Voters in Atlanta face a problem. A good problem.
In this year’s election for mayor, they have the luxury of choosing from more than a half dozen well-qualified, competent and honest candidates. That alone is a sign of maturity for the city, an indication that it is producing quality leadership, in numbers, at a critical moment in its history.
The candidates, white and black, have all worked to build relationships across the boundaries that have long divided the city, and that in some ways still do. They — and we — haven’t “transcended race” as an issue, but each clearly intends to govern as the mayor of all of Atlanta, which goes a long way.
Vincent Fort, the longtime state senator, has been a powerful voice for the powerless in the Legislature, a place where such voices are rarely heard. However, when you vote for a mayor, you vote not for a cause but for a leader, someone who can bend a bureaucracy and council to his or her will. Those have not been Fort’s skillsets.
City Council member Mary Norwood is a great politician, in the best sense of the word. Through sincere outreach, she has built bridges to parts of Atlanta that some say should not be possible for someone of her background. And while some attack Norwood as a “closet Republican,” her years of service have earned her the right to be judged independently, on her own merits.
That said, I think Norwood has had trouble expressing a larger vision and sense of possibility that is needed if Atlanta’s next mayor is to take full advantage of the opportunity of this moment.
Council member Keisha Lance Bottoms also has a strong record of service, and the open support of Mayor Kasim Reed gives her a powerful political advantage. However, that comes with baggage in the form of a major procurement scandal now rocking City Hall. Reed has not been personally implicated, but it nonetheless occurred under his watch, with his people. Given all that we do not yet know, a fresh start with an administration less beholden to its predecessor seems wise.
When business consultant Peter Aman announced his candidacy, I was frankly dubious. He had served ably as chief operating officer for the city, but the transition from behind-the-scenes staff to politician is usually difficult, particularly for someone with zero name recognition. However, Aman’s performance during the campaign has largely resolved that concern, and he could make an excellent mayor.
Kwanza Hall has been an effective, diligent City Council member in a diverse and gentrifying district, and in many other mayoral cycles would be considered a frontrunner. But in this large field, he’s had trouble establishing an identity and agenda of his own. John Eaves, the former Fulton County commission chair, makes a strong case that the city needs an outsider and change agent, but other candidates are also equipped to play that role, with deeper knowledge of the city than Eaves demonstrates.
City Council President Ceasar Mitchell is well-prepared to be mayor, by nature and experience, and deserves credit for challenging the volatile Reed when others have balked at doing so. He speaks convincingly of his deep affection for the city, and would also do well as mayor.
My own choice, however, is former Council President Cathy Woolard. I’ve watched her for years, in a variety of leadership roles, and have always been impressed. Her combination of knowledge, integrity, dedication and vision gives her the potential be a stellar mayor of a city fully coming into its own.