Who’s funding Keisha Lance Bottoms? A look into the mayor’s campaign financing and transition into office
“In so many words, your community, Keisha, feels like you don’t care about us. We feel as if you don’t wanna be bothered; like we’re a burden. This is hurtin’ my heart, it’s like a fire showed up in my bones. We are protesting for a reason, Keisha. We are protesting for our people. We are protesting for a change. You put a curfew on us, but we need to go vote. We need this curfew to be lifted. We need the police reformed. We need them insured, so it won’t cost us to feed their families when they’re on an absence of leave for unjustly killing an innocent person. We all bleed the same. You are a Black sister, Keisha — have you forgotten? All I’m asking, Keisha, is that you come out and answer some questions. That’s all we’re asking. There’s only four of us and you got almost a whole Atlanta police squad for four people. We’re not here to harm you; we’re here for answers that we’re not getting. We didn’t get [them] when you showed up the other day for 15 minutes. We’re not getting it now. We were out there being peaceful, and we still [were] tear gassed. We were out there being peaceful and we still got arrested. We were out there being peaceful and you’re trying to treat us like your children and put a curfew on us. But we’re out here, Keisha, and we’re angry. We’re hurting. We’re grieving. We’re mourning. So since you wouldn’t come to us, we came to you, sister. To me, you’re a sell-out. ‘Cause I’m a Black woman and I would’ve never told my people to go home. I would’ve told them to be a little more peaceful because I was peaceful. But I never would have told them to shut up and go home, and that’s what you said in so many words. Shame on you, Keisha. You won’t even come out here and answer our questions. Shame on you, Keisha. You wouldn’t even come out and walk with your brothers and sisters. Shame on you, Keisha. Cause you’re our mayor and you’re Black, and I am ashamed of you. You were voted in by the corporation, not by your people; but by corporations. But guess what, Keisha? This will be your only term being Mayor of Atlanta.”
— An Atlanta protester’s words spoken through a bullhorn to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms outside the mayor’s home on Sat., June 13, the day after Rayshard Brooks was gunned down and killed by Officer Garrett Rolfe of the Atlanta Police Department
ATLANTA — While Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was a spotlight in the national gaze this past summer during Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s vice presidential vetting process, at one point reportedly being held in the top four spots for consideration, she’s faded a bit into the background since she delivered her speech at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, for which she was named a permanent co-chair. Meanwhile, local circles have been drawn around Bottoms again as it was reported last week that she and her office have failed to comply with the Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission investigation concerning her campaign financing.
“We have not received campaign bank records from the Bottoms campaign, which were subpoena’d, despite her public statements that she would provide all documents and be fully transparent,” ethics commission Executive Director David Emadi said in an email to Channel 2 Action News. Bottoms’ office has said the demands are “unlawful” and are indicative of an “overzealous prosecutor” and a hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 24. Former mayoral candidate Mary Norwood was also investigated and fined $27,000, which she has since paid.
This garnered our attention as we have been peeking into Bottoms’ campaign finance records throughout this year, knowing that her office was subpoenaed in December 2019. However, before we dig into the allegations, let’s note who is behind the state ethics commission board, which has been accused of “political problems” in the past. Emadi is a financial backer of Gov. Brian Kemp and former Douglas County prosecutor. He began the job for the ethics committee in March 2019 and subpoenaed extensive records from Stacey Abrams’ 2018 gubernatorial campaign while denying allegations of partisanship or any “political vendetta”. Ethics commission chairman Jake Evans is a Republican attorney, Trump supporter, and head of the Young Republicans who once said he “wanted to make it cool to be a young Republican.” His father, J. Randolph Evans, is a trusted Trump official and was the ambassador to Luxembourg.
Also chiming in on the investigation is William Perry, the founder and “Top Dog” of the Georgia Ethics Watchdogs, which was formed after he was forced out as head of the Georgia chapter of Common Cause in what was described as a “purge of conversative-leaning members” in 2015.
This wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen Republicans attempt to intimidate or threaten a Democrat, woman, or person of color ascending into power. And in Georgia, frankly, God be with you if you’re all three. Here, we are in the belly of the beast when it comes to the vitriol of Southern Republicans, their brand of white supremacist oppression, and its intricate systemic web. Abrams’ 2018 gubernatorial campaign was illuminating in what Kemp and his constituents are truly capable of, and we all saw him target Bottoms earlier this year with a bogus lawsuit in response to the mayor’s mask mandate during his executive powers. This lawsuit also happened to arrive after Bottoms spoke out on CNN against President Donald Trump, saying that he violated the city’s laws when he arrived at the Hartsfield Atlanta airport without a mask.
These power moves and political ploys, all in the context of an election year, shouldn’t be taken lightly. While denouncing women’s political efficacy — as conspired between our patriarchal legal systems, the media, and advertising, ultimately discouraging them from entering positions of leadership or even voting — is nothing new in the American landscape, it all weighs heavier during the coronavirus pandemic. (And for any issue affecting women, it should be understood the challenges facing women are tenfold for Black women.) Over the past seven months, the virus has been politicized beyond reproach, contributing to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of American lives that could have been prevented. This dance between Bottoms and Kemp could have been skipped and spared thousands of Georgians’ lives.
It’s unfortunate that our local news outlets fail to draw the curtain back far enough for the public to see the greater issues at hand behind something like a state ethics commission investigation and what is really going on in campaign financing in Atlanta. Because what lurks behind the curtain are important matters as it pertains to something American people across party lines can and should inevitably get behind: the organizing, galvanizing, and rise of the working class.
Although Bottoms’ patterns exhibited the past year are nothing new, they are particularly glaring in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests, and the current presidential election. In the beginning stages of COVID-19, Bottoms was vacationing at her $1 million Martha’s Vineyard home; and further, her leadership throughout the outbreak did not exhibit a sense of urgency — one she consistently claims to hold while quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., in her press conferences and TV appearances — as she waited a considerable amount of time to lay down a mask mandate and enforce restrictions on the particularly busy and crowded Beltline.
Following George Floyd’s murder by police in Minneapolis, Bottoms’ level of detachment during the resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests was particularly concerning, going on multiple TV tours making numerous appearances on CNN, the Late Show with Seth Meyers, and Jimmy Fallon, where she was swooned for being such an “impressive” leader while notably Black and a woman. Her time was spent there, away from City Hall, as her own city was suffering and crying out for her to finally address the Atlanta Police Department’s failures to eradicate police brutality against Black people. However, this wasn’t the first time we’ve seen Bottoms willfully ignore activists in the city, as we’ve noted in the cases of police killings of Jimmy Atchison and Oscar Cain, as well as the ongoing battle to stop the displacement of Black families in the city as advocated by the Housing Justice League.
While her appearances on the screen appear genuine and impassioned, which is something our society should no longer celebrate and simply come to expect from those in leadership, they hit more like a driver steering the wheel of the city who is blinded by the shine of personal aspirations and private gain. Or, to be more accurate, being chauffeured in a luxury SUV that was paid for with funds that were allocated by City Council for police vehicles. Those who help Bottoms achieve those private gains help answer the question of who the mayor is actually here to serve, whether it be big time developers, Fortune 500 companies, corporate Democrats, Buckhead and other wealthy constituents, the police union, or the police department itself. And to be clear, this is certainly not something that begins or ends with Bottoms. She is merely the current placeholder to continue what’s become Atlanta’s legacy in becoming a bought-and-sold, privately owned, and controlled city with little to no regard for the Black communities it falsely claims to protect and serve in order to make a profit in its exhausting display of property and profit over people.
Interestingly, what is probably the most symbolic and indicative of these facets of Bottoms’ leadership is something that national news enamored, that went viral, that earned Bottoms her greatest wave of recent praise: her press conference with Dr. Bernice King, Killer Mike, and T.I. held on May 29, the first night of the city’s George Floyd protests.
When the mayor spoke that night — standing in front of the paint of the city’s seal with the wing coincidentally posed behind her back, posturing her to be some sort of hero — she chose to do so in a flashy press conference during the demonstrations alongside Atlanta celebrities, yelling at protesters to “go home,” and if that they wanted change in America, to “go register to vote” — which is extremely tone deaf in the context of living in Kemp’s Georgia, a well-known voter suppressor whose tactics worked for him to steal his way into the Governor’s Mansion. This conference was ultimately a spectacle for those sitting comfortably at home while those who it was addressing were still in the streets protesting for the freedom and respect for humanity for Black lives. That night, it was the APD who created a barricade to block protesters from marching and it was from there events coalesced into more destruction which were of course identified as riots and lootings played on loop in national and local news reels. Rather than going to address the protesters herself, she chose to stand behind a podium and yell at them, only for them to not hear her. Who was that press conference really for?
