In less than four short months, Atlanta will vote to elect itself a new mayor. Mayor Kasim Reed will leave behind large shoes to fill, as his bold leadership and forward-thinking vision for the city pulled it out of the recession and solidified Atlanta’s reputation as one of the best cities in the country to not only do business, but to live and raise a family as well.
Who will inherit that legacy in January? There is certainly no shortage of candidates for the job. The main contenders right now include Atlanta City Councilwoman Mary Norwood, Atlanta City Council President Caesar Mitchell, businessman and former Atlanta COO Peter Aman, former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard, Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms, Councilman Kwanza Hall, Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves, and State Senator Vincent Fort.
There are a few candidates who have pulled ahead already in terms of fundraising and name recognition. Though scientific polling has been light in this race so far, Norwood, who lost to Reed by just 714 votes in 2009, has polled ahead of all other candidates by double digits in almost all public and private polls. Her fundraising remains strong, having raised about $336,000 over the last three months, bringing her total amount raised to just over $1 million and leaving her with $653,000 in her campaign coffers. Her name recognition is among the best in the race as well, given her nail-biter run for mayor two cycles ago.
Mitchell enjoys similar advantages, having been on the citywide ballot four times in the last sixteen years. He is also the strongest fundraiser in the race by far – he raised $305,000 last quarter, which brings his total fundraising to $1.7 million with $529,000 in his war chest. Voters know who he is and have frequently approved of his job performance by repeatedly voting him into office. His success as one of the leaders of Atlanta and extensive experience should not be easily forgotten come November.
Of course, the race is still anybody’s game and no candidate should be discounted yet. There was a time when even Reed was only polling at three percent during his first election in 2009. During her tenure as Atlanta City Council President, Woolard spearheaded the Atlanta Beltline initiative which is both successful and popular today. She would also make history as the first member of the LGBTQ community to be elected Atlanta’s mayor.
Bottoms and Hall are both well-respected, well-connected members on the Atlanta City Council who have spent years serving the city. Bottoms represents an affluent African-American community and maintains a strong base of support there, while Hall represents a diverse, in-town council district with increasing economic development. The unique base of support that each one has in their districts gives them a deep well to draw from in this race when it comes to fundraising, volunteers, and votes.
In stark contract with his opponents, Fort is running a deeply grassroots campaign, with 63% of his money raised last quarter coming from donations of under $100. It will be interesting to see how his Bernie Sanders-inspired campaign plays out.
Eaves has relevant executive experience as commission chairman in Georgia’s largest county and is trying to distinguish himself from his opponents with the experience, though his late entrance into the race has hampered his success in that regard somewhat. Aman has taken a pro-business approach to highlight his operational qualifications gained from his time as COO in the Reed administration, a message which has been bolstered by his strong fundraising (he currently has $801,000 on hand, more than any other campaign). His platform has also focused on ethical reforms from day one of his campaign, an issue that some voters are eager to see tackled in City Hall.
One of the questions asked frequently by pundits in this race is “is the city prepared to elect its first white mayor in over 40 years?” Sam Massell, who now chairs the Buckhead Coalition, was the last white mayor prior to Maynard Jackson taking over in 1974. Perhaps the city is ready now, perhaps not. Atlanta has certainly changed demographically in the last eight years, but I believe that, now more than ever, voters can see past color to see character.
The candidate, whoever he or she may be, that will be the next mayor must display the ability to attract a multicultural, bipartisan coalition of voters from every corner of the city. They must pay equal attention to the needs to the wealthy and the needs of the working class. White or black, Atlanta needs a mayor who will take what Reed has built and make it even better.
Tharon Johnson is a consultant with Paramount Consulting Group and a Democrat strategist.