Charlie Harper: Rooting For Atlanta As a Bystander In Upcoming Elections

Charlie Harper

Friday, May 21st, 2021

Earlier this month, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced she will not run for re-election. Note that elections within the City of Atlanta are held this year.  In six months, new city leaders will be selected at the ballot box.  

It’s important to note that the hyper-partisanship that will again draw national attention and dollars to Georgia’s 2022 statewide November elections are not the same factor in the race Mayor Bottoms has side-stepped.  Despite the contest being officially non-partisan, it is a virtual certainty that whomever is elected to replace her will be a highly progressive Democrat.

So why should suburban and rural Georgians – the vast majority of those who will see this column - care about this race?  I’ll refer you back to a question I asked of a former Atlanta-based European diplomat who had invited a small group of media over for a chat about trade, and to his answer.  After he presented an in-depth dialogue about the importance of trade between his country and Georgia, I asked if by “Georgia” he really meant “Atlanta”, as most of his examples seemed Atlanta-metro centric.

He paused, as diplomats tend to do when being diplomatic, and conceded “yes”.  After another pause, he seemed to broaden if not somewhat fix his answer, and added “…and Savannah.  But yes.”

Atlanta is Georgia’s brand.  It is how we are known to the world.  Atlanta, Georgia’s brand, is hurting.

Like the rest of the world, Atlanta is re-opening after over a year of pandemic induced shutdowns.  Atlanta was also the location of many protests – some peaceful, some not – over high-profile officer involved shootings during the last year.

Most relevant to this discussion was the shooting of Rayshard Brooks by an Atlanta police officer as Brooks attempted to flee from arrest in a South Atlanta Wendy’s parking lot.  During the unrest that followed, the public demanded a head to be sacrificed.  Bottoms offered up her Chief of Police, Erica Shields, who “resigned” in the aftermath of the Brooks shooting.  

The police officer, indicted on multiple charges including felony murder, has since been reinstated by the Atlanta police department.  Bottoms, meanwhile, took almost a year to officially replace Shields as chief, removing the “interim” title from Chief Rodney Bryant days before her decision to leave office.

In the meantime, the Atlanta Police Department has had difficulty attracting and retaining officers.  According to WSB TV, Atlanta had only 1451 sworn officers in early February out of over 2,000 authorized positions.  Crime, and the perception of crime, are on the increase.

“Perception of crime” is a relatively new euphemism for Atlanta politicos when the ‘wrong people’ become victims of crime, and thus become more aware of what some have conceded is a routine occurrence.  Think of it as when bad things happen in good neighborhoods.

It’s happening in all the neighborhoods.  It’s even happening on Atlanta’s interstates.  Weekend shooting numbers are now being reported by local media in aggregate – and in double digits – as if Atlanta has suddenly become Chicago.

This weekend, I received a text from a friend of mine to let our friends group know his father in law had just been shot on Sunday afternoon.  A party nearby got out of hand and shots were fired, injuring him and others shopping at a major retailer who were otherwise minding their own business. 

A reply to the same text stream came from another friend, recounting how his brother in law was recently the target of an attempted carjacking.  That’s 2 out of five people on one random text chain with an anecdote of a family member increasing the “perception of crime” in our capital city.  Other friends are sharing similar experiences.

A change in leadership – that above police chiefs being rotated as political pawns – can quickly change perception.  Hopefully the next mayor can work on solutions that get to the root of the complex problems involving public safety, crime, and enforcement.

Georgians living outside the Perimeter will not be able to have significant influence on the campaign to succeed Mayor Bottoms. We still must root for a competent successor - One who understands that the city and state are integral and intertwined.