It may have been assumed Bottoms was absent from Atlanta’s communities due to being swept up in the Biden campaign’s vice presidential vetting process, but now that the decision has been made, Bottoms still remains detached from and at times seemingly actively working against the people in her city, especially those who are poor, struggling, and Black; the same as she ever was. Explaining the how and why of that is where this investigative work begins.
While the current state ethics commission investigation in the Bottoms campaign appears to be yet another political move or intimidation tactic, it’s not something that should be ignored or glossed over, because it’s not completely without merit. And while Bottoms is mostly revered in national news and the Democratic party, her tenure as the mayor of Atlanta is something people should investigate as it pertains to the movement, gentrification, and overall equity for Black people in our city. It’s time to peel back the gloss and write about Bottoms honestly, beyond the scope of a vice presidential pick and a partisanship effort to investigate her campaign finance records — and without any ulterior or political motives behind the scenes.
Bottoms’ campaign financing
We’ve been peeking into Bottoms’ campaign records and campaign financing for quite some time, noting red flags here and there while piecing together a bigger picture. Bottoms was endorsed by longtime ally and former mayor Kasim Reed, whose legacy was later discovered to consist of secret deals and reckless spending, including a December 2017 dinner in which Reed was gifted a $17,000 watch and city employees walked away with thousands of dollars in prize giveaways. In her 2017 campaign, Bottoms raised $2.7 million in what collectively became one of the most expensive mayoral campaigns in the city’s history. On July 2, 2020, Bottoms reported bringing in over $3.2 million in total campaign contributions, with a total of $105,000 raised in the first six months of this non-election year. More than $180,000 has come from personal loans that Bottoms has made to the campaign.
It appears the ethos of Atlanta politics has not been to appeal to communities on a grassroots level for quite some time, and the city’s obsession with pandering to businesses and corporations in the name of creating opportunity can be traced back to Mayor Maynard Jackson’s administration in 1974. The expansion of the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport paired with the then-controversial equal opportunity program that was Atlanta’s first step into affirmative action paved the way for the pursuit of economic equity and political paradigm in the city that we’ve come to know today. Being the second poorest city in the country at the time, Atlanta’s governance became primarily concerned and hyperfixated with its national reputation, presumably to become a city that’s safe and pristine for tourists, developers, and residents; but that has not necessarily been the result we now know of late stage gentrification and capitalism. As a woman explains in a 1970s interview regarding moves being made at that time, “Atlanta is an excellent place for some Black people, but not all Black people.”
Even in the beginning stages of the city’s first Black mayor’s tenure, the actions taken did not seem to lay the foundation down of a true Black Mecca, or a Wakanda like T.I. referred to when he spoke at Bottoms’ May 29 press conference, because it did not serve everybody — particularly those who were impoverished and of the working class. Even after 40 years of Black leadership and this intention to establish economic equity, Atlanta still ranked worst nationally in income inequality in 2018.
The majority of Bottoms’ campaign donors consists of city contractors, attorneys and law firms, business entities, and even some well-known Republicans, such as William Teague, who is listed as the owner of Baldwin Paving (originally misspelled in the campaign’s documents). Teague donated the maximum individual amount and is also the same as W. Ryan Teague who is a “team member” at Robbins Government Relations, a firm that made its own $2,800 donation, as well. Teague has been active throughout the years in political fundraising in Georgia and currently serves as the finance chairman of the Georgia Republican Party. Teague has also made contributions to the Georgia Republican Party, Inc., as well as to the corporate-driven, Kemp-appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler and conservative Rep. Kevin Tanner. Additionally, of the multiple lawyers or companies owned by lawyers who donated to the Bottoms campaign is Cloverhurst LLC, which is owned by former Attorney for the City of Atlanta Jeremy Berry. Cloverhurst has also given money to Kemp and Casey Cagle campaigns. We’ve so far found no record of overlaps in Republican contributions between the Bottoms and Norwood campaigns, meaning the Republicans who donated to Bottoms did not donate to her former Republican contender.
