She’s got the money, the backing of the Biden administration, and the Black elite pedigree that got her into the office in the first place. Yet, her ability to read the room and the unfortunate writing on the wall makes me admire her all the more in her as she departs. She knows her time is up, and I can appreciate anyone who can see that clearly and doesn’t waver. Margaret Thatcher famously asserted once that being powerful is like being a lady; if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t. I believe Mayor Bottoms to be both and she has demonstrated that in her exit.
Let me say, I didn’t vote for Keisha Lance Bottoms. I thought she was too close to the Reed administration for my own taste. However, her leadership in the initial stages of the pandemic was what the city needed, and I appreciated her steady hand and strong backbone in the face of the pettiness and good ‘ol boy antics of the Governor. She showed herself mature, cautious yet steadfast. In the moment of global instability, she was rightly dubbed America’s mother and a mayor in which I took pride. I will not soon forget that.
However, her lack of presence in the streets during last summer’s protests made it an awkward realization that as a white woman with diabetes I was more willing to march in solidarity than she was, Covid19 be damned. The stumbling pace forward continued in the slowness to name a successor to the APD Chief after her resignation and even more as the city watches our services decline and budgets to solve the challenges of traffic and crime dwindle. The Blue Flu of Atlanta has won her nor the APD any friends, yet even white moderate men in my midst are clamouring about the “rising violent crime” and “lack of leadership”. Lately, I’ve also had more than one conversation with city officials and those who have contracts with the city who are not receiving payments. President Biden’s infrastructure projects and blank checks to cities across America will be the saving grace of Atlanta, no doubt. I for one, am SUPER glad KLB is choosing to cash in those favors on our behalf.
‘But why?’ Folks ask.
From Buckhead to Bankhead, our city no longer has faith that she can lead us through what we will face. My neighbors (not the politically engaged type) keep asking ‘where is Keisha?’ You may find her InStyle, and via video, but Madame Mayor has learned she cannot govern by press release and maintain the faith of her people. The Buckhead folks were left to clutch their pearls last summer, the Bankhead folks never expected the Mayor from Cascade to remember them anyway, and the Midtown folks I know are too busy trying to fix the problems they can as the city develops at rapid fire pace around them.
Atlanta politics is a shell game, from what I can tell and KLB just turned over the table.
From what I can discern, the basic Atlanta formula for success is to engage Buckhead whites and Black elites to write the checks needed for funding a campaign, while telling Bankhead you’re going to fix things in a different way than your predecessors have. You tell the Metro Chamber you’re going to unite people, bring business, and get the unemployed to be interested in workforce jobs they haven’t been interested in previously. You tell the Power Gays you won’t stand for discrimination in the workforce and you won’t meddle in their investments. You promise the Black elites that you will be a good example, à la Hattie McDaniel, while giving them city contracts and kissing the rings of the Civil Rights Royalty still living. The Jewish political influence operates more behind the scenes and while ready with a check, won’t openly criticize yet will remind Black politicians of their grandparents’ unity during The Movement. Without these groups’ backing, your forward movement in Atlanta is shaky at best. The folks who’ve been around for a while know how to show up and show out come election time, and they focus on engaging senior citizens for their votes to secure their wins. They remember the grandmothers and the aunties so the voting age children feel like they’re seen all while moving money from one account to the next, robbing Peter to pay Paul. Atlanta politicians set the bar so impossibly low that any movement or progress of any sort looks like they’ve really done something. As to whether they learned it from the state legislature or whether the legislature learned it from them remains a mystery to me.
Unlike these old timers though, KLB separates herself from the pack with this exit. Rather than sticking around, she’s walking out rather than being indicted, losing in an election, or making a mockery of our election season. I’d say that’s something unique and admirable. I wish more would do it. She leaves behind a cluster that will be a messy fight for the city, but she walks out without a stain on her red soles. It’s a good look, of which her mamma is undoubtedly proud. In the midst of all the drama, I admire Mayor Bottom’s decisive political wisdom. It takes courage and fortitude to know when to fold and walk away from the table. It reminds me of the comforting line from Fried Green Tomatoes after the character Ruth passes away. Sipsey reminds Iggy that Ruth was a lady, and a lady always knows when it’s time to leave. I believe both to also be true of KLB. Even in the way she has chosen not to seek re-election, she has demonstrated her unquestionable class and her political acumen. May the city be grateful.