May 7, 2021
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms Not Running for Reelection Press Conference Transcript
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms held a press conference on May 7, 2021 to announce her decision not to run for reelection. Read the transcript of her briefing speech here.
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Keisha Lance Bottoms: (00:00)
So someone said to me yesterday, “Whatever you do, don’t cry. For God’s sake, don’t have an ugly cry.” I am a much better writer than I am speaker. So I wish that I could have written something profound to say to you this morning. But the only thing that I could write my notes this morning was faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Several weeks ago, I wrote two letters to Atlanta. One was a letter if I made the decision to not run for mayor again. And the other was a letter if I made the decision to stay in the mayor’s race. And remarkably, they were essentially the same letters. This has been my highest honor to serve as mayor of this city. And many of you all have heard me speak of my family’s history in this city, going back almost a hundred years. My grandmother would tell me how her father, who was a child of people who were once enslaved from Crawfordsville, Georgia, packed up a horse and buggy, and they made their journey to Atlanta. And my family moved to the west side of Atlanta and they found community and they found purpose and they found a way to make the lives of their children better. And I stand here on their shoulders. So my love for this city was the love planted in my heart long before I was formed in my mother’s womb. And I wish that I could tell you there was a moment or that there was a thing. But when you have faith and you pray for God’s wisdom and guidance, in the same way that it was very clear to me almost five years ago that I should run for mayor of Atlanta, it is abundantly clear to me today that it is time to pass the baton on to someone else.
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (03:34)
I am immensely proud of the men and women whom I have served with. I could not ask for a better team of people who have a heart and a love for the people of this city. Many questions have been asked, “Is it something to do with my family?” And I’ve told you all, my husband, Derek, who actually came out today, you all don’t get to see Derek very much. Has always said, “Whatever you do I’m with you just don’t mess up my good job.” So last night I said, “You got to take back over to the health insurance benefits.” He said, “I think I can handle that.” And I’m grateful for that. But the last three years have not been at all what I would have scripted for our city. Three months into our term, there was the biggest cyber attack in the history of a municipality in America. A federal investigation that seemed to literally suck the air out of City Hall into the previous administration. There was last summer, there was a pandemic, there was a social justice movement. There was a madman in the White House. And at every turn and every opportunity this city rose above. And I am so proud of that.
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (05:25)
And what I know it that in the absence of my speaking my truth, people will insert a narrative, which is why I’m here today. Roz Brewer is my girl. I love her dearly. But she didn’t get to be the CEO of Walgreens by offering jobs to random friends. I am not going to Walgreen’s in Chicago. Derek is not going to Walgreens in Idaho. I can’t get Derek to move two miles off of Cascade road. So I promise you that is not true.
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (06:05)
I don’t know what’s next for me personally, and for our family. But what I do know is that this is a decision made from a position of strength and not weakness. I’ve raised the money. I had the most successful fundraiser of any mayor in the history of this city with President Joe Biden. I polled it. Nearly 70% of the people in this city still like me. If the race for mayor were held today I would win this race without a runoff. That’s not me making it up. I’ve seen the poll numbers.
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (06:54)
And even with all of those things that I know to be true, and I know what I could do, just because you can do it doesn’t always necessarily mean that you should do it. I can be mayor again. But there’s a reason that there are elections every four years. And in the same way, the people have the opportunity to make a decision every four years, candidates also have the opportunity to make a decision. And the decision that I have made after thoughtful prayer and consideration is not to seek another term as mayor of this city. So with that, I am going to open up for any questions that you have.
Speaker 1: (07:49)
Mayor, are you done with with electoral politics? And I asked that because you just mentioned the money. And you have the option of that money you’ve raised to hold that money for potentially a campaign down the line. Is that possible? Or are you going to return those funds? Or what’s your option?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (08:13)
So this morning, if my donors have not already gotten a letter they will get one shortly offering to refund the money and the donations that they have made to my campaign. You can’t transfer campaign funds from one campaign to another campaign. And people, very generously, gave to our campaign. And I think it’s only appropriate that I offer to return those funds to them.
