Bottoms revealed her plans late Thursday, touching off a spate of rumors over why she made the choice and what she planned to do next. But on Friday, she denied a number of them, saying that she had no plans to move out of the state and that neither she nor her husband, Derek, planned to take a job with Walgreens, as some outlets had reported.
“The decision that I have made after thoughtful prayer and consideration is not to seek another term as mayor of this city,” said Bottoms, whose term ends in January. She described it as a move she had considered as far back as her first year in office. She did leave open the possibility of running for mayor again at a later time or accepting a job in the Biden administration.
Bottoms’ early support for President Joe Biden and her refusal to back off it during the lowest days of his presidential primary bid elevated her on the national stage and led to speculation that she would be offered a place in his Cabinet or senior staff. No position materialized, but Biden did a fundraiser for Bottoms in late March and she appeared well-stocked to run an expensive re-election campaign.
Despite her insistence otherwise, Atlanta politicos have speculated that Bottoms was uneasy about the prospect of running in November’s hotly contested race to keep her current job. Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore has already launched her campaign and ally-turned-critic, former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, is also believed to be considering a run. Bottoms downplayed those pressures, though she offered some veiled criticism of Reed, and said there had been no single factor that anchored her choice.
“In the same way that it was very clear to me almost five years ago that I should run for mayor of Atlanta, it is abundantly clear to me today that it is time to pass the baton on to someone else,” she said.
The release of internal polling earlier this week added to the confusion when the news broke on Thursday night. The memo downplayed the other candidates’ prospects — describing two of them as “mostly unknown” to the city’s electorate — and showed her with a strong approval rating.
During her news conference, Bottoms insisted that her decision not to run was “made from a position of strength and not weakness,” claiming that she was confident she would have won another term if she had not decided to step away. (Bottoms also said she would refund donations from campaign contributors.)
At times emotional as she recounted some of the rougher stretches of her time as mayor, Bottoms allowed that the “last three years have not been at all what I would have scripted for our city.” She mentioned the Covid-19 pandemic, which struck Atlanta and the state of Georgia hard, the social justice protests last year sparked by the death of George Floyd, a ransomware cyberattack against Atlanta early in her term, and leading the city during the administration of former President Donald Trump, whom she derided as a “madman.”
She also dismissed suggestions that the Atlanta Civil Service Board’s ruling that Garrett Rolfe, the former Atlanta police officer charged in the fatal 2020 shooting of Rayshard Brooks in a Wendy’s parking lot, was wrongly terminated, had weighed on her decision. Rolfe is on track now to be reinstated.
“I disagree with the ruling,” Bottoms said. “Our position has been steadfast that we followed the procedures that needed to be followed under those emergency circumstances. The board disagreed, which was their right to disagree, but if I had to do it over again, I would do it the same way.”
Asked whether she would be involved in the race to replace her as mayor, Bottoms suggested she would stay at arm’s length from the tumult of the coming campaign, but she would not shy away from sharing her choice.
“I don’t believe any one person anoints a successor. It doesn’t work like that. It may have worked like that many, many years ago, but it hasn’t worked like that in a long time,” Bottoms said. “So I don’t think that I have the ability to anoint someone as my successor, but I certainly at the appropriate time will make it known who I will cast my vote for.”