Opinion: Ethics is the biggest issue in Atlanta’s mayoral election

Eight candidates for mayor of Atlanta debate at WSB-TV’s studios on Sunday. (AJC Photo / Phil Skinner)

There are certain things in life you just know to be true. Our local sports teams will probably let you down in the end. A Facebook political rant is bound to change approximately zero minds.

And conservatives aren’t the target audience in Atlanta’s mayoral elections.

It’s OK; we know the deal going in. If you lean Republican but live in perhaps the bluest part of Georgia — although the People’s Republic of Decatur might have something to say about that — you better have reasons other than partisan politics. Because that’s going to disappoint you, no matter how many times Georgia Democrats scream that Mary Norwood is privately a pachyderm.

In a way, however, this knowledge can be liberating. It’s hard for voters of all political persuasions to stay focused on the basics while politicians woo them with gleaming promises. Since there will be no such things tailored to us, Atlanta’s small band of conservatives can keep our eyes on the basics that ought to matter to everyone, regardless of political affiliation.

Basics like real fiscal responsibility. Basics like clean government.

The latter is the main concern in this election. And while it’s easy to get wrapped up in such issues as transportation, parks and public safety, voters this year need to focus on clean government. If Atlanta doesn’t have that, it’s unlikely anything else will work out well, either.

In case you’ve Rip Van Winkle’d your way through 2017, a federal bribery investigation has been unfolding at City Hall. Prosecutors describe corruption as “prolific.” It is a staple of headlines and candidate debates. Before that, it was the subject of the most everyone-knows-it-but-can’t-prove-it whispers this side of Harvey Weinstein’s Hollywood.

What we know is two city contractors pleaded guilty to paying more than $1 million in bribes between 2010 and 2015. Separately, the city’s former chief procurement officer pleaded guilty to receiving at least $30,000 in bribes from 2015 to 2017. Obviously, neither the dollar amounts nor the timelines totally overlap — leading one to believe federal prosecutors aren’t nearly done yet.

We don’t know where the facts will lead. Mayor Kasim Reed insists they won’t lead to him, and so far there is no evidence to the contrary.

That said, Reed’s term ends in January. Yet to be determined is not only who will succeed him, but how many in the city’s hierarchy his successor might keep around. And whether the facts may eventually lead to any of them.

The best policy is a clean break.

The candidate Reed has endorsed, Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms, described the bribery scandal this way in a recent debate: “out of 8,000 employees, we had a bad apple.” Given what we know, and don’t know, about the investigation, that’s too limited a view of what happened.

The city’s next elected leaders must be willing to seek out and root out corruption. Ceasar Mitchell, the current council president, and Peter Aman, a former chief operating officer under Reed, say the right things. Cathy Woolard, a former council president, and Mary Norwood, a longtime council member, have more distance from the current administration. (As does the best choice for council president, Felicia Moore.)

I confess I’m still deciding whether to vote for Aman, Mitchell, Norwood or Woolard. But in the inevitable runoff, Atlantans would be best served by a choice between two of them.

Reader Comments 0

45 comments
Terpman
Terpman

Good Article..Red Flags are up with this bribery stuff....Fresh start wins here ....

bendedknee
bendedknee

Excellent article. Time for a change in the regime that has ruled Atlanta since the seventies. 

breckenridge
breckenridge

October 23 - Pro-family conservatives are being pulled in new directions by national leaders. But are the parents fighting battles in the trenches being left behind?

The national Values Voter Summit, arguably the most prominent annual pro-family conference in the U.S., took place in Washington, DC last week. Thousands from across the country came to hear dozens of excellent speakers and connect with the exhibitors. It also attracted some big names. President Donald Trump, Judge Roy Moore, Michele Bachman, Steve Bannon, Laura Ingraham, and Bill Bennett were among the luminaries who spoke.

Luminaries? More like a collection of loons, although Bill Bennett is fairly sane.  But the rest aren't worth a plug nickel.

MiltonD
MiltonD

Keisha Lance Bottoms and Vincent Fort both have Federal Tax Liens against them, they should be disqualified.  If you can't manage your own affairs well enough to pay your bills, how are you going to be able to manage the city's money?

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@breckenridge @MiltonD It was rich yesterday when Trump gave a purple heart to a well deserving veteran from the Vietnam War, the war Trump got deferments from serving for bone spurs.

Doomy
Doomy

"Not only do we need ethics in City Hall, but in all branches of our government, esp Washington."- Roadscholar


Seems like both the Dems and the Rs agree on one thing- that pols are generally an unethical bunch. 


Hmm. So if Dems generally agree with us that pols are an unethical bunch then why is it that Dems entrust govt and its its unethical, incompetent bunch of pols to do so much? 

Doomy
Doomy

"Our local sports teams will probably let you down in the end."


We can all agree on that. Between the Bulldogs, Braves, Falcons, and the Hawks its one consistent disappointment after another. Oh, there's the 96 world series championship but that's about it. Dawgs fans think the dawgs can end the curse but that will likely prove illusory as well. 


Rampant corruption in yet another Dem run major urban area? Why would anyone really be surprised by that?

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

I will never get the love for Norwood. I don't think Norwood's experience is bad as she titled up to CEO in a small situation (5 radio stations), but her resume is light compared to literally every other candidate and always has been.  Aside from her robocall service, she hasn't done anything since 1990.  What makes people think she can be the leader of a large organization?


If you are Republican, how could you not want Aman?  He graduated from Duke in Public Policy then got an MBA from the Wharton school.  He has top notch business experience at Bain, and has been the city's CEO.  He, quite literally, checks every box. There are no doubts that he can run the city, and that he will do so in a Republican fashion.



MiltonD
MiltonD

@JFMcNamara Norwood has been one of the few sane voices at city hall for decades, she knows how to work with African Americans to get common sense solutions and she is not on the take.  


Peter Aman has the best resume but he has also been in the middle of the current corrupt administration.  

BPJ
BPJ

Read the AJC article on campaign contributions: the only major candidate without big money from city contractors is Cathy Woolard. For anyone concerned with ethics, she's the clear choice.

BillyRip
BillyRip

Ethics starts at the top (DC, Trump) State (Deal While in DC). Ethics really! Nigerhazi 

Robert1959
Robert1959

 "Ethics is the biggest issue in Atlanta’s mayoral election"
Kyle, are you equating ethics with hatred, fear and bigotry?  The race for Mayor of Atlanta will come down to race (Black vs White) in a city that is racially polarized. The only people who care about "ethics" are white.  Blacks could care less if a candidate has had financial problems (tax liens, garnishments, foreclosures etc.)  in the past or present.  Ethics is just another "dog whistle" for white voters to justify voting for the white candidate.  Kyle I hope you take a ride around Atlanta and see who, what and where the signs for Mayor are being displayed.   Mary Norwood has signs posted - (midtown, Buckhead,etc.) in all the predominately white neighborhoods of Atlanta.