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (08:43)
In terms of the future, I don’t know what the future holds for me. I know I will be mayor until the first Tuesday in January. And what I have always said is that I want to leave this city better than I found it. So I will keep doing all of the things that we have done each and every day. We are going to keep working on affordable housing. We are going to continue to work to make sure that people who are living on our streets have a home and the supportive services that they need. And we are going to continue to do every single thing in our power to make this city safer.
Speaker 2: (09:29)
[crosstalk 00:09:29]. Mayor, you talked about not running. Was there anything in particular that you can point to that you can say that is something that’s helped me make this decision? Or is this just going on faith? I know you’ve mentioned the faith and praying and talking about this. And a follow up question, there’s a lot of talk about former mayor, Kasim Reed, possibly jumping into the race. Your thoughts on that man?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (09:58)
So the short answer there, was not one thing. I’ve talked about it so much-
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (10:03)
The answer there was not one thing. I’ve talked about it so much that literally my husband told me he was not going to discuss it with me anymore. And I am very grateful for the people who I have talked to and sought their counsel, who kept my confidence. This is not something I woke up and decided yesterday. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a very long time. And I joke, but really seriously, a tornado came down my street, literally, just a few days ago. And it was just this reminder of moments and things are bigger than one person. And quite honestly, if there were a person who I knew could step up, and be the mayor that this city needs, I likely would have made another decision when I was offered a cabinet position. But I wanted to finish what I started. And I didn’t see who could step in and lead this city.
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (11:09)
And the voters will decide who that person is. And in my multitude of conversations with God about this, I am not God. I don’t know who else he’s speaking to and who else will take us to the next step, but what I do, I have a pretty good idea of the people it should not be, but that will be for the voters of Atlanta to decide. And that’s part of the reason behind my timing, and making this announcement now, to give a candidate who perhaps won’t be a self-funded candidate, it’s easy for someone wealthy to write themselves a check and run for office, but to give someone an opportunity to truly go out, fundraise, organize a campaign.
Speaker 3: (12:01)
Had you talked to former Mayor Kasim Reed about this at all, about running?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (12:05)
Speaker 4: (12:10)
Mayor, do you think some of the criticism against you has been unfair?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (12:11)
That comes with the territory. My kids criticized me last night. I mean, I think my house is a microcosm of the electric across this city. One said, “Mommy, I’m so proud of you. That was the best decision.” And another one said, ” Why would you do that? What are you thinking?” And then another, back and forth. And one said, “You’ll never be on time for school again. I hope you know that.” So, I mean, I can’t satisfy my own household. So, criticism comes with the job. You shouldn’t put yourself out if you can’t take the criticism.
Is there [crosstalk 00:12:54] about these last years that really sort of put this in framework. Because obviously you’ve mentioned some of the low lights of what’s happened. What will you remember fondly, and what really impacted you?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (13:07)
Well, I know this is a big press conference because you’re back in city hall. Thank you, Ryan. Mama, we made it. The highlights really have been the last year. That when this city faced the toughest of times and there was no playbook, there was no handbook. There was no leadership in the White House. We were at odds with the state, that we stepped up, and we did it the Atlanta way. We served 119,000 meals. We got $88 million in CARES Act funding. When was the last time the city of Atlanta has gotten that much money and there not be a scandal attached to it? $80 million of that went out into our communities. The men and women, our firefighters, our police officers, our sanitation workers never stopped working through the pandemic.
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (14:11)
The vast majority of our workforce never stopped in the midst of the pandemic. That makes me proud. We created a Strength in Beauty fund. We gave money to cosmetologists and barbers. We gave money to small businesses. We gave money to the creative industry. We stood in the gap for so many people, in what was the toughest and most difficult of times. And not having any blueprint on how to do it. And we got it right. That makes me proud.
