You would hardly know it, as we are all engulfed in the swirl of Impeachment Palooza out of Washington, D.C., but we are just over a month away from hundreds of municipal elections all across Georgia this November. Georgia’s more than 500 cities elect their mayors, council members, school board district seats and other local offices in the odd-numbered years, with terms staggered so that not all offices are up in the same election cycle.
As a school boy, we brought home midterm progress reports each quarter, these reports graded your progress and school work as Satisfactory (S), Needs Improvement (N) or Unsatisfactory (U). Any U’s at our house made for a very loooooongggg night. I now use a similar grading process, to track and follow the performance of our local elected officials. My home, DeKalb County, contains 13 municipalities, including our capital city of Atlanta, with hundreds of elected officials, so this sometimes requires a spreadsheet.
Atlanta’s mayor has actual domain over a reasonably compact 134 square miles (metro Atlanta is more than 2,150 sq.miles), and a population of just over 500,000, but Atlanta’s Mayor is often viewed as the face and in some respects ‘voice’ of our region to the outside world and nation. Today’s column is a mid-term progress report card for Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
When elected in November of 2017, Mayor Bottoms initially focused extensively on southwest Atlanta, pushing MARTA to implement new SPLOST-funded Bus Rapid Transit Service to Cascade Road southwest of downtown, and making her largest number of public appearances and speeches in communities like the West End, Collier Heights and Cascade Heights, among Atlanta’s most historic and prestigious African-American communities. Bottoms’ election and campaign were also tied, correctly or incorrectly, to the endorsement and strong support of former Mayor Kasim Reed (also a resident of southwest Atlanta).
Atlanta’s minority-dominated and largely Democratic Party political machine, in place since the first Mayndard Jackson mayoral race in 1973, no longer exists. To receive a strong re-election and second term, Mayor Bottoms will need support and to be judged as effective in Atlanta’s north, east and south-sides. West Atlanta is currently undergoing a renaissance of its own, and political support there has become much more difficult to guage as a result.
Bottoms quickly made clear her desire to reduce what she views as systemic inequalities on a number of fronts. Bottoms raced to erase the practice of cash bail and bonding, which she felt disproportionately jailed poor black citizens for the most minor of offenses. The Atlanta City Jail itself is in the process of closing, with Bottoms again taking point, and the facility will later be turned into some other type of public use. Bottoms halted the incarceration of immigration detainees in the city jail, as well as ending cooperation by the city with the U.S. Marshall Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service on these fronts. This Mayor also gave the Atlanta Police Department officers and leadership their first significant compensation adjustment in well over a decade.
The daughter of a famous father, singer and songwriter, Major Lance, the mayor also understands the outsize and symbolic role which a strong leader can play. Most Baby Boomers recall John F. Kennedy’s aspirational call to put a man on the moon. Yet few may remember that actually occurred during the first administration of President Richard Nixon, Kennedy’s former campaign rival from back in 1960.
Similarly, Mayor Bottoms is calling for $1 billion in new affordable housing units (during her first term), as well as trebling the number and miles of ‘Complete Streets,’ in Atlanta’s urban core. Direct funding of a billion in new housing of any stripe is a tall order, and paired with an even more extensive re-build of city streetscapes in a municipality not known for speed or efficiency on either front seems next to impossible. Bottoms is also following the lead of her predecessor in maintaining strong and regular communication and building personal relationships with State of Georgia leaders, just across a downtown Atlanta block.
Bottoms appears to understand that to be successful, in addition to a very pleasant and approachable demeanor, she may need to make some big bets and approach Atlanta’s more intractable challenges by daring greatly. So for this mid-term report card, two years into a four-year term, I give the Mayor a solid S...for satisfactory, not super, and as trends also do matter, I’d say at this point it’s Bottoms up.