chief financial officer, contributed $500; Holland & Knight, a leading Atlanta law firm, donated $1,000; John Kell Martin, chairman of First Fidelity, a real estate finance company, donated $1,000; James Miller Jr., chairman of Fidelity Bank, donated $1,400; Demosthenes Galaktiadis, owner of Buckhead’s famed White House Restaurant, donated $500; and Ken Hodges, the Democratic Party’s 2010 nominee for state attorney general, donated $250.

Trailing Norwood in the poll with 9.3 percent was Vincent Fort, a state senator who did not raise money during the period that coincided with the legislative session. He was followed by Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms with 8.6 percent.

Bottoms is rumored to have the support of Reed, who has not officially endorsed anyone but curiously sent a fundraising invitation on her behalf in January through his listserv. Bottoms raised an eye-catching $403,081, including a $30,030 loan, during the period and has so far raised a total of $403,081, according to the disclosures. She had $378,600 in cash on hand.

Atlanta is home is the nation’s busiest airport, Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and many airport-related companies, particularly those in the concessions business, have donated to Bottoms, a member of the City Council’s transportation committee. Ethical concerns over potential ties between airport concession contracts and political contributions have long worried watchdog groups.

Contributions to Bottoms include a $1,000 donation from C.W. Matthews Contracting Co. in Marietta, which has done a significant amount of work at the airport and for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA); John Clark III of Atlanta, vice president of business develop at SSP America, part of a global concessions company, contributed $2,000; the president, CFO and general manager of Miami, Florida-based Master ConcessionAir each contributed $2,600; Shawnalea Garvin, founding president of AETC, an East Point, Georgia-based airport employment and training company, gave $1,000; JD Airport Connection of Lithonia, Georgia, a transportation service, donated $1,000; Atlanta Airport Shuttle LLC donated $500; and Tanya Hairston-Whitner, an attorney at Atlanta-based Concessions International, gave $2,500.

In addition, Kellye Terrell, a human resources professional with Southwest Airlines, who also sits on the board of the Atlanta and Fulton County Recreation Authority of which Bottoms served as executive director until stepping down in March, donated $1,600.

City Council President Ceasar Mitchell has raised the most money of any candidate with nearly $1.4 million. During the reporting period, he raised $128,360, leaving him with $720,752 in cash on hand.

Mitchell’s core supporters, which include former Mayor Andrew Young, have been drawn from Atlanta’s large Black professional class.

They include retired Fulton County Superior Court Judge Marvin Arrington Sr., once a mayoral candidate, who donated $250; Atlanta’s Butler Street CME Church pastor Christopher Waller gave $101; Bisa Ajanaku, an attorney for Grady Health System, donated $500; George Bandy Jr., past chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council, donated $500; Isaac Blythers, retired president of the Atlanta Gas Light Company, gave $101; Nicole Clifton of Washington, UPS vice president of public affairs, donated $500; and W. Ray Persons, a partner at King & Spalding, contributed $1,000.

Peter Aman, who took a two-year hiatus from Bain & Company, a top Boston, Massachusetts-based management consulting firm, to serve as Reed’s first chief operating officer, has likewise raised an impressive amount of cash — about $1.2 million in total so far. During the reporting period, he raised $112,304 and had $713,200 in cash on hand.

He has presumably drawn upon his professional contacts as the disclosures showed he received support from many senior executives in the business community in Atlanta and around the country.

Matt Bronfman of Atlanta, CEO of Jamestown, which developed Ponce City Market, donated $250; John Somerhalder of Atlanta, Colonial Pipeline interim president and CEO, and his wife Rebecca, each gave $1,400; Jay Smith, retired president of Atlanta-based Cox Newspapers, gave $250; Travis Marquette of San Francisco, Calif., a Ross Stores finance executive, donated $250; James Shepherd Jr., co-founder of Atlanta’s Shepherd Center, donated $1,000; Scott Wells of Wellesley, Mass., CEO of Clear Channel Outdoor, gave $2,000; John Wiley Jr. of Atlanta, CEO of State Bank and Trust, donated $1,000; Ryan Marshall, CEO of Atlanta-based PulteGroup, contributed $1,000; Alan Colberg of New York, president and CEO of Assurant Inc., donated $1,000; Richard Lewis, CEO of Atlanta-based Liberty House Restaurant Corporation, donated $1,000; Steve Lisenby, owner of Smyrna, Georgia-based Art Plumbing, gave $2,600; and Daniel Doctoroff of New York, CEO of Sidewalk Labs, donated $2,600 for the general election and $1,400 for a potential run-off.

In some cases, donors were willing to spread the wealth around to more than one candidate.

For example, former Morehouse College President Robert Franklin, now an Emory professor, donated $100 to Hall and $250 to Morehouse alumnus John Eaves, chairman of the Fulton County Commission, who after entering the race in February raised $75,845, including a $12,663 loan, with $60,868 in cash on hand.

Many employees of The Integral Group, an Atlanta-based real estate company donated to Eaves. Among them was Egbert Perry, chairman and CEO of The Integral Group, who gave $1,500 to Eaves and $1,000 to Aman.

”Money,” as the late California politician Jesse Unruh was quoted as saying, ”is the mother’s milk of politics.”

The nonpartisan mayoral election will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

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