The ongoing internal affairs investigation alleges the Bottoms campaign of $383,773 in financial irregularities with $300,797 of that allegedly collected outside the legal period, or after the general election period had closed. The ethics commission can get involved for a number of reasons, including but not limited to when a candidate uses city or campaign funds for personal use, not reporting personal income, or accepting more campaign donations than allowed. The committee subpoenaed the Mayor’s Office on the heels of an investigative report that was submitted by the City Auditor’s Office and City Ethics office on Nov. 4, 2019, which revealed an array of issues concerning the mayor’s transition into office, which we will return to later.
While there are certainly donations from individuals, many of them were tied to city contractors, as we saw in the 2017 scandal with engineering group PRAD Design Build, who touted their work at the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport on their website before it was obstructed due to “security issues”. Bottoms was forced to return $25,700 worth of donations her campaign secured from the group following an FBI raid of the group’s office in Sept. 2017. This case is one prime example of what’s known as “pay-for-play,” in which companies can buy their way into owning and managing city property and gaining access to huge lines of profit, and is very likely not the first or the last. In its lowest form and complete breach of laws and ethics, this can often turn into what is simply known as bribery, as we saw riddled in the Reed administration.
Others linked to the PRAD Design Build who also gave to Bottoms’ campaign are the JP2/PRAD Group, Roberson and Reynolds, Lohrasb Jeff Jafari, Nancy Jafari, and George Reynolds. Jeff Jafari was on the host committee for one of Bottoms’ fundraising events in 2017 and is listed as a representative of the newly formed Airport Retail Concessions Group. The Jafaris and Reynolds all previously gave to Reed’s campaign, and no one linked to the PRAD Group gave to other mayoral candidates. It was reported by the AJC in October 2017 that the PRAD Group has been paid at least $60 million by the city for work from 2009 to 2014. Since 2015, PRAD and its partners have billed the city another $39 million.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport: The busiest airport in the world and keyholder to multibillion dollar opportunities for contract holders
This brings us to the next point, which is that a lot of the money in Bottoms’ campaign leads back to the airport, which was expanded under Jackson’s administration and essentially tipped the scales for big business in politics in Atlanta. In June 2018, Bottoms appointed Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Roosevelt Council to serve as the city’s Chief Financial Officer. Council once served as an interim CFO for the city before joining the airport in 2016; both positions were during the Reed administration. Council was nominated to serve as the airport’s general manager by Reed and was confirmed by City Council in a unanimous vote.
In more recent memory, this is the same CFO who failed to respond numerous times to City Councilmember Jennifer Ide’s request in late June for specific information regarding the APD budget earlier this year when there was immense pressure from communities to defund police departments and reinvest funds into community programs and health services. Time was of the essence in that scenario, as the council was working to approve a city budget ahead of the state’s constitutionally slated deadline of June 30. Further, when Council finally made it into the virtual meeting, we heard him cluelessly ask what city council was talking about. This illustrated another instance of detachment between not only the Mayor’s Office and the People, but in its own relationship with City Council.
To shed light on why so many contractors linked to the airport may feel compelled to bend laws or ethics to get money to a certain political candidate, according to a 2017 report from the Intercept, “A number of major contractors that do business with Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport — the world’s busiest airport and an entity the city oversees — used shell companies and other means to boost their donations to Bottoms into the tens of thousands. The concession contracts, to operate fast food restaurants and other franchises, are a multibillion-dollar opportunity for vendors.”
While the legal contribution limit for an individual to a mayoral candidate is $2,600, there appears to be numerous contributions above that limit at $2,800, as well as many individuals who are linked to greater entities. Shell companies are ones that exist only on paper, with no office or employees, but usually have a bank account to hold and transfer funds. In some instances, companies listed on Bottoms’ donor list, such as Will C. Adams LLC and Aries 2.0 Management Group, appear to be fake with no website, no real address, and no identifiable owner. Other donors listed appear to have misspelled names or company names. There are also instances when an individual donated twice, such as the case with A-National Limousine Service, a company that provides ground transportation services mainly to Hartsfield-Jackson and is owned by Darrell Anderson. Anderson made combined contributions of $3,000 and was able to do so under his name and the name of the company separately.
