Atlanta City Council member Andre Dickens clinched the second spot Thursday in a runoff for mayor with council President Felicia Moore, ending former Mayor Kasim Reed’s comeback bid and setting up a contest focused on crime, affordable housing and keeping a wealthy neighborhood from seceding.
Moore appears to be the front-runner, having won about 40% of the vote in Tuesday’s election. Dickens secured about 23% of the vote, to finish with less than 1% more than Reed.
Although Reed raised the most money in the nonpartisan race, Dickens picked up momentum in the weeks before the election and was endorsed by former Mayor Shirley Franklin. Dickens said Thursday that he will tell voters in the Nov. 30 runoff that he has the right combination of government, business and nonprofit experience to be mayor.
“I’m going to make the argument that I’m the best choice for those who are ready for the future of Atlanta,” Dickens said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
Reed conceded the race Thursday, congratulating Moore and Dickens.
“As the race moves forward in a run-off, I will continue to work on behalf of the city that I love to ensure that we remain that shining city on a hill,” Reed said in a statement.
Attorney Sharon Gay and council member Antonio Brown finished in fourth and fifth place, respectively. None of the other nine candidates in the race got more than 1% of the vote.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced in May that she wouldn’t seek a second term, creating a wide-open contest to succeed her.
Polls consistently showed Moore and Reed leading the race, but about 40% of voters remained undecided even in the weeks leading up to the election. Reed had a high unfavorable rating, and it appears the pool of undecided voters largely split their support between Moore and Dickens, Emory University political science professor Andra Gillespie said.
Confronting rising crime has been a major focus throughout the race. Like many cities across the country, Atlanta has experienced a spike in killings, with several high-profile homicides that have generated widespread attention.
“We all want to live in an Atlanta — I think we all do — where it’s safe to jog down the street, where it’s safe to pump your own gas, where it’s safe to even sleep in your own bed without bullets flying through the windows,” Moore told supporters.
Candidates also reflected concerns about affordable housing, bolstering struggling city services and preventing affluent Buckhead from seceding. Moore represented part of the neighborhood earlier during her career on the council and has appeared to be the favored candidate among white voters so far.
“I would expect Felicia Moore is going to talk about the Buckhead secession and talk about how she’s probably the best bridge to help navigate Atlanta through this turbulent period, through this crisis which will unfold over the course of the next year or so,” Gillespie said.
Moore, who entered the race before Bottoms bowed out, was first elected to council in 1997 and was elected citywide as council president in 2017. Promising greater accountability and transparency, Moore is a longtime critic of Reed, who she said led “the most corrupt administration in Atlanta history.”
Reed, who served two four-year terms beginning in 2010, left office amid a federal investigation into corruption at City Hall. A half-dozen members of his administration have been indicted. Some pleaded guilty and others await trial.
Reed was never charged, and his lawyers said federal prosecutors told them in August that the inquiry into Reed had been closed. Federal officials have not commented on that claim.
Moore also has focused on city services, saying the city needs to reinvest in its people and facilities to make sure taxpayers get what they pay for, amid complaints about faltering services such as yard debris pickup.
Dickens, who was elected to City Council in 2013, promises to increase the number of officers, arrest gang leaders and implement community policing. He also aims to increase affordable housing, improve infrastructure and ensure current residents qualify for high-paying jobs.
“Moore is still in an advantageous position” heading into the runoff, Gillespie said.
As for Reed, failing to realize his goal of a third term as mayor leaves him at an inflection point in his career, Gillespie said. He’s well-resourced and will be able to figure out something else to do, but it remains to be seen whether politics still has a hold on him, she said.
“If he has further political aspirations, he’s going to have to give himself some distance from the investigation of his administration, and he’s probably going to have to undertake a serious effort to rebrand himself,” Gillespie said.