Eight years ago, civil rights icon and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young asked then-City Councilman Ceasar Mitchell not to run for mayor.
“I told him I’d support him next time,” Young told me this week. “Ceasar was generous and wise enough not to compete.”
Young, who carries the most prestigious endorsement in Atlanta’s black community, had known Ceasar and his parents for years but 20 years earlier had promised support to a college student named Kasim Reed.
Ceasar, sensing he wasn’t going to make it in 2009, dutifully swallowed his pride, lowered his expectations and successfully ran to become Atlanta’s second banana — City Council president.
So now it’s Ceasar’s time. But that Kasim fellow is still having none of it.
Last week, as a crop of ambitious Atlantans qualified to run to replace him, Mayor Kasim Reed was holding court on V-103.
“I beat them all, let’s be real clear. Nobody who’s running for mayor could beat me,” Reed crowed. “I beat Mary Norwood who’s No. 1 (in polls this year). That was light work.”
Well, not exactly that light. Reed had to call in all the forces of Atlanta’s black community to stave off the indomitable Norwood from becoming the city’s first white mayor in 36 years. Young, then-Mayor Shirley Franklin and her son Cabral, a bright campaign strategist, pushed hard for Kasim, as did a reverend/vote-getter named Mitzi Bickers, who later became a player in the ongoing scandal at City Hall.
Reed won by barely 700 votes out of nearly 84,000 cast. It was a big push from the city’s black middle class on the southwest side that carried the runoff election for him.
Reed hadn’t always been the favorite. In fact, at the start of the campaign in August 2009, there were forces in the black community calling for Reed, who was polling in single digits, to step out of the way and let a “viable” African-American candidate like then-City Council President Lisa Borders face front-runner Norwood.
To his credit, the stubborn Reed plowed on to become the polished, yet eminently touchy, chief executive who loves to go on radio and toot his own horn. To the victors go the airwaves.
Last week, after qualifying to run for office, Candidate Ceasar (who spells his name funny) announced that because of the long-running federal investigation into bribery in the city of Atlanta, the city should hold off on long-term contracts until the new City Council comes in next year. By then, Ceasar, in his mind, would be mayor.
Never gonna happen, said the Current Mayor, who has four months remaining in Hizzonerdom. Reed is not going to stop contracts, nor, he insists, will Ceasar ever be mayor.
Reed, who likes to brag about the size of his Twitter following, used that platform like a billy club to smack Ceasar about the head and torso. The Mayor also issued a letter on official city stationary.
It was like a stream of mayoral consciousness — Ceasar’s moratorium on contracts was “a publicity stunt to buoy his fading mayoral hopes and help him raise money for his campaign.” His campaign is “a setup. … They are going to prop him up so that he can get into a runoff with Mary Norwood. Then they will bury him on this.” (Whoever they is.)
Later, in a press conference, Reed hit on Mitchell’s ethics woes, noting that he was fined more than $8,000 mostly for not disclosing between $46,000 and $93,000 in campaign expenditures.”
The Mayor, in a tweet, urged the public to “support one of the other candidates that can win.”
Oh, by the way, the Mayor has a candidate for you — Councilwoman Keisha Lance-Bottoms, whom he put in charge of the Recreation Authority a couple of years ago at a salary of $135,000 a year. That was on top of her $60,000 council salary. He also helped with a fund-raiser for her.
A recent WSB-TV / Landmark Communications poll put Bottoms in second place with 12 percent, tied with Peter Aman, a political newcomer and Reed’s former top aide. Norwood is first in the poll and Ceasar, who has probably raised more than $2 million, is in third (or fourth) place.
On Wednesday, Reed tweeted, “After a tough week, Caesar (sp) Mitchell falls to 4th place. See what Cornell Belcher, Barack Obama’s former pollster has to say about it here.”
Belcher was not only Obama’s pollster, he was Reed’s. And now Bottoms is paying Belcher tens of thousands of dollars to be her strategist. The Belcher memo that Reed released talked about how well Bottoms will connect with women. Black women are still by far the biggest demographic voting block in Atlanta.
Reed’s assault on Ceasar Mitchell’s campaign so early in the game has a purpose. Recently, Andy Young and fellow civil rights icons C.T. Vivian and Joseph Lowery publicly endorsed Ceasar, giving him the club blessing. So Reed had to lash out to allow his preferred candidate — Bottoms — to connect with voters, especially those in southwest Atlanta.
There is no Maynard Jackson political machine anymore, but the remains of it can certainly help an African-American candidate in a runoff with Mary Norwood.
It sure helped Kasim eight years ago.
But Ceasar Mitchell has a problem. He has campaigned four times before in citywide elections, yet is running behind Aman, a prosperous white guy who nobody knew three months ago, who is funding his campaign with gobs of his own money.
Mitchell has been a likable presence on the political circuit and has southwest Atlanta roots. But he hasn’t set the world afire.
Perhaps The Mayor’s assault has helped Candidate Ceasar, who called a press conference to call Hizzoner’s comments “unfortunate, petty and immature.”
He said Reed is trying to “divert and deflect attention away from the fact that he is the mayor during a time of what could be one of the most explosive corruption investigations in the city, in the history of this city.”
Ceasar said THAT on TELEVISION. Yeah, the man in fourth place. He needs to hold another press conference to thank his buddy Kasim.