The chaotic political pinball machine that just weeks ago rattled and rang with 14 mayoral hopefuls has swallowed all but one contender: Early next month, Atlanta City Councilmember Andre Dickens will swear in to become Atlanta’s 61st chief executive.
On Tuesday night, Dickens walloped City Council President Felicia Moore in a runoff race that forced voters to squint to see the daylight between their policy platforms. For many, the election was a referendum on identity—on which candidate shined the brightest during debates, on social media, at campaign events, and in their communities.
But the final tally also spotlighted what political scientists consider a scourge of voter apathy and fatigue—the sense that, in a contest featuring two politically similar candidates, whatever will be will be. Less than 80,000 voters turned out for the November 30 runoff election. Dickens surged ahead early on and ultimately claimed well over 60 percent of the count. (In contrast, in the 2017 runoff, just 759 votes separated Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Mary Norwood; and 2009’s runoff between Norwood and Mayor Kasim Reed was similarly narrow, with 714 votes separating the candidates.)
During November 2’s general election, Moore stomped her competition, seizing more than 40 percent of the roughly 96,000 votes, signaling her spot as the runoff frontrunner. Recent polls, however, seesawed to show both her and Dickens as the electorate’s favorite.
“I want to thank and commend Felicia Moore on a well-fought campaign,” Dickens said during his victory speech at the Gathering Spot on the Westside. Flanked by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, former Mayor Shirley Franklin, and other high-profile supporters before a crowd of hundreds, he continued, “I respect her and her desire to serve the City of Atlanta. She’s put in 24 years of service, and I know that she loves this city, and I hope that she’s around as we move this city forward.”
Dickens’s victory will place the two-term councilman at the helm of Atlanta at a time when the city is grappling with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, as well as increased crime and the housing affordability crisis the public health emergency has exacerbated.
“The city is facing multi-generational poverty,” Dickens said Tuesday night. “We’re facing the highest income inequality in the nation. And yes, we are fighting a crime spike right now. So, I’ve said before that my real opponent in this race was never one of those 13 opponents . . . my opponent is homelessness, joblessness, racism, poverty, violence.”
Like his opponents, Dickens has touted a public safety plan that promises to bolster the city’s police force with more officers and oversee the department with more stringent accountability measures. A self-proclaimed champion of affordable housing, he has also said he intends to make quick use of the hundreds of acres of municipal land that city officials have deemed development-ready so Atlanta’s most marginalized people can have places to live.
Moore tossed her hat in the mayoral ring in late January, indicating she intended to nudge Mayor Bottoms out of the chief seat. It wasn’t until after Bottoms’s May announcement that she wouldn’t seek reelection that Dickens declared his candidacy.
Earlier this month, Bottoms endorsed Dickens’s mayoral bid. The councilman also secured the support of six of his city council colleagues. Although Moore claimed endorsements from a number of prominent public leaders—including Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, state Rep. Park Cannon, and former Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves—and advocacy groups such as EMILY’s List and the National Black Church Initiative, she did not earn the public support of any sitting city councilmembers.
Dickens’s victory also postures him as the most powerful challenger to the Buckhead cityhood push, a movement spearheaded by out-of-towners aimed at turning the tony north Atlanta neighborhood into its own city. On the campaign trail, Dickens railed against the proposal, saying, “The proposed divorce is going to be an unnecessarily expensive one for both spouses, and the children will be who suffer the most.” Likewise, in her concession speech, Moore also called on Buckhead residents to “work with our mayor,” adding “I’ve said it before and I will continue to say it, Atlanta is better together than it will ever be apart.”
“If there’s any city in the world who can face these issues,” Dickens said of his myriad mayoral duties Tuesday night, “it’s Atlanta.”