Contribution forms show that many of the $105,000 raised from January to June 2020 for Bottoms’ re-election campaign involved the Mayor’s Office of Contract Compliance’s Equal Business Opportunity Program, which was founded under Mayor Jackson’s administration and later rocked by scandal during Reed’s administration. The program seeks to provide minority-owned and women-owned businesses equal opportunity to obtain city contracts, setting aside 25% of all contracts for minority-owned and women-owned firms. However, in the past, these contracts were given to the financially and politically connected. Today, the range of contracts and work completed for the City of Atlanta by these companies range from public works to the airport itself, which has seen its share of scandals connected to this program.
Multiple candidates in Atlanta’s 2017 mayoral race fell under fire for unethical and questionable fundraising, raising a lot of concerns of conflicts of interests, including Bottoms. If we knew then what we know now about Reed and his administration, an endorsement from him would have likely sounded an alarm to those voting in the election. Bottoms’ campaign website features a page entitled “Ethics and Transparency Reform Act of 2018,” which isn’t anything more than a statement and is not indicative of any actual legislation. In this page, Bottoms pledges 10 things she would do as mayor to ensure greater ethics and transparency, such as ensuring contracting improprieties will not be tolerated, appointing an independent auditor to do a complete audit in the city’s procurement process in her first act as mayor, independently funding a Chief Compliance Officer, and introduce a City of Atlanta version of the “Tax Returns Uniformly Made Public Act,” or “T.R.U.M.P. Act.”
While City Council has recently passed new legislation to hire a new inspector general to further transparency in City Hall that includes a new Chief Compliance Officer appointment and will operate independently, there has been no ultimate fulfillment of creating a fully ethical and transparent government in City Hall. In fact, Bottoms’ transition into City Hall was an example of contradictions to her claims to ethics.
Bottoms’ transition into office
After she was elected, the torch was passed from the Reed administration to Bottoms to oversee the handling of billions of dollars worth of city contracts and taxpayer dollars. One of the first concerns was transitioning Bottoms and her team into the Mayor’s Office. On Dec. 17, 2017, Reed provided the former human resources commissioner with a hand-written list of six campaign workers, including their desired salaries written on then-Councilmember Bottoms’ City Council letterhead. Of them, one employee, Marva Lewis, was paid $22,638.87 from airport funds, which was later reimbursed from the city’s general fund, according to the November 2019 investigative report from the City Auditor’s Office and City Ethics Office. That investigation further shows that six employees were paid salaries prior to Bottoms taking office and prior to city employment, making them political hires.
According to the AJC, all employees received job titles that corresponded to that target salary, which in Lewis’ case was the title of Airport Deputy General Manager. The ethics investigative report shows that Lewis was transferred to the chief of staff position effective on Dec. 18, 2017, at the salary listed in Bottoms’ handwritten note. However, at the time the transfer was processed, the pay range for the position was capped at a maximum of $239,666. Council later approved a grade amendment submitted by the Department of Human Resources to up that pay range for the position on Aug. 29, 2018, retroactively effective on Dec. 14, 2017. In effect, new legislation made something legal and technically ethical after the lines had already been crossed. Even then, the amendment capped the pay grade at $273,881, which is interestingly just eight dollars more than the target salary listed for the Airport Deputy General position. The employee’s desired salary on the initial handwritten note was $275,000.
Lewis (who formerly worked for Cousins Property and Equifax), resigned as chief of staff to return to the private sector on March 30, 2019. At the time of Lewis’ resignation, Bottoms stated that she had only committed to serving as chief of staff for a year and that Lewis would still serve as an advisor. It is still unknown at this time what position Lewis left City Hall for.
Ultimately, the audit and ethics investigation showed that employees appeared to be put in placeholder positions to meet salary demands. Four of the six were placed in positions receiving the exact salary noted on the handwritten list. The report shows that the six employees plus two others were hired without undergoing all of the city’s pre-employment screening procedures. It also showed that personnel files lacked key documents, including employee applications and evidence that background checks were completed for all staff.
