The 2017 Atlanta mayoral election highlights the changing political landscape of a diverse city. The size of the field, and the down-ballot races that have emerged subsequently, ensure the impact of this election will be unparalleled. On Jan. 1, 2018, Atlanta will have a new mayor, new city council president and at least seven new council members.
The following is a look at the nine major qualified candidates with active campaigns.
As of today's most recent polling data, the current city councilwoman, representing Post 2 at large, is the perceived frontrunner to succeed Mayor Kasim Reed. She has maintained a strong polling advantage, with a consistent double-digit lead over the rest of the field. Though she began her campaign relatively late, the councilwoman has closed the fundraising gap 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 highly likely that Mary Norwood will be one of the two candidates headed for a December runoff. It is important to note that the councilwoman has run for mayor once before, falling slightly over 700 votes short in a 2009 runoff election with Mayor Reed.
Keisha Lance Bottoms
Councilwoman Bottoms, an attorney and legal analyst, joined City Council in January 2010 and is executive director of the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority. Though the councilwoman did not enter the race with high public name identification, she has quickly moved into a competitive position in the field — consistently polling in second place. In addition, Mayor Reed has hosted multiple fundraisers for the councilwoman and she has the backing of many key Reed supporters. She has raised well over $1 million and has close to half of that left for a final early voting campaign push. Lance Bottoms is in an excellent position to make the runoff and polling suggests she would be a formidable head-to-head opponent for Norwood.
A former city of Atlanta chief operating officer and a former partner at consulting giant Bain & Company, Aman assisted former Mayor Shirley Franklin in a consulting role in the early days of her administration before becoming Mayor Kasim Reed’s COO for two years. He has loaned his campaign close to $1 million, all spent on early voter contact, and maintains close to $800,000 in cash on hand. Public polling shows his campaign gaining some ground — with a recent Landmark Communications poll showing Aman at 12 percent, up from the 1.8 percent he had heading into the summer. Much of the polling suggests that Aman has a solid hold on the third spot at the moment, with former Sen. Vincent Fort and Council President Ceasar Mitchell trailing by close six percentage points in the most recent public poll.
Mitchell is completing his second term as council president after serving eight years as a citywide elected councilmember. He has been endorsed by many prominent members of Atlanta’s civil rights community, including Rev. Joseph Lowery and C.T. Vivian. Also, he has received the endorsement of former Mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young. Based on the most recent disclosure 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 work with the City Council, Mitchell practices real estate and finance law with DLA Piper. He and Sen. Vincent Fort are running neck and neck for fourth place, according to the most recent polls.
Longtime Georgia state Senator Fort has positioned himself as the “outsider” in the mayoral contest. The senator has a loyal following bolstered by an endorsement from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. Fort’s campaign message focuses largely on social and economic equity — almost identical to Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign themes. In addition, he has the backing of the last Democratic governor of Georgia, Roy Barnes. Sen. Fort does not have a reputation as a robust fundraiser, yet he has raised almost $450,000 for his mayoral bid and, as of the most recent disclosure, has $210,000 in cash on hand.
Hall was elected to City Council in 2006 after serving on the Atlanta Public School Board. He is known for his energetic support of the Atlanta bicycling community, the Ponce City Market development, and his work with the World Affairs Council at Georgia State University. Hall’s poll numbers have stayed consistent, yet slightly behind numbers for Bottoms and Mitchell. He is seemingly in a similar position as Sen. Fort. Also of note, while the councilman is running for mayor, his wife, Natalie Hall, is running for District 4 on the Fulton County Commission. With African-American support beginning to consolidate around Bottoms, Mitchell and Fort, Hall appears unlikely to make the runoff.
Woolard has not held elected office since an ill-fated run for Congress in 2004, though she has remained aggressively involved in Atlanta politics while out of office. A nonprofit executive, Woolard became the first openly gay person elected to office in Atlanta in 1997 and the first woman council president in 2002. She has raised over $1 million and has $250,000 left in the bank. Given the short amount of time remaining before Nov. 7, and her poll numbers still hovering in the mid-single digits, it is highly unlikely that Woolard will make the runoff.
A former assistant U.S. attorney and senior advisor to Mayor Reed, Sterling was appointed as interim director and later director of Atlanta’s workforce development agency in 2014 after allegations of mismanagement of the agency surfaced. Sterling has not been included in several major public polls — making it difficult to judge what effect, if any, he will have on the outcome of the race.
The former Fulton County chairman is the most recent candidate to enter the mayoral race. Prior to resigning his chairmanship to qualify for the mayoral race, Eaves spent the past decade leading Georgia’s most populous county. Eaves used publicity surrounding the Fulton County property tax increase to coin a new campaign nickname, “tax freeze Eaves.” Chairman Eaves’ primary campaign themes of ethics and transparency have focused largely on Mayor Reed and the highly publicized and ongoing federal investigation of Atlanta’s City Hall. Eaves will have a long way to climb in the mayor’s race — with public polling consistently placing him at the bottom of the field.
What makes this race different from previous open-seat mayoral elections is the changing demographics of the city. Atlanta’s African-American voting population, once the predominant demographic, has now reached near parity with non-African-American voters.
In 2009, Mary Norwood lost a runoff to Kasim Reed by less than 800 votes and, since 2009, the demographic trends have continued. (U.S. Census modeled data shows a 1.3 percent increase in white population from 2010 to 2016, along with a 1.1 percent decrease of the African-American population of the city — equaling a net demographic shift of 10,575 people.) This should work to a non-African-American candidate’s advantage — right?
Maybe not …
Though Atlanta’s baby boomers and older generations historically voted along racial lines, voters under the age of 45 (53 percent of the electorate) have displayed different voter tendencies. A good example is the coalition supporting Sen. Vincent Fort — a coalition that combines elderly, socially conservative African-American woman, and 20-something East Atlanta Village Caucasian millennials. Kwanza Hall, whose current City Council district may be the city’s most diverse, hails from a famous civil rights lineage, but also has championed many projects that have hastened the city’s redevelopment and gentrification. These are just two examples of why this field is difficult to handicap and why many traditional campaign donors and constituent groups have taken a “wait and see” approach to this race.
And don’t forget about the City Council races…
There are eight open seats on City Council and every seat is up for a vote this year — with Andre Dickens holding the only uncontested seat. Three current council members are running for the open City Council president position and many of the incumbents face serious challengers. For example, Cleta Winslow must defeat more than 10 challengers to retain her seat and Councilman Michael Julian Bond faces a known and well-funded challenger, school board member Courtney English. With the open seats and challengers across the field, it is highly likely that there will be more than just seven 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.