Political Insider

An AJC blog about Atlanta politics, Georgia politics, Georgia and metro Atlanta election campaigns. Because all politics is local.

A Bernie Sanders-backed candidate falters in Atlanta mayor race

Vincent Fort spent some of the final hours of his race for Atlanta mayor at one of his favorite stomping grounds, moving from table to table at the C&C Cafeteria as he pleaded for votes.

“Help me out today,” the former state senator told one group of voters. “I’ve always fought for you.”

Fort’s campaign for mayor hinged on two factors: Earning sweeping support from the same south Atlanta base that returned him to a state Senate seat for two decades. And winning over a mix of white liberals and black progressives with populist promises.

On Tuesday, his campaign came to a crashing end. He lagged far behind the two top finishers in a crowded race, overshadowed by several rivals with bigger bank accounts and more traditional messages.

The race for mayor was always a dicey bet for Fort, an influential member of the Georgia Senate when Democrats ruled the state Capitol who became an increasingly outspoken critic of politicians from both sides of the aisle once they lost it.

His populist platform, which included calls for free college tuition and the decriminalization of marijuana, never took root in a jumble of candidates that included other unabashed liberals not willing to cede the party's left flank to him.

And while endorsements from Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Gov. Roy Barnes helped him raise cash, it couldn’t keep pace with the millions of dollars his rivals collected for their runs. Ditto for his union support, whose legion of door-knockers couldn’t overcome other get-out-the-vote machines.

There was another development that complicated his bid. Fort's epic ongoing feud with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who once bet a reporter a box of donuts that Fort wouldn’t run, gave him an early opportunity to run against City Hall. At every turn, he railed against the “culture of corruption” amid the ongoing federal probe.

But once Reed endorsed Bottoms, the floodgates opened. Other candidates who didn’t benefit from the mayor’s largesse felt freer to chastise his administration, each lining up to assail the same “corrupt” system that Fort had made the calling card of his campaign.

Fort said it was too early to decide whether he'll endorse any candidate. But he said he will be "actively engaged in the fight going forward" and that his defeat shouldn't be taken as a failure of progressive politics.

"This isn’t the last you’ve heard from Vincent Fort," he wrote to supporters, "and I trust it isn’t the last the status quo has heard from you."

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.