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‘Time to Pass the Baton’: Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms Becomes Political Casualty Amid Surge In Atlanta Violent Crime, Announces She Won’t Seek Second Term

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms made an unexpected decision late Thursday, announcing that she will not seek a second term.

Bottoms relayed the bombshell news in a video statement and letter entitled “Dear Atlanta.” She chronicled the hurdles and the triumphs of her administration through her first three-plus years at the city’s helm. Before releasing the statement, Bottoms told supporters and loved ones of her decision in a private phone call.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announces she will not seek a second term. Photo: MSNBC/ YouTube

“As Derek and I have given thoughtful prayer and consideration to the season now before us, it is with deep emotions that I hold my head high, and choose not to seek another term as Mayor,” Bottoms said.

The mayor held a press conference Friday morning at City Hall, and spoke off the cuff for nearly an hour about her unanticipated decision.

She got choked up as she told the story of her great-grandfather moving to Atlanta’s west side from Crawfordsville, Georgia on a horse and buggy.

“They found community and they found purpose,” Lance Bottoms said. “And they found a way to make the lives of their children better. And I stand here on their shoulders. So my love for this city was the love planted in my heart long before I was formed in my mother’s womb.”

Bottoms was on a collision course to face a tough re-election challenge led by City Council President Felicia Moore, who is mounting a campaign to become the city’s 61st mayor. But now that battle won’t be fought.

While she was uncertain about her future, she didn’t rule out the prospect of becoming Atlanta’s mayor again. Bottoms also did not rule out the possibility of running for a different elected office in the future, saying “I am not yet certain of what the future holds.”

She made a point to note that she was leaving from a position of strength, indicating she was leading in recent polls and saying she would’ve won re-election without the need for a runoff if the race were held Friday.

“I wish that I could tell you there was a moment or that there was a thing,” Bottoms explained of her decision. “But when you have faith, and you pray for God’s wisdom and guidance, in the same way that it was very clear to me almost five years ago that I should run for mayor of Atlanta, it is abundantly clear to me today that it is time to pass the baton on to someone else.”

She gave no exact reasons, but also said one of the outcomes of her departure will be “working to advance the agenda of the Biden-Harris Administration.” She talked about the highlights and lowlights of her time in office and admitted 2020 was the toughest year of her term.

Bottoms was vetted by President Joe Biden’s transition team and short-listed to join his presidential cabinet. The mayor entertained the discussions before ultimately nixing the idea to leave Atlanta for Washington. She revealed that if there were someone she felt could’ve stepped in to lead the city late last year, she likely would’ve accepted a Biden offer for a cabinet position.

While Bottoms emphasized over and over that she’s unsure what the future holds, she made clear that her decision not to run for re-election was not spur of the moment.

“This is not something I woke up and decided yesterday, this is something I’ve been thinking about for a very long time,” she said.

The first-term mayor’s announcement comes as the city is reeling through a surge of violent crimes. Atlanta is coming off a year in which it had its highest number of homicides in nearly 25 years.

The city’s record-setting violence in 2020 was capped by 22 homicides in the final month of the year, representing a 25 percent spike in violent crime when compared against the final four weeks of 2019.

Atlanta leaders entered 2021 hellbent on exploring ways to curb the unsettling trend of bloodshed. But the violent crime levels so far this year are on track to outpace those of last year.

Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed weighed in on the crime that’s plagued the city this year during a recent radio appearance. He took some not-so-subtle shots at his successor Keisha Lance Bottom’s administration

“The level of crime and violence is just at unacceptable levels, and it’s fracturing our city in a way that I haven’t seen in my lifetime,” Reed said.

The month of May opened with an explosive weekend of gun violence. Thirteen people were injured and two were killed in six shootings. Diamond Johnson, a 15-year-old girl, was shot dead and two others were wounded late Saturday night when someone opened fire outside a Waffle House at the Kroger Marketplace near the city’s Grant Park neighborhood.

Atlanta Police Department records show officers have investigated a total of 14 shootings since April 25. At least 22 people have been injured in gunfire during that span. Five of those victims have died.

Atlanta has already eclipsed 200 shootings, which have risen 51 percent for the year. And city crime stats show the 40 homicides tallied through the first four months of 2021 marks a 60 percent rise in killings when compared against last year’s numbers at this point.

Reed didn’t mince words while speaking April 28 on KISS 104.1 FM’s Frank Ski morning show. He said he had no plans to run for mayor and spoke freely when the host asked him about the “out of control” crime problem in Atlanta.

“I think that the level of crime and violence is wholly unacceptable, and that we’re not doing enough,” he said during the interview. “And it’s not COVID driven. There’s spikes in cities around the country, but they’re not 60 percent spikes. And candidly, I believe if there was a 15 percent or 20 percent spike, then people would understand that some of that is driven, or COVID-related but not 60 percent.”

Reed served two terms as Atlanta’s mayor from 2010 to 2018 and endorsed Bottoms in her campaign to succeed him. He said he employed a variety of strategies during his eight years as mayor, such as keeping all the rec centers in the city opened to 7 p.m. to give children an outlet. He said those tactics helped create structure in the community, driving Atlanta’s crime down to its lowest levels in 40 years.