Speaker 5: (14:47)
[inaudible 00:14:47], can I ask about life on the other side? Is there a life for you that’s better, or a job for you that’s better than being Mayor of Atlanta?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (14:57)
If there is, I don’t know it. I don’t know what it is. And that is scary. But as a very dear friend of mine, Vicky Palmer said to me, “It’s not faith if you know what’s on the other side.” And as far as I know, the only mayor who’s sought not to run for reelection was Maynard Jackson when he came back the second time. So this is something that’s not ordinary, but I don’t believe that I was created and elected mayor because I’m ordinary. So I know in the same way that I knew what I knew when it was time to put myself forward to run for mayor, I am quite sure I will know what I know when the next opportunity comes.
Speaker 6: (15:54)
Can you tell me about your goals for public safety for the remainder of your term?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (15:59)
Absolutely. My goals for public safety are to make sure that this city is safe. We’ve had a very challenging year in this city. And we are unfortunately not alone. Across the country, we’ve seen a spike in crime, and it has so much to do with people emerging from this pandemic. People have died. People are dealing with anxiety. They’re dealing with depression. Everybody’s house has not been a safe place for them. Some of us have found refuge in our homes, and for other people, it’s a nightmare. I know that even from city hall, trying to get people not to come into city hall, because for so many people, walking out the door every day is their safe place.
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (16:50)
So we are facing a spike in crime that I will continue to do everything I can do alongside Chief Bryant and the other men and women of this city to make sure that this city is safe. And I’m doing that not because I’m mayor, but because I’m a mother in this city. This is where my family lives. So I want this city to be safe for my family, in the same way that I want it to be safe for everybody else who’s standing in this room.
Speaker 7: (17:25)
What is your hope for the next leader? Working under state leadership, you had a less than ideal working relationship with Governor Kemp. What’s your hope for the next person who takes this office and their relationship with leadership that is critical [inaudible 00:17:40]?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (17:41)
Governor Kemp and I have agreed on the things that we can agree on. Unfortunately, there’s been a great divide on many issues with this state. And I didn’t even mention the fight to maintain control of the airport that this city built. That is something that has come up repeatedly in our challenges with this state. So it is my hope that the next mayor will have a good working relationship with our state leaders. Agree on the things that you can agree on, and respectfully agree on the things that you can not. There are unfortunately a number of things that I disagree with the governor on, but it has not stopped us from working together on those things that we do agree on.
Speaker 8: (18:32)
Mayor, you talked about your greatest accomplishments. What about failures? If you had a chance for do over, what would you do differently?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (18:40)
I think the thing that I would do differently is that I would not, I likely would have asked for resignations sooner than a hundred days into office. I would have changed the leadership team and city hall much sooner. A hundred days was not that long, but I can say many of the challenges that I saw on day one were the talent challenges that I faced on day 100. And so much to about it is just a leadership style. Different people need different people working beside them. And it’s not that many of these men and women weren’t strong leaders in their own right. They weren’t the strongest leaders for me, and what I needed in terms of my leadership team,
Mayor, a question about the next eight months. A political leader’s clout can wane if other leaders, public and private see them as a short timer. How are you going to keep that from happening, for your next state most to be effected?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (19:50)
You know, Morris, I’ve never had it easy in city hall. That’s just the reality. So the challenges that I had on day one, I’m sure will likely be the challenges…
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (20:03)
… On day one, I’m sure will likely be the challenges on the way out the door. But I’ve never cowered from a fight, and I’ve never backed down from anything that was difficult. So I’m going to continue to push on those things that I know to be right on behalf of our community. Someone said to me many years ago, the first time I ran for office, they said, “Whatever you do, you should always be able to go back home.” So in everything that I do, I do it wanting to be able to walk through my community and through the grocery store with my head held high.
