ATLANTA >> As Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms confronts a global pandemic and unrest over police brutality at home, she has steadily emerged as a legitimate contender for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s running-mate.
Bottoms is one of a handful of potential picks undergoing vetting from Biden’s campaign, which has reached out to several Bottoms associates, according to multiple people in the state Democratic Party.
Backgrounding vice presidential candidates is highly confidential, requiring extensive financial disclosures and lengthy interviews. The party sources asked the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for anonymity because they are not authorized to talk about the process.
And a former adviser to Bottoms’ 2017 mayoral campaign told the AJC that one of her administration officials contacted him to ask how he would respond to questions from Biden’s team.
No Georgia Democrat has played a more prominent role promoting Biden’s campaign than Bottoms, a first-term mayor who endorsed him in July, campaigned for him in Iowa, and worked on his behalf in spin rooms after Democratic debates.
She was one of the first big-city leaders to back Biden’s campaign.
In a crowded presidential primary field of candidates, Bottoms was blunt about her decision to endorse Biden — saying she thought he was the best person to defeat President Donald Trump.
“I want Vice President Biden to choose the person who he thinks will help him best beat Donald Trump in November, and so if it’s me, I would be honored,” Bottoms told National Public Radio in April. “But if it’s a green martian that helps him get over the finish line, then I think that’s who he needs to go with.”
Bottoms’ advisers say the mayor’s unflagging support of Biden is an important selling point, along with the potential to energize African-American voters in battleground Georgia and across the South.
“She brings the gender, racial, regional and generational balance to the ticket,” said Tharon Johnson, a long-time Bottoms adviser. “The Biden campaign has to look at it through a non-traditional lens to not just appeal to the base but also to disaffected college-educated women. And she can do that.”
Biden has promised to select a woman as his running mate, and is under increasing pressure to select an African American woman. Others being considered include U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Duckworth; former national security advisor Susan Rice; Congresswoman Val Demings; and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
Bottoms’ loyalty was highlighted in February when she stood on the creaky stage of a school auditorium in Davenport, Iowa, where the sound system had gone haywire. She bellowed as loud as she could to a room full of caucus voters who had hardly heard of her.
“The reason I left 74-degree weather is because I still believe in this country,” she said. “I was reminded of a quote from Kobe Bryant this week. He said, ‘The moment you give up is the moment someone else wins.’ And I refuse to let someone else win. That’s why I’m here on behalf of Joe Biden.”
Biden was on unsteady ground and headed toward a string of electoral defeats that would test his campaign’s strength.
Bottoms never wavered. She trekked across South Carolina and Texas to press the same message and helped Biden respond to a searing critique by Harris, then a rival, of his one-time opposition to mandatory busing of students.
In recent months, Bottoms garnered national praise for opposing Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to roll back coronavirus restrictions. And pundits lauded her emotional late-night plea to end the looting during the early days of the demonstrations
In a roundtable discussion with Bottoms and other big-city mayors earlier this month, Biden called the Atlanta mayor’s handling of protests “incredible.”
“I’ve watched you like millions and millions of Americans have on television of late,” Biden said. “Your passion, your composure, your balance has been really incredible.”
But events over the past few weeks, including an Atlanta police officer’s fatal shooting of a DUI suspect, have exposed deep fissures within the city and underscored the tensions between Bottoms navigating a crisis at home and her rising national profile.
Incidents of alleged excessive force by police have forced the mayor to acknowledge glaring law enforcement problems and respond to violent protests in the city known as the cradle of nonviolent protest. She has fired officers immediately after reviewing the alleged incidents of excessive force on video, and has accepted the resignation of Police Chief Erika Shields.
Bottoms’ multiple appearances on national television haven’t always pleased others in City Hall.
At City Council meeting last week, Councilman Antonio Brown slammed Bottoms for not cooperating more with the council to reform the police department prior to the unrest, and for not assertively engaging demonstrators.
“A leader is present with her people,” Brown said. “It’s obvious that you are focusing more on your national platform than you care about this city. You’re sitting there on all these news networks while your city is burning to the ground because you are not doing what you should be doing as a leader in this city.”
Bottoms, visibly upset, shot back, saying that she was born and raised in Atlanta and pointed to her long history of public service.
“I don’t have the luxury of taking my eye off the prize in terms of where Atlanta can be and where Atlanta should be,” the mayor said. “There is not a national job in this country that is more important to me than making sure that this city is everything it needs to be, not just for me, but for my children.”
The two later apologized to each other.
Bottoms’ decision to lift curfews placed on the demonstrations more than a week ago brought praise from high-profile Democrats — but the comments were also veiled criticisms. The political risk came with the reward of protests remaining peaceful — until the June 12 police shooting of Rayshard Brooks.
“Imposing a curfew sent a message that silenced the voice of the people, and I’m glad the mayor corrected course to listen to Atlantans calling for change,” state Sen. Nikema Williams, who chairs the Democratic Party of Georgia and represents part of Atlanta, said before the Brooks shooting.
That changed when a white Atlanta police officer shot and killed Brooks, a black man who had fallen asleep inside his vehicle in a Wendy’s drive-thru line.
After some 40 minutes of calmly speaking with officers, Brooks began struggling when they tried to arrest him. Brooks seized an officer’s Taser, and appeared to try to fire it at police as he fled. He was shot and died from “gunshot wounds of the back,” according to the autopsy report.
The next day, Bottoms announced the police chief’s resignation and fired officer Garrett Rolfe, the cop who fired the fatal shots and who has since been charged with felony murder by Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard.
When asked how she felt after reviewing video of the encounter, Bottoms said: “It pissed me off. It makes me sad, and I’m frustrated.”
The next day, USA Today published an online article about Bottoms filled with discussion about her running-mate potential. The headline: “‘She has found her voice’: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms steps into national spotlight amid policing debate.”