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Fake news and phony calls: Late shenanigans roil Atlanta mayor race

The last-minute shenanigans in the race for Atlanta’s mayor reached a crescendo as Tuesday’s vote edged closer. Call them dirty tricks or shrewd campaign tactics or innocent mistakes, but there was plenty afoot in the final weekend before the election.

A phony racist robocall targeting white Atlanta voters. A flyer with made-up Atlanta Journal-Constitution headlines blasting a candidate. A message purporting to be from the political operative in the middle of a bribery investigation. A war-of-words between bitter rivals over a mailer.

Here’s a rundown of some of the last-minute flashpoints:

Legit fake news: Flyers pushed by supporters of Councilman Michael Julian Bond included The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s logo over falsified (and badly-Photoshopped) headlines about his challenger, Atlanta Board of Education chair Courtney English. English posted on Twitter that they were “made up headlines filled with false information.” Bond did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

See the flyer here.

A racist robo-call: Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms demanded an investigation after a robo-call purporting to be from a group called “Citizens for Keisha” urged listeners to line up behind her and “keep Atlanta black.” Bottoms called the calls “disgusting” and illegal.

Listen here:

Breaking her silence? The Rev. Mitzi Bickers, a longtime political operative and former aide to Mayor Kasim Reed, has stayed below the radar since federal prosecutors focused their attention on her last summer. But over the weekend, a recorded message claiming to be from her urged recipients to ignore “irresponsible media reporting and other evil forces” and to “vote the full ballot” on Tuesday. Bickers could not be reached for comment.

Listen here:

“Don’t let negative and irresponsible media reporting and other evil forces discourage you from exercising your right to vote. Wake up Tuesday determined to make your vote your voice. Be strong and courageous and vote the full ballot Tuesday.”

A ‘faux ballot.’ Ex-Councilwoman Cathy Woolard took a shot at a rival in the mayor’s race, former city chief operating officer Peter Aman, over a “voter guide” from his campaign that listed only three names: Aman, Bottoms and Councilwoman Mary Norwood. She called it “deeply misleading” and said Atlantans “don’t deserve these kinds of distractions” ahead of the vote.

Aman responded that his mailer included the top three candidates based on recent polling, and said name-calling – he accused her of calling him “Stinky Pete” – was “unnecessary and unfortunate.”

See the flyer here.

Definitely not an endorsement. Former Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts, a Democrat who prides himself on GOP support, sent a mailer to voters in conservative-leaning north Fulton neighborhoods with a picture of him smiling next to Republican state Sen. John Albers.

“I’ll be right there alongside Senator Albers when his committee looks for ways to bring relief to Fulton County taxpayers,” read his plea for support in the Fulton County chair race. It caused a minor stir in GOP circles, since former Sandy Springs Councilman Gabriel Sterling is running as a Republican for the spot.

Albers told the AJC unequivocally he is not backing Pitts in the race.

See the mailer here.

Phone foul? Georgia Democrats called on supporters to report “illegal robocalls” from Norwood’s campaign to the Federal Communications Commission. Party officials say they received at least a half-dozen complaints from voters who said they received the calls on their cellphones, which is prohibited by the FCC. (State Democrats have made Norwood, a self-described independent who narrowly lost the 2009 race, their top target in this race.)

Norwood said her campaign's phone log was comprised of "friends, contributors and supporters" and that any cell phone numbers were provided from her list of personal contacts.

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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.