Pre-employment processes are in place to ensure that employees hired by the city are qualified for the jobs they wish to fulfill, and the files from the investigation contained no documentation to indicate candidates were aligned to position requirements. Although it was later provided that background checks had been completed for the employees, seven of the eight lacked key required documents such as written authorizations to fill the positions, employee applications, authorizations to complete a background check, and employment eligibility verification forms.
The city also attempted to provide six staff members with “sign on bonus” checks without tax or other deductions. Those checks were subsequently voided as City Code does not authorize human resources to give bonuses that are not specifically permitted by the code. Keep in mind, this all immediately followed the Reed administration, who awarded thousands of dollars in bonuses and prizes for an ugly sweater contest, amongst other things. Taxpayers paid for two-thirds of a $12,500 tab and $2,300 on personalized leather portfolios which were given to each guest that night, according to the AJC’s January 2019 report.
In March 2019, Bottoms introduced Ordinance No. 19-O-1190, which would allow “adequate resources for a smooth and efficient transition of administrations” that would allow the city to fund up to $100,000 for transition and inauguration services (note: inauguration services is basically just another party; this party). As of Sept. 25, 2019, that ordinance was held in committee at the request of the Mayor’s Office. Thankfully, that ordinance was never passed.
On March 18, 2019, the City Council passed Resolution 19-R-3366 requesting the City Auditor and Ethics Officer conduct an independent review of personnel transactions which authorized the hiring and payment of campaign staff during the 2017-2018 mayoral transition to determine if any portion of the city’s Code of Ordinances, state law, the state constitution, or Federal Aviation Administration regulations had been violated. The resolution also requested that the city auditor and/or ethics officer seek outside counsel to assist with the review. Bottoms vetoed the legislation, writing that the resolution’s authorization of the city auditor and/or ethics officer to hire independent counsel “constituted a violation of the City Charter”. This is not completely dissimilar to when Bottoms vetoed City Council’s unanimously passed 8 Can’t Wait legislation in which she cited concerns of conflicts with the state constitution, without anyone fully explaining how it did so.
Further, it appears that Bottoms doesn’t have an issue violating city charter, as we saw in her appointment of former Councilmember Kwanza Hall. In November 2019, the AJC reported that Hall was hired as a $137,000-a-year advisor to Bottoms, despite a charter provision “prohibiting elected officials from city employment within a year of leaving office.” Hall’s hiring was confirmed to be illegal and Bottoms declined to be interviewed for the story.
In terms of the bigger picture
What’s become apparent in Mayor Bottoms — particularly in what we’ve shown here in relaying her interest to serving businesses, developers, and Fortune 500 companies over the interests of the People — is suitable behavior for someone who ultimately seems like they don’t want the job as mayor in its truest sense. Even in her transition, rather than moving into office with employees who were best qualified for the job, they were instead slated to meet specific salary demands, funds were moved between the airport and the city’s general fund to meet those demands, and city legislation was edited to make that adjustment legal. Had this and Reed’s corruption been wider public knowledge, it likely would have caused alarm and could have very well changed the course of the election, which Bottoms won by a razor thin margin.
Now, accepting donations from businesses and city contractors is perfectly legal. It’s also perfectly legal to continue accepting donations for your re-election, as we learned when we noticed Bottoms’ most recent donation reported was June 2020. Everything from the audit and ethics investigation is shady and at worst, a big play on taxpayers, who essentially paid for those who are connected to have lofty salaries despite position qualifications. Meanwhile, our communities are in dire need of true, qualified, and strong leadership as we continue to push through the turbulent uncertainty amidst the ongoing pandemic and presidential election.
Although this part of Bottoms’ campaign financing doesn’t appear to be completely unlawful, I’m still sounding the alarm and here is why: none of this eliminates pay-for-play or illegal acts of bribery, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. When a candidate only approaches businesses, corporations, and the individuals linked to such businesses and corporations, it raises a lot of eyebrows as to why they choose to pander to them over individual members of the working class. Our system currently holds us in a position where we just have to trust in the quality and attributes of the candidate to not give into personal interest and private gains — even though history gives us no reason to do so.