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (20:37)
I can think of one vote since I’ve been in the City Hall, that I asked City Council to pass, that I was not aligned with. One vote. And that was in the first three months of my term. Since then, everything I’ve ever put before city council, I put it forth because I believe in it.
Press (male): (20:58)
What was that vote?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (20:59)
It was on the Northside Bridge.
Press (female): (21:03)
Did the backlash from Officer Garrett Rolfe being reinstated play into your decision?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (21:11)
Absolutely not. The hard part was last year. And I firmly believe it was the right decision. If you go back to last summer, and the challenges that we were facing in the city … And there were so many peaceful protests going on across the city, but there were people seeking to wreak havoc as well. And I’m not going to get too far into that but I firmly believe, had I not made that decision, that this city would have seen much worse. And part of the reason that I am, and I said this a couple of days ago, so confident in the leadership of Chief Bryant, because he’s not afraid to tell me when he disagrees with me. It doesn’t mean that we will agree, and he’s going to do what I tell him to do, and he’s going to do … And vice versa.
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (22:10)
But I believe it was the right decision. I stand by that and I’ve said repeatedly, holding our officers accountable doesn’t mean that I respect our officers, but you can hold them accountable and also be respectful of the job that they do, and the way that they put themselves in harms way each and every day.
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (22:33)
But I firmly believe that the decision I made last year, in the midst of all that was happening in our city, was the right decision. I disagree with the ruling. Our position has been steadfast, that we followed the procedures that needed to be followed under those emergency circumstances. The board disagreed, which was their right to disagree. But if I had to do it over again, I would do it the same way.
Press (male): (23:07)
Do you intend to appeal that decision?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (23:08)
I will talk with our attorneys about that.
Press (male): (23:11)
Mayor Bottoms, can you talk about the first time you felt like you heard that voice tell you inside that you shouldn’t run again? Do you remember where you were and what the circumstances were?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (23:23)
You know, it’s really interesting. I can’t say I heard a voice. It wasn’t like, “Noah, go build an ark.” It wasn’t that. But I felt it my first year. And I can’t describe it, but I wasn’t sure that I would run again.
Press (multiple): (23:54)
Press (female): (23:56)
Mayor Bottom, there’s an adage for black women that says we choose when and where we enter. What would you say to young black women, young black girls, that might look upon your decision, and what would you like to say to them as you exit the office?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (24:17)
That there is a divine voice that lives inside of each of us and, for me, I know that it is my compass. And it may not always make sense to anyone else, and really it’s not intended to make sense to anyone else. But when you know what you know what you know, it becomes less and less important what other people think, and it becomes less and less important whether or not you are afraid.
Press (multiple): (24:53)
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (24:58)
What was that?
Press (female): (24:58)
Do you have a vision for the Atlanta City Jail, of turning it into something other than what it is right now, that they’ve pushed back in City Hall? In the next eight months, do you think you’re going to be able to see that through?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (25:08)
I sure hope so. But leadership sometimes is about gracefully passing off the baton to the next person to carry it, and finish what you started. We have done more, in terms of criminal justice and social reform, during the three years that I’ve been in the office, than any mayor that I know of. I still believe that the systemic issues, that are leading to people making poor decisions, has everything to do with us not having the ability to offer people resources. So when I talk about re-imagining the Atlanta City Jail, it’s about people having a physical place that they can walk into and say, “I need help. I need a job. I need GED training. I need daycare for my child because I don’t work from 9:00 to 5:00. I work from 11:00 to 7:00.”
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (26:09)
That’s what I envisioned for the jail. The jail has not housed violent criminal offenders in decades. We’re not talking about rapists. We’re not talking about murders. We’re not talking about people who carjacked people. They have not been in that jail in over a decade. What we are talking about are people with minor offenses: poor people who can’t pay $200 to get out of jail, and then lose their job because they can’t pay their car note, and then they get in trouble because they can’t pay their child support.
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (26:50)
So when we talk about re-imagining that place, it is about offering a physical place for people to access services to make their lives better.