“I would be much more physically present and hands on,” Reed said when Ski asked how he’d handle the current crime crisis. “Right now, I would meet with every single club owner of every kind in the city. I would put an awful lot of emphasis with our gas station owners in the city of Atlanta, an awful lot of emphasis in community centers in the city of Atlanta, and make sure that we have an appropriate police presence. Really just running basically 24/7.”

Bottoms, just two days before her bombshell announcement, addressed the latest crime wave during a news conference at Atlanta’s City Hall Tuesday, saying she was creating a task force to work on short- and long-term solutions to the crime problem. Her remarks were reminiscent of the frustrations she expressed after Kennedy Maxie, a 7-year-old girl, was struck by a stray bullet Dec. 21 while Christmas shopping with her family near Phipps Plaza in Atlanta’s upscale Buckhead commercial district.

“We are here, again, on the heels of another child in our city being shot and killed,” the mayor said. “I remember when I was growing up, my best friend’s mother, Mrs. Carter, would say ‘Stray bullets know no names.’ And for the third time as mayor, I am standing here to talk about a bullet that took the life of a child in our city.”

During Tuesday’s press conference, Bottoms also announced that she will ask the City Council to appoint Rodney Bryant to be the Atlanta’s permanent police chief. Bryant had served as the interim chief since June.

The violence of the past year had been Bottoms’ biggest vulnerability, dogging her during the back half of her term. Moore had been her most outspoken critic in recent months when it appeared she’d be running against Bottoms this fall.

“Another task force is like another plan. Atlanta can’t wait any longer,” Moore told CBS Atlanta. “Bottom line, we need Atlantans to know the APD plans to keep them safe today.”

Bottoms has tied the spiking crime numbers to the COVID-19 pandemic on a number of occasions. Just as she did during her state of the city address earlier this year, the mayor on Tuesday referred to the current turmoil as the “COVID crime wave.” Bottoms on Friday continued to pin the rise in violence on the pandemic.

“We’ve seen a spike in crime, and it has so much to do with people emerging from this pandemic,” she said. “People have died. People are dealing with anxiety, they’re dealing with depression. Everybody’s house has not been a safe place for them. Some of us have found refuge in our homes, and for other people, it’s a nightmare.”

But Reed had taken issue with that characterization in his radio interview, saying such a drastic surge in crime can’t be blamed on the pandemic. He said repeatedly he was speaking not as a former mayor, but as a private citizen. He never named Bottoms and was careful not to attack anyone specifically.

“But I’m certainly going to exercise my right to say that women ought to be able to stop at a gas station without being scared. I know that,” he said. “And I don’t want us to act like dealing with crime is anything new.

“Black women should not be in the position they are in right now,” he added. “They are terrified.”

Reed did highlight stark contrasts he felt exist between his tenure as mayor and the current administration. He referenced tragic shootings that unfolded at two of Atlanta’s most popular shopping malls last year.

“We have metal detectors on Phipps Plaza and Lenox Square mall. Are you kidding me? In our lifetimes, we’ve never seen this. And people need to stop acting like it’s not happening. It’s not a game,” he said.

Reed went on to question the city’s response to protests last summer in the wake of the George Floyd killing.

“I would never have conceived to call in the National Guard on my own people,” Reed said as he seemingly tried to imply that Bottoms was responsible for calling up the National Guard to Atlanta during the unrest that broke out after Rayshard Brooks was killed by an Atlanta policeman last July, a move actually made by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. “I’ve had bigger protests. When there were protests in Atlanta, I didn’t sit behind a desk. I was in those protests. So my point is don’t act like what’s going on is something new. It’s not. We can reduce crime in this city and have it back to its sense of normalcy in 180 days if you have the will.” (It’s unclear what Atlanta protests during his terms Reed might have been referring to, as his tenure as mayor is not known for any significant unrest.)

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Police Department experienced a mass exodus of officers in midsummer 2020. According to an The Atlanta Journal-Constitution report, 63 officers resigned or retired from the force in July and August, representing a rate of departures nearly twice that of 2019.

By year’s end, Atlanta had lost a total of 201 officers, an department spokesman told Atlanta Black Star in January. That amounted to 54 more departures than APD saw in 2019.

Many of the officers who left over the summer walked out in protest, feeling unappreciated by APD brass and city leaders in the midst of the community’s push for social justice and police reforms, internal police department documents revealed.

The department hired 115 new recruits in 2020.

The department made a desperate plea to the community, urging the public to “agree to disagree and to walking away from escalating arguments.” APD spokesman Sgt. John Chafee issued a statement Monday asking people to make better decisions as a method to end the gun violence.

“When these violent crimes occur, people look to law enforcement for answers. What many do not consider is that when people decide to resort to gun violence to resolve personal issues, this is not just a policing issue,” Chafee wrote. “These incidents involve people making poor decisions when resolving conflict. Police respond after getting the call that someone has been shot. We pick up the pieces and the investigation after the fact. People make anger-induced decisions about conflict resolution options well before we arrive on the scene.”

The statement went on to say Atlanta’s finest “continue to be shocked at the number of people who are willing to take a life,” saying the senseless acts of violence undermine public safety.

“The Atlanta Police Department spends countless hours patrolling the streets, responding to 911 calls for service, investigating homicides, and tracking down suspects who prey on innocent victims,” Chafee’s statement indicated. “It is our life’s work. Your safety and the safety of the City of Atlanta are our number one priority. It is why we chose this profession. But we cannot be in everyone’s living room. We need individuals to make better choices when angry and when resolving conflict.

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