Which Atlanta mayoral candidate is right for me?

Do your research—but consider this a cheat sheet to the November 7 election
Who should I vote for Atlanta mayoral race
The mayoral candidates at a recent Atlanta Press Club debate.

Photograph by Tatum Lewis, BOFCreative

A mayoral race with this many candidates is a blessing and a curse. It’s good when intelligent citizens volunteer for public service, particularly a position as important as mayor. But it also makes differentiating between the political hopefuls a difficult task. Doubly difficult is when the candidates all sound like they’re promising the same approach to governing and are willing to tackle whatever problems are put before them. To try to help voters sort through the noise, we’ve created a cheat sheet to help steer you to the candidate that might best fit your interests.

Some caveats: Noting that a few candidates are particularly skilled in certain areas doesn’t mean their opponents are silent or especially weak on those issues. And it doesn’t mean the issue is all that particular candidate is talking about on the campaign trail. Please make sure to research all the candidates to determine the best recipient of your cherished ballot. (Our mayoral questionnaire, which most of the candidates participated in, features their stance on many of the issues below in their own words.)

That being said, if you . . .

Want someone who eats and breathes policy
Cathy Woolard and Peter Aman
When Ryan Gravel was pushing his vision for the Atlanta BeltLine in the early 2000s, Woolard, then the president of the Atlanta City Council, shepherded him through neighborhood association meetings to present his plan. She’s a policy-oriented politician who’s comfortable speaking about affordability and transit—one reason why she’s picked up support from a good number of the city’s urbanists, nonprofit pros, and environmentalists. A good number are also lining up behind Aman, who, as director of consulting firm Bain and Company’s Atlanta office in the early 2000s, offered pro bono services to then Mayor Shirley Franklin to reform City Hall with business best practices. He came on as chief operating officer when her successor Kasim Reed became mayor and stayed for two years, a job that taught him the ins and outs of City Hall. Plus, he enjoys talking about new policy and research into homelessness, affordability, and government. Both have made wonkery a key part of their pitch to voters—affordability and transit are literally part of Woolard’s campaign motto—and have promised to tackle the issues if elected.

Are an advocate for social justice
Vincent Fort and John Eaves
Vincent Fort, a state senator who’s represented a diverse swath of the city for years, doesn’t just have Bernie Sanders’ support (not to mention Killer Mike’s), but also apparently his populist life force. Fort has marched with protesters and hectored bankers, developers, and Mayor Kasim Reed for years over affordability, Medicaid expansion, and the unraveling of the social safety net. He’s advocating tuition-free two-year college for Atlanta Public Schools graduates. And as head of the county commission that’s primarily responsible for homelessness services (or to blame for the lack thereof), Eaves is knowledgeable about reducing one of the city’s most persistent problems.

Are a fan of the arts
Kwanza Hall, Ceasar Mitchell, Cathy Woolard, and Peter Aman
A jam-packed mayoral forum in early October at the Woodruff Arts Center that focused on Atlanta’s arts scene was all but dominated by Woolard, who both understood the crowd of patrons and artists and grasped that a vibrant culture needs more than just canvases and stages but also affordable housing. Hall, whose district is a hotbed for arts organizations and murals, wants to increase funding and has a track record of supporting arts initiatives. Aman is putting extra focus on the importance of arts programs for youth, and Mitchell wants additional arts education programs at recreation and community centers. Nearly all the candidates are supportive of getting the state’s OK to ask Atlantans to pay a 1/10 sales tax to fund the arts. Some want arts funding as a line item in the city’s budget.

Are concerned about education and youth development
Ceasar Mitchell, Keisha Lance Bottoms, and Peter Aman
Though City Hall and Atlanta Public Schools are two separate entities that have no direct oversight on the other, that hasn’t stopped many candidates from saying they’ll address what’s considered one of Atlanta’s biggest challenges—and an issue that influences income inequality, development, affordability, and the economy. Bottoms has promised to create a “Director of Education” position that would focus on the city’s relationship with the school system, and Mitchell would create an “Office of Youth Services” if elected. Aman says he’s willing to bet whether he would win a second term in office based on how his administration performs on youth development.

Are concerned about crime
Safe streets are a hallmark of any municipal election, and all the candidates in this cycle are singing from the same hymnbook. Rather than promising to lock up offenders and throw away the key, all the candidates are interested in examining ways to keep low-level criminals out of the city jail, be it through pre-arrest diversion or lowering fines for marijuana possession—or in some cases, convincing the state to decriminalize weed outright. All want to see Atlanta Police Department officers get better pay and use better equipment—along with upping the number of cops on the force. But the question remains how they’ll pay for those perks and new positions.

Think City Hall needs an ethics overhaul
The ongoing federal corruption probe—two contractors have plead guilty so far to charges of offering bribes for City Hall deals—served candidates with a silver platter of a campaign election issues. And they would be fools not to feast. All have pledged a squeaky clean administration, pointing to firing of city workers on their watch or their own spotless record as proof of being above reproach. A few have offered the same tweaks to ethics practices. Mitchell wants a whistleblower statute (with monetary rewards for reporting wrongdoing). Aman says he’ll personally train all city employees on Ethics 101, Lance Bottoms wants procurement officials to release their tax returns, and Woolard, along with others, is pledging to put city finances online. Whether the scandal is a few bad apples or there’s a culture of corruption in City Hall? Only the feds can say.

Root for the underdog
John Eaves and Rohit Ammanamanchi
Eaves, the last major candidate to enter the race, has found himself left out of debates because of his low standing in the few public surveys released thus far. He earns points for his passion on the campaign trail and is not bereft of policy ideas. The same should be said for Rohit Ammanamanchi, a first-time political candidate whose platform leans on transportation and infrastructure issues. The Georgia Tech graduate, who’s also been left off some forums because of low polling results, was inspired to launch his shoestring political campaign because he was fed up with the current divisive politics.

Want a Reed ally
Keisha Lance Bottoms
Yes, she’s her own person and has her own ideas, and she’s called claims that she will be beholden to the current Atlanta mayor unfair and even sexist. But if you’re looking for the candidate in whom Kasim Reed has invested the most political capital, it’s Lance Bottoms, a lawyer by trade who’s done the best job among the crowded pack of hopefuls at crafting a narrative.

Hate plastic bags
Glenn Wrightson
In the perennial candidate’s first 100 days in office, Wrightson wants to take steps to eliminate plastic bags. And leaf blowers.

Want City Hall more focused on neighborhood issues—or a radical overhaul of City Hall
Kwanza Hall, Vincent Fort, and Mary Norwood
Kwanza Hall, who’s represented Old Fourth Ward for more than 10 years, is painting himself as a neighborhood-focused candidate. But two of the most viable candidates strike fear into City Hall observers who don’t want to see the boat rocked too abruptly. Vincent Fort’s lack of ties to the business community and vocal concern for putting people living on low incomes first have become cornerstones of his campaign. Norwood, considered a likely contender for the inevitable runoff on December 5, has visited nearly every neighborhood in the city during her time as an at-large councilmember and during her long-running campaign. Norwood has promised to appoint “Neighborhood Ambassadors” to keep City Hall abreast of community needs. She wants to put the city’s finances online—a proposal that Mayor Kasim Reed fought when Norwood introduced it with Councilwoman Felicia Moore. And as the city’s first white mayor in more than 40 years, she would also break from the city’s traditional black power structure. How that would affect political alliances, focus, and business remains an open question.

Still uncertain? Check out 11 Questions for Atlanta’s Mayoral Candidates to hear from the candidates themselves.