Press (multiple): (27:01)
Mayor’s aide (female): (27:04)
All right, two more questions. Two more.
Press (female): (27:04)
Have you been asked by the Democratic Party to help recruit a new candidates? Or will you be working with the party to find someone to succeed you?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (27:13)
No. The short answer is no. And let me just say this: I don’t believe any one person anoints a successor. It doesn’t work like that. It may have worked like that many, many years ago, but it hadn’t worked like that in a long time. Nobody. Not any one person. My one vote is the same one vote as the person who’s going to come through and sweep up when we leave. So I don’t think that I have the ability to anoint someone as my successor. But I certainly, at the appropriate time, will make it known who I will cast my vote for.
Mayor’s aide (male): (27:53)
Press (male): (27:53)
Knowing the opposition to closing the jail-
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (27:55)
Press (male): (27:56)
Knowing the opposition on Council to closing the jail, and knowing that several of the people who either are running or rumored to run don’t want to close it, how important is it for you to try to get a closure date on the books before you leave office?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (28:06)
I would love to have a closure date on the books. And what is most liberating about not running for office, that conversation can be moved off the table, about any decisions that I’m making because I’m running for reelection.
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (28:22)
So I want to keep pushing for the closure in the same way I started pushing for it my first year in office. I’m not going to let up.
Press (female): (28:33)
To your critics, speak about the timing again. Making this decision out of faith, not fear, speak to those who want to criticize you, especially given the news of this week that you’re folding under pressure. How you want to go out and speak to those people?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (28:45)
I’ve dealt with pressure. I started dealing with pressure when I was eight years old and I saw my father being led out of our house in handcuffs. So if anybody thinks a decision about reinstating an employee would run me out of office is someone who doesn’t know me very well. I didn’t fold under pressure last summer. I didn’t fold under pressure when I ran against 15 other people for mayor. I didn’t fold under pressure when I ran against 10 other people when I ran for City Council. I didn’t fold under pressure when I took on an incumbent in my first election … That I lost, but I still got up and I did it again. So I may bend, but I will never break.
Press (male): (29:43)
Mayor Bottoms, the election to come is likely to be turned into a bidding war on criminal justice issues. With your exit from the race, do you believe that puts progressive reforms on criminal justice at risk?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (29:57)
I think reform on criminal justice is at risk, period. The will that we …
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (30:03)
Is at risk period. The will that we had in my first year in office in 2018, the entire nation was favoring criminal justice reform. What I see now with the uptick in crime across the country, is that we’re going back the other way as a country, back to lock them all up and throw away the key. And the danger in that, it’s that it gets us to moments like this. So we have to do short term things to address issues in our communities with crime, but you have to think long term on how you break those systemic issues that lead people to make decisions to commit crimes.
Speaker 9: (30:46)
How would you describe this moment?
Press (male): (30:46)
Mayor Bottoms, did you like being mayor?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (30:48)
Did I like being mayor? I did. I did. It’s a hard job. It’s a very hard job, but I mean, there are people who get up every day and do things much harder than this and they don’t have the support and the team that I have around me. So yeah, I loved being mayor.
Press (male): (31:09)
What were your expectations during your inauguration for your job versus the reality [inaudible 00:31:16]?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (31:15)
I never anticipated a social justice movement. I never anticipated a pandemic. I knew there was a madman than the White House, but I didn’t know what it would feel like to lead under those circumstances. So there were so many unscripted things, but the things that I spoke of in my inauguration are still the things that are meaningful to me, making our communities better, giving opportunities to people across the city. If you remember, I did my inauguration at Morehouse College, the west side of Atlanta. And I did it for a reason because I wanted people to see that this physical place of community was important to me. Affordable housing is still important to me. The $1 billion goal, it’s why we are already over $500 million there. All of those things still matter to me. [crosstalk 00:32:26].
