Mitzi Bickers has been a go-to player for years in Atlanta politics, helping candidates get their voters to the polls.
But under a cloud of suspicion amid a federal corruption probe at Atlanta City Hall, Bickers was a no-show in the 2017 mayoral and council races. Until this weekend.
While many political observers expected Bickers would sit this election out, given the scrutiny she’s under, a woman who identified herself as “Pastor Mitzi Bickers” released a robocall with an innocuous message for residents of southwest Atlanta, Virginia-Highland and other parts of the city.
In the recording, the woman encouraged residents to “vote the full ballot.”
Bickers, who helped Kasim Reed win his first race for mayor in 2009 by a razor thin margin, largely vanished from the political spotlight when her name surfaced in connection with the federal investigation in January. The federal probe so far has netted guilty pleas by two contractors and the city’s former top purchasing officer.
Bickers has not been charged in the case, nor have prosecutors named her as a suspect.
Bickers hung up on a reporter when reached on her cellphone, and her attorney did not respond to an email seeking comment. Three people who worked with Bickers politically, but declined to be named for this story, told the AJC the voice on the recording is hers. They requested anonymity out of fear that speaking publicly would affect their ability to work in politics.
In the clip, which lasts about 30 seconds, Bickers does not endorse any candidates, nor does the message state who paid for it.
“Don’t let negative and irresponsible media reporting and other evil forces discourage you from exercising your right to vote,” the recording states. “Wake up Tuesday determined to make your vote your voice. Be strong and courageous and vote the full ballot this Tuesday.”
Bickers is a former Atlanta school board chief who’s helped council members, judges, state legislators and school board members with get-out-the-vote efforts. In a normal political season, Bickers’ services would be in high demand.
Representatives for mayoral candidates including Peter Aman, Keisha Lance Bottoms, John Eaves, Ceasar Mitchell and Cathy Woolard said their campaigns were not associated with Bickers or the call. A spokeswoman for Mary Norwood said she was unaware of the message until contacted by a reporter.
Bickers was a common link between contractor Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr. and Shandarrick Barnes, a former city of Atlanta employee accused of throwing a brick through a window of Mitchell’s home in September 2015 after Mitchell started talking to the feds.
Mitchell and contractor Charles P. Richards Jr. admitted to paying more than $1 million in bribes from 2010 to 2015 to an unnamed person under the belief a portion of the money would go to people with influence over city contracting.
In July, the AJC reported Mitchell or his companies paid Bickers or companies related to her more than $1.6 million for unknown services from 2013 to 2015 — a period within the time-frame of the bribery scheme.
In August 2016, federal prosecutors subpoenaed records related to Bickers from the city, where she worked as Reed’s director of human services from 2010 to 2013. Prosecutors later subpoenaed her records from Clayton County, where she works as a chaplain for Sheriff Victor Hill.
Before the bribery probe became public in January, records obtained by the AJC suggested prosecutors were attempting to build a case against Bickers at the same time they were negotiating guilty pleas from Mitchell and the second contractor.
Bickers’ legal team was particularly concerned at the time with documenting her sources of income.