After months of a brutal campaign, Keisha Lance Bottoms finally was able to bask in a hard won victory when she was sworn in as Atlanta’s mayor on Tuesday.
Bottoms stood on a stage before 2,500 people at Morehouse College’s Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel and declared that “Atlanta magic” could be just as real as the “black girl magic” that helped her beat fellow Atlanta City Councilwoman Mary Norwood in the Dec. 5 runoff.
But the city needs to unify before it can realize its true potential, she said.
She said she was thrilled to be only the second female mayor in Atlanta’s history.
The first woman to hold the position, Shirley Franklin, who supported Norwood, was the only one of Atlanta’s five living former mayors who did not attend Bottoms’ inauguration.
While Bottoms made a few personal revelations, her first speech Atlanta’s 60th mayor was mainly a continuation of her campaign.
In addition to Bottoms, City Council President Felicia Moore, the rest of the council and 10 municipal court judges were also sworn into office.
Leave no one behind
Bottoms was elected partly due to the support of her predecessor, former Mayor Kasim Reed, who is credited with shoring up the city’s finances over his two terms in office.
Among Reed’s accomplishments: eight consecutive credit ratings increases, record reserves of $200 million and 18 regional or national headquarters relocations to Atlanta, according the mayor’s staff.
But it was Reed’s perceived shortcomings, not his successes, that seemed to color much of the election.
Despite the city’s strong financial position and a flourishing business community, his critics complained that some people were left behind.
According to the Equality of Economic Opportunity Project, a child in Atlanta born to parents whose income is in bottom 20 percent has a 4.5 percent chance of reaching the top 20 percent income bracket.
During the campaign, Bottoms pledged to address that.
“It’s no secret that we have economic disparity in Atlanta,” Bottoms said. “That’s why the theme of my campaign was ‘Keep Atlanta moving forward, leaving no one behind.’”
Reed leaves City Hall during a federal bribery investigation that in September resulted in a guilty plea from the city’s chief procurement officer, Adam Smith. Reed, who has not been named as a suspect, has vowed to cooperate with the investigation.
Bottoms has promised sweeping ethics reform.
“Our process is broken,” Bottoms said a press conference following the inauguration. “Any time you have a procurement director who is charged with taking bribes, there’s an issue.”
Delivering on a promise
But Bottoms also appeared to take a step back from one significant commitment that she made during her campaign.
In the days before last month’s runoff, Bottoms pledged that her administration would, on day one, end a long and bitter public real estate feud between the city and the Atlanta Public Schools.
In the 1970s, when the Atlanta Public Schools split from the city of Atlanta, the city retained the deeds to school properties. As the district tried to sell off property it no longer needed, Reed sought to attach conditions to the sales, so that a portion of the property would be redeveloped for affordable housing.
The school district objected, and the disagreement prompted a lawsuit. At a political forum, Bottoms pledged to turn over the deeds to the schools on her first day in office. But she said Tuesday that she lacked the authority to take that action on her own.
“I looked forward to having a conversation with APS and with city council and with our law department,” she said at the press conference. “I am committed to working to resolve that immediately … It remains a priority.”
An unforeseen path
During her speech, Bottoms mentioned her ancestors, former slaves who came to Atlanta in search of opportunity.
“I stand here this afternoon carrying the hope of the slave,” she said, drawing on a famous poem of the late Maya Angelou.
Bottoms is the daughter of the late soul singer, Major Lance, whose addiction issues resulted in a prison stint. Bottoms said on Tuesday she had no idea how influential her father was until the advent of the internet allowed her to watch him on old television shows, such as Soul Train.
Bottoms said she wished that becoming mayor was the culmination of a lifelong dream. But it wasn’t.
“The truth is, it was never a path I imagined for myself,” Bottoms said.
She said her passion for public service found outlets in her church, in her professional roles as a lawyer and judge and then as a member of City Council.
Bottoms said it was only “after much soul searching and prayer” that she decided to run for mayor.
At the end of her speech, she began a series of refrains with the words: “Only in Atlanta.” One referenced Martin Luther King Jr. Another the city’s success in bringing the 1996 Olympic games to town.
The last one involved herself.
“And, only in Atlanta, could a young girl named Keisha …”
But the crowd cut her off. They rose and cheered for the woman with a first name that has an ethnic ring, whom everyone could finally call “Mayor.”
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The AJC’s Stephen Deere keeps you updated on the latest in the Atlanta mayoral race and everything else going on at City Hall.