Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves is joining the Atlanta mayoral race.

“I’ve turned the county around from being a divisive county along racial, partisan and municipal lines,” Eaves said in a phone interview, pledging to continue working as mayor with Sandy Springs and other neighboring cities. “Now is the time for that type of leadership.”

Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves.

Eaves’s surprise announcement shakes up an already crowded race heading into an election this fall. It also opens the question of leadership in Fulton County, whose government has recently developed unprecedented good relationships with Sandy Springs and other North Fulton cities on such issues as transportation and mass transit.

A Southwest Atlanta resident, Eaves has served as Fulton chairman for a decade. While the mayoral race is nonpartisan, Eaves notes that he is a Democrat with “good crossover support”—a pitch for what he calls his collaborative and regional approach to running Atlanta.

In Buckhead, Eaves said, he sees business policy and quality of life—especially crime-fighting—as top issues. Calling himself “fiscally minded,” he said his election would “bode well for businesses located in Buckhead.” He pointed to his revival of Fulton’s economic development agency and its role in attracting or expanding such major corporations as UPS and Mercedes-Benz USA in metro Atlanta.

On public safety, he called for “a fresh approach, one of collaboration” among Atlanta Police and its counterparts in such cities as Sandy Springs, East Point and South Fulton.

Eaves also touched on a big citywide issue in the race—a bribery scandal, involving the procurement of city contracts, that is currently roiling City Hall.

“I’m going to make transparency one of my top issues,” Eaves said, adding that in Fulton, “we make our procurement open online.”

Eaves was not modest about his part in newly improved relations with the North Fulton cities that began separating from county government in 2005. “I think it’s undeniable I played a crucial role,” he said, citing “my style and my demeanor.” But he acknowledged that his run for mayor could produce uncertainty about the collaboration continuing.

“Even though I played a critical role…some factors are in place that could outlast me…[and run on] an autopilot pace after me,” Eaves said, citing a like-minded Board of Commissioners and one recent product of unified politicking—a transportation special local option sales tax increase—in place.

He also pledged to continue such collaborations if he becomes mayor. The day of his campaign announcement, Feb. 23, he hosted another meeting with Fulton mayors and commissioners about possible mass transit expansion—a main product of that improved relationship. Such meetings will continue because the fates of the city and the rest of Fulton are entwined, he said.

“As mayor of the city of Atlanta, one thing I’ll do is, I’ll be at the table with other mayors, because I get it,” Eaves said.

“I think in the past, [there was] this visible or invisible line between Atlanta and Sandy Springs,” Eaves continued. “I see Sandy Springs to our north as an ally or partner… A strong Sandy Springs to the north only makes a stronger city of Atlanta.”

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.