Opinion: Ethics at the heart of Atlanta’s mayoral race

There are certain things in life you just know to be true. Our local sports teams will probably let you down in the end. A Facebook political rant is bound to change approximately zero minds.

And conservatives aren’t the target audience in Atlanta’s mayoral elections.

It’s OK; we know the deal going in. If you lean Republican but live in perhaps the bluest part of Georgia — although the People’s Republic of Decatur might have something to say about that — you better have reasons other than partisan politics. Because that’s going to disappoint you, no matter how many times Georgia Democrats scream that Mary Norwood is privately a pachyderm.

In a way, however, this knowledge can be liberating. It’s hard for voters of all political persuasions to stay focused on the basics while politicians woo them with gleaming promises. Since there will be no such things tailored to us, Atlanta’s small band of conservatives can keep our eyes on the basics that ought to matter to everyone, regardless of political affiliation.

Basics like real fiscal responsibility. Basics like clean government.

The latter is the main concern in this election. And while it’s easy to get wrapped up in such issues as transportation, parks and public safety, voters this year need to focus on clean government. If Atlanta doesn’t have that, it’s unlikely anything else will work out well, either.

In case you’ve Rip Van Winkle’d your way through 2017, a federal bribery investigation has been unfolding at City Hall. Prosecutors describe corruption as “prolific.” It is a staple of headlines and candidate debates. Before that, it was the subject of the most everyone-knows-it-but-can’t-prove-it whispers this side of Harvey Weinstein’s Hollywood.

What we know is two city contractors pleaded guilty to paying more than $1 million in bribes between 2010 and 2015. Separately, the city’s former chief procurement officer pleaded guilty to receiving at least $30,000 in bribes from 2015 to 2017. Obviously, neither the dollar amounts nor the timelines totally overlap — leading one to believe federal prosecutors aren’t nearly done yet.

We don’t know where the facts will lead. Mayor Kasim Reed insists they won’t lead to him, and so far there is no evidence to the contrary.

That said, Reed’s term ends in January. Yet to be determined is not only who will succeed him, but how many in the city’s hierarchy his successor might keep around. And whether the facts may eventually lead to any of them.

The best policy is a clean break.

The candidate Reed has endorsed, Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms, described the bribery scandal this way in a recent debate: “out of 8,000 employees, we had a bad apple.” Given what we know, and don’t know, about the investigation, that’s too limited a view of what happened.

The city’s next elected leaders must be willing to seek out and root out corruption. Ceasar Mitchell, the current council president, and Peter Aman, a former chief operating officer under Reed, say the right things. Cathy Woolard, a former council president, and Mary Norwood, a longtime council member, have more distance from the current administration. (As does the best choice for council president, Felicia Moore.)

I confess I’m still deciding whether to vote for Aman, Mitchell, Norwood or Woolard. But in the inevitable runoff, Atlantans would be best served by a choice between two of them.

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