Updated Wednesday at 8:45 a.m.
Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore emerged Tuesday as the clear leader in the mayor’s race in Georgia’s largest city, advancing to a Nov. 30 runoff with about 40% of the vote in the nonpartisan race.
Moore’s opponent remained unclear early Wednesday, as City Council member Andre Dickens sought to deny former Mayor Kasim Reed the second runoff spot.
“I am confident that people have heard our message for change and agree with us that Atlanta deserves more,” Moore told supporters Tuesday night.
Reed’s faltering comeback bid had turned into a fight for his political life by the time he told supporters after midnight Wednesday that he wasn’t giving up, even as more than three-quarters of city voters chose someone else.
“We have been in close elections before,” Reed said. “We have won close elections before. Just remember it’s not easy.”
Dickens said he moved ahead among the 14 candidates as polls showed 40 percent of voters undecided until the final weeks of the race.
“I made the case about improving Atlanta in a way that’s inclusive for everyone, solving our crime problem, and leading us into the future, and people actually listened, and they got involved,” Dickens said in a WSB-TV interview early Wednesday. “There was a lot of voter fatigue, we voted a lot during COVID, and folks started paying attention in October, and I’m glad they did and it got me to where I am today.”
Attorney Sharon Gay and council member Antonio Brown were trailing in fourth and fifth place, respectively.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced in May that she wouldn’t seek a second term, creating a wide-open race to succeed her.
Confronting rising crime was a major focus, but candidates also addressed concerns about affordable housing, bolstering struggling city services and keeping the wealthy Buckhead neighborhood from seceding.
Meanwhile, Republicans were watching for any mistakes in Atlanta that could justify a state takeover of elections in heavily Democratic Fulton County, under a sweeping new state law approved amid unproven claims of fraud by former President Donald Trump and his allies.
Like many cities across the country, Atlanta has experienced a spike in killings. Several high-profile homicides have captured 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.
Moore was first elected to council in 1997 and was elected citywide as council president in 2017. She touted her legislative record, and promised greater accountability and transparency. Moore entered the race before Bottoms bowed out, and 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.
Others argue that even if Reed wasn’t indicted, the fact that so much malfeasance occurred during his tenure should disqualify him. In an Oct. 12 debate hosted by the Atlanta Press Club, Moore said Reed led “the most corrupt administration in Atlanta history.”
Moore was also 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.
Reed argued he’s uniquely qualified to confront crime, pledging to increase the number of officers as he did earlier when he was mayor and crime rates were lower.
“I ran for mayor because I love Atlanta and it was breaking my heart to see what was happening to a city that had given me everything as a young man,” Reed told supporters Wednesday.
Dickens was endorsed by former Mayor Shirley Franklin and promised to increase the number of officers, arrest gang leaders and implement community policing. He also aimed to increase affordable housing, improve infrastructure and ensure current residents qualify for high-paying jobs.
Voting in Buckhead, Timothy Haidara, a 25-year-old engineer, said he cast his ballot for Reed.
“I have a son who is being raised in the city, and I think Kasim will bring a better Atlanta,” he said, adding that he thinks the former mayor is the best person to get the economy going after COVID and to “get more people working.”
Amber Williams, a 32-year-old self-employed artist, also voted in Buckhead and said she voted for Moore.
“She’s very relatable and has that loving aspect I think the city needs,” she said. “She looks out for the community and the children the most, and that’s very important to me.”