Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms will not run for reelection this year, she announced in a surprise May 6 decision in which she did not rule out a run for another office.

In a social media post, Bottoms said after she and her husband Derek “have given thoughtful prayer and consideration to the season now before us, it is with deep emotions that I hold my head high, and choose not to seek another term as mayor.”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

The move means a wide-open race on the Nov. 2 ballot for one of Georgia’s most powerful political positions, with Atlanta City Council president Felicia Moore and attorney Sharon Gay as the currently announced candidates. Mary Norwood, a former City Council member and current chair of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, who narrowly lost the 2017 mayoral election to Bottoms, did not immediately respond to a question about whether she would consider another run. Norwood is currently filed to run to replace the retiring J.P. Matzigkeit in the District 8 Atlanta City Council seat.

Bottoms’ national profile had increased dramatically during the pandemic, especially as she sparred with Gov. Brian Kemp over masks and reopening of businesses.  President Joe Biden considered her as a potential vice-presidential candidate and nominated her for Vice Chair of Civic Engagement and Voter Protection at the Democratic National Committee.

Biden also attended a fundraiser in March for Bottoms, which raised $500,000 for her reelection bid.

But while her national profile has been on the rise, Bottoms has faced withering criticism at home for her handling of an ongoing crime wave. There have already been 44 homicides in the city since January coming off a record-breaking 157 homicides in 2020.

The increase in violent crime helped to spark legislation for the neighborhood of Buckhead to become its own city, which Bottoms only recently confronted in one direct, virtual appearance to an organization in that area. She also faced controversy from all sides over her handling of Atlanta Police Department officers’ killing of Rayshard Brooks last year, which led to the resignation of Police Chief Erika Shields and officer sick-outs. Her quick firing of Garrett Rolfe, the APD officer who shot Brooks, was repudiated as wrongful this week by the Atlanta Civil Service Board.

In a social media post, Bottoms said after she and her husband Derek “have given thoughtful prayer and consideration to the season now before us, it is with deep emotions that I hold my head high, and choose not to seek another term as mayor.”

In her lengthy social media announcement, Bottoms posed several rhetorical questions and their answers, saying that “yes,” she can fundraise; “absolutely,” she could win the Mayor’s Office again; and “never” was she afraid of the competition. 

But in response to her own question, “Is she running for another office?”, Bottoms made no clear response. “While I am not yet certain of what the future holds, I trust that my next season will continue to be one full of passion and purpose, guided by the belief that within each of us is the power and responsibility to make a positive difference in the lives of others,” she wrote.

“As I have done each day over the many years in which I have served in public office, through the remainder of my term, I will make every decision, keeping what is best for our communities in top of mind, and will continue to work diligently to improve the lives of those in our city,” Bottoms wrote. “I love you, Atlanta. Thank you for the honor of serving as your mayor.”

At a May 7 press conference elaborating on the decision, Bottoms struggled not to have what she called an “ugly cry.”

“It has been my highest honor to serve as mayor of this city,” Bottoms said. “I prayed for God’s wisdom and guidance, and it became abundantly clear that it is time to pass the baton on to someone else.”

Asked by a reporter when she first felt the inkling that she might not seek a second term, Bottoms said the notion began in her first year in office. “My decision wasn’t based on one thing,” she said. “It’s not something I woke up yesterday and decided. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time.”

“The last three years have not been what I would have scripted for this city,” Bottoms said, noting the crippling cyber attack on the city and the ongoing federal criminal investigation that began with her predecessor, Kasim Reed, that “sucked the air out of City Hall.”

Bottoms said she was proud that the city rose above the pandemic, made its voice heard in the social justice movement, and survived a “madman in the White House” in reference to former President Donald Trump.

“I don’t know what’s next for me personally and for my family, but what I do know is that this is a decision made from a position of strength, not of weakness,” Bottoms said. “A poll said 70 percent of people in Atlanta still like me. I would win this race without a runoff. I’ve seen the poll numbers. But even when you know these things to be true, it doesn’t mean you should do it.”

Update: This story has been updated with quotes from Bottoms’ press conference.

John Ruch

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

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.