Speaker 10: (32:26)
To help the city continue moving forward, particularly in those areas?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (32:30)
I will be available in any way that I possibly can without interfering with the next mayor’s term. And unfortunately that hasn’t been the case always during my term. Lisa’s telling me to stop talking. Lisa, I am mayor until the first Tuesday in January, okay? As I was saying, I think when you walk forward, you can’t walk forward with looking over your shoulder. So I will be available in any way I possibly can. [crosstalk 00:33:15].
Speaker 11: (33:14)
Mayor, do you have more information on the working group on crime?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (33:18)
Speaker 12: (33:20)
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (33:22)
We’ll see. I can tell you being mayor with president Biden in the White House has made a world of difference. The ability to pick up the phone and have someone that you can call with an expectation that they will help you and not harm you, is something that I’ve not experienced. And I’m very grateful to at least have this year to experience that type of leadership
Speaker 11: (33:53)
Mayor, do you have more information on your working group on crime? Who’s on that group? The governor has pushed back saying another meeting isn’t going to make a difference with the crime we’re seeing in the city.
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (34:03)
well, if the governor feels that way, that’s probably why we’re having a crime wave across the state. You put everything that you have into fighting crime. You use every tool in your toolbox. So we’re not going to stop meeting. We’re not going to stop working. We’re not going to stop pushing. We’re not going to stop fighting. So to answer your question, we were still making calls to confirm the members. And as soon as we have everyone confirmed, we’ll release those names. I don’t know. It may even be today.
Speaker 13: (34:37)
We know you love the city of Atlanta, but is [inaudible 00:34:43]?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (34:45)
To the extent the weight has been lifted, it is the decision and speaking it not to run. And I can’t say enough about my husband, Derek, and just the love and support that he continues to give me. And the great thing about being from the city and being from what I call this village of Atlanta, I have people, friends I’ve made in kindergarten, who will love and support me personally, whether I’m mayor or not. So part of the delay in my decision was the guilt. Am I doing harm to my city by not running for mayor again? But there’s a reason I did not take the opportunity to go to the White House. I signed up for four years, four years. Those four years are almost up, and the voters have a right to make a decision and so do I. And this is the decision that I’ve made. But it is a very difficult decision.
Press (male): (35:59)
Mayor, there was something you said earlier that I think is really interesting, I want to come back to it. You said one of the mistakes that you may have made was not asking for resignations during the first hundred days. I have long believed that you may have had trouble trusting people broadly who were working with the administration because of this ongoing FBI investigation. As you said in your letter, that a lot of people here felt afraid of making the mistake because they were afraid that they’d be castrated by us.
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (36:33)
Press (male): (36:35)
How long did it take you to trust the people you were working with enough?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (36:42)
I can’t say. I would imagine that’s when I got my team in place and I think that’s not particular to this administration. I think that’s just the nature of the beast. And as my husband said to me one day, “It’s not really paranoia if they really are out to get you.” And that’s the nature of being an elected official. And again, every leadership team is about synergy and who fits with the person’s leadership style. And you only think I shed tears today. And I talked to my cabinet last night. I am so honored to work alongside the people whom I work with every day.
Speaker 14: (37:35)
What advice and priorities do you hope the next mayor has for Atlanta?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (37:40)
That will be for the next mayor, but I can tell you what needs to continue, the work to close the income gap in the city, the work to make sure that this city is still affordable for everyday working people, the work to make sure that the people who are still living on our streets have access to the services they need to be healthy and whole. That’s the work that will never end.
Press (male): (38:09)
Mayor, what is your response to the ethics violation for the campaign contribution back in 2017? Where do you stay in with that today?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (38:16)
Press (male): (38:18)
The ethics contribution. That’s 300,000, 2017.
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (38:24)
That’s been resolved.
Press (male): (38:26)
What is your position on that today?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (38:28)
My position was made clear when we resolved it. That it was not intentional. The ethics board agreed with that and we resolved it. Y’all are just making up questions now, right? Okay. Thank you all.