Oct 16, 2017
Georgia Government Relations Update: Atlanta Mayor’s Race
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
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
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
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
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:
Election Day is Nov. 7, and early voting begins Oct. 16.
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
For additional information, please contact Ashley Groome or a member of McGuireWoods Consulting’s Georgia State Government Relations Group.
Ashley S. Groome, Senior Vice President and Director
Joshua N. Albert, Vice President
Brad L. Alexander, Senior Advisor
Robert L. Fortson, Senior Vice President
Lauren C. Greer, Assistant Vice President
Misty H. Holcomb, Senior Vice President
Eric Johnson, Senior Advisor
Zachary I. Johnson, Assistant Vice President
Danica R. Key, Assistant Vice President
Victor L. Moldovan, Senior Advisor
Russ Pennington, Vice President
Michael T. Shelnutt, Senior Vice President
William M. Talmadge, Assistant Vice President