In September 2017, former Chief Procurement Officer Adam Smith, who pleaded guilty to taking bribes following a federal investigation. In 2018, conveniently after he was transitioned out of office, the city learned of the depths of Reed’s corruption and scandal. Reed actually withheld a subpoena aimed at the airport in an Atlanta bribery probe, which is being mirrored in Bottoms’ administration failure to comply now. The massive management contract that was under investigation was actually awarded by then-Councilmember Bottoms, awarding three multimillion dollar concession deals.
Atlanta’s history shows that a lack of legal framework combined with greed-based political conduct has led to dire consequences that include sickness, displacement, and death in our communities. It was reported then that the corruption goes much deeper than the general public knew, and it’s time the public and media continue to pull the thread. When a city is structured to serve business and corporate interests — even down to how political candidates raise money to get themselves into power — everything else falls in line behind this primary motive, creating a power hungry paradigm that is falsely cloaked in the interest of expanding the quality of life, support, and protection of Black lives in the form of economic equity.
Economic equity for Black people should be a primary focus of politics and development, especially in a city that is 51.85% Black. But when it holds center in a way that seeks that equity from the top-down, rather than the bottom-up — in the spirit of trickle down economics, which has been proven to fail — what we have seen is a city become a breeding ground for big time developers, gentrification, and eventual displacement of low income Black communities. And in Georgia, a red state whose legislation has sunk its teeth into the criminalization of poor people, Black communities, and protesters (more recently in bills like SB 402, HB 838, and HB 994, Kemp’s newest gang activity bill which currently remains sitting in the House), as well as massive efforts in minority voter disenfranchisement, there are not nearly enough accessible safety nets in place for those most disproportionately affected.
This paradigm has evolved so greatly and permeated all aspects of Atlanta governance, all the way down to how politicians and eventual city leaders decide to raise money and make their way to positions of power. It has become completely normal for Atlanta politicians to pander to high end businesses and developers; and the corruption and continuous breaching of ethics that follows in this pursuit has also become completely normalized. Meanwhile, we see this paradigm continue to manifest in programs like Bottoms’ Invest Atlanta, which does not appear to benefit those who do not own property, do not hold a city contract, and are not financially or politically connected. Even her administration’s eviction halts and moratoriums in response to the coronavirus pandemic only benefit a small portion of the city and is limited to properties that hold Atlanta city contracts and are directly operated through the city; it does not apply to most communities and the ones that probably need it most.
Leaders like Bottoms and those before her have led us to the Atlanta we know today: a city with the highest wealth inequality gap; a city that is the fourth fastest gentrifying city in the country; a city segregated due to that gentrification; a city whose mayor sues Black families to leave their homes to make way for developers; a city who has thousands of people homeless on any given night and hundreds of empty beds in shelters; a city whose legislation has criminalized feeding the homeless; a city who fails to respond to the urgent and dire need of police reform; a city that fails to consider its activists and community organizers; a city that prioritizes property over human life; and lastly, a city whose police institution ultimately works in a system of supply and demand rather than in an altruistic plane to protect and serve.
This insight makes Bottoms’ response to the Black Lives Matter movement taking hold in her city and the demands to defund police: her emphatic cries against protesters for defacing the CNN Center, while somehow unable to hold the same emotional space for 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks’ murder by APD in another press conference less than two weeks later; her administration and officers’ swift moves to track down and penalize a woman for arson of a Wendy’s in Southeast Atlanta while the officers who killed Jimmy Atchison and Oscar Cain remain free; her moves to criminalize young Black boys from underfunded and under-resourced neighborhoods who are selling water on Atlanta’s intersections; her tanking of the Rayshard Brooks Bill which sought to reserve $73 million into a trust fund to be reallocated into community investments.
While some are able to tap into a city hall position with a lofty salary paid for by taxpayer dollars, others remain in poverty while the fallacy that “if you work hard enough, you will succeed” continues to corrode our nation’s very claim to the American Dream; simultaneously, the system in which our leaders operate in and benefit from continues to find ways to strip those in need of any real opportunity. Hypocrisy reeks from Bottoms’ administration while her campaign website touts that “ethics and transparency starts at the top”. While all of this information is public knowledge, it’s certainly been swept under the rug for some time, as Bottoms and her office tend to deflect or outright deny any allegations and critiques made against her. Meanwhile, numerous campaign promises from Bottoms’ campaign — such as those surrounding affordable housing, which we will dig into in the next segment — remained unfulfilled.