Keisha Lance Bottoms Won’t Seek Second Term as Atlanta Mayor
Ms. Bottoms, who was mentioned briefly as a potential running mate for President Biden, is the latest mayor to move on after a year of pandemic challenges and racial justice protests.,
ATLANTA — Keisha Lance Bottoms, the first-term Atlanta mayor who rose to national prominence this past year with her stern yet empathetic televised message to protesters but has struggled to rein in her city’s spike in violent crime, will not seek a second term in office, Ms. Bottoms announced on Twitter on Thursday night.
“As Derek and I have given thoughtful prayer and consideration to the season now before us,” Ms. Bottoms wrote in an online letter, referring to her husband, Derek Bottoms, “it is with deep emotions that I now hold my head high, and choose not to seek another term as mayor.”
The news shocked the political world in Atlanta, the most important city in the Southeast and one where the mayoral seat has been filled by African-American leaders since 1974, burnishing its reputation as a mecca for Black culture and political power.
Though Ms. Bottoms did not say why she was leaving office, she did rattle off a list of challenges she had faced, along with her accomplishments. And 2020 unquestionably took a toll on mayors nationwide. It was one of the most tumultuous years for American cities since the 1960s, with the social and economic disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic as well as racial justice protests that sometimes turned destructive.
In November, St. Louis’s mayor at the time, Lyda Krewson, announced she would not pursue a second term. A month later, Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle announced she would not run for re-election. Several mayors in smaller cities have also declined to run again, exhausted or demoralized by the ravages of 2020.
Two contenders who have been seeking to unseat Ms. Bottoms, a Democrat, in the nonpartisan November election have promised to do a better job fighting what Ms. Bottoms has called a “Covid crime wave,” which includes a 58 percent spike in homicides in 2020.
“Atlanta has a mayor that isn’t focused on reducing crime,” one of the challengers, Felicia Moore, the president of the City Council, said in a recent statement. “Atlanta has a mayor that is more interested in things that happen outside Atlanta and outside Georgia. We need a mayor who knows the No. 1 job of any mayor is to keep our city safe.”
The other challenger, Sharon Gay, a lawyer, has also said she would make fighting crime a top priority.
Ms. Bottoms, 51, had been expected to mount a formidable defense. She has a loyal ally in President Biden, whom she was early to endorse, and who repaid her loyalty with an appearance at a virtual fund-raiser in March. Ms. Bottoms was mentioned briefly as a potential vice-presidential running mate and said that she had later turned down a cabinet-level position in the Biden administration.
Ms. Bottoms, who served as a judge and a city councilwoman before narrowly winning election to the mayor’s office in 2017, is also blessed with a voice — measured, compassionate, slightly bruised and steeped in her experience as a Black daughter and a Black mother — that seemed uniquely calibrated to address the challenges of the past year.
It was in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis that Ms. Bottoms went on live television and became a national star as she spoke directly to protesters. Some of their demonstrations had descended into lawlessness, with people smashing windows, spray-painting property and burning cars.
“When I saw the murder of George Floyd, I hurt like a mother would hurt,” she said. Then she scolded the protesters, insisting that they “go home” and study the precepts of nonviolence as practiced by the leaders of the civil rights movement.
Mr. Biden was one of several national figures to take notice. “We saw her stand tall and speak out during the summer of protests and pain,” the president said at the March fund-raiser.
But the challenges were numerous.
On June 12, shortly after Mr. Floyd’s death, a white Atlanta police officer fatally shot a Black man, Rayshard Brooks, in a fast-food restaurant’s parking lot. More protests and violence erupted, and the Bottoms administration fired the officer, Garrett Rolfe, a day after the shooting. (This week, the city’s Civil Service Board reinstated Officer Rolfe, who has been charged with murder, on the grounds that the administration had violated his due process rights.)
Then, one month after the shooting, Ms. Bottoms tested positive for the coronavirus and was sued by Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, over a city policy requiring masks and mandating restrictions that were stricter than those Mr. Kemp had set for the state.
In her letter on Thursday night, Ms. Bottoms also noted that the Atlanta government had suffered a debilitating cyberattack shortly after she took office and was under the scrutiny of federal investigators who had begun a corruption investigation during the tenure of her predecessor, Kasim Reed.
The investigation, she said, “consumed City Hall, often leaving employees paralyzed, and fearful of making the smallest of mistakes, lest they too be investigated.”
Before making her announcement on Twitter, Ms. Bottoms broke the news to supporters and donors on a Zoom call earlier Thursday night, according to two people who were on the call.