What’s at stake in the Atlanta mayor’s race?

Crime’s the biggest issue on the ballot, but it's not the only issue.

What’s at stake in the Atlanta mayor’s race?
Clockwise below: Kasim Reed, Andre Dickens, Felicia Moore, Sharon Gay, Antonio Brown

Illustration by Matt Love

On November 2, Atlanta voters hungover from last year’s presidential election will return to the polls to pick the next mayor. Whoever walks away the victor will hold executive power over city government and become a de facto national spokesperson for the metro region.

Who’s in the running?
Who isn’t? When the qualifying period ended on August 20, 14 candidates had paid the more than $5,000 fee to appear on the ballot. Most are perennial candidates or first-time hopefuls, like self-described “legal scholar” Walter Reeves (not the retired WSB gardening host with the same name). The candidates who have raised the most cash and rallied the most support thus far: former Mayor Kasim Reed, Dentons attorney Sharon Gay, Atlanta City Councilmember and affordable housing champion Andre Dickens, progressive Atlanta City Councilmember Antonio Brown, and Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore.

Crime’s the biggest issue, correct?
Yes. Homicides in June were up nearly 60 percent compared to the same time last year. Like in nearly every other major U.S. city, each day seems to bring another news report of a shooting. Brazen acts of violence and robberies in parts of Buckhead have fueled an effort by some residents to break away from Atlanta and create their own city. The recent killings of Midtown bartender Katherine Janness and her dog in Piedmont Park, and the kidnapping and murder of Mariam Abdulrab in southeast Atlanta, have put residents on edge.

But crime’s not the only issue.
The next mayor won’t just have to rebuild the city’s police force. Atlanta’s transit, bike lanes, sidewalks, and roads will need an advocate and big-picture thinker who makes sure the city gets the maximum benefit from the $1 trillion in federal infrastructure cash expected to flow to states and cities. Housing here continues to get less affordable. According to Zumper, a San Francisco–based apartment-listing firm, the rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Atlanta increased by 10 percent over the course of the pandemic to an average of $2,080. The problem is compounded as the city’s poverty rate hovers around 20 percent and is an estimated 10 percent higher for Black people. Trash, recycling, and yard-waste pickups have been missed or delayed by weeks because of low staffing. Moreover, the city must reimagine how it grows in a post-Covid era where more people work from home. And on Day One, the new mayor will have to start lobbying the Georgia General Assembly to block a referendum on Buckhead cityhood—or win over the secession movement.

What else is on the ballot?
All seats on the Atlanta City Council are up for grabs—including seven positions that will be open thanks to incumbents seeking higher office or not running for reelection. Two incumbents drew no challengers and one candidate—Mary Norwood, a former councilmember and two-time mayoral hopeful—is running unopposed. There are also races to join the Atlanta Board of Education, which is sometimes overlooked but hugely consequential in preparing the next generation of leaders, maintaining property values, and reducing income inequality.

This article appears in our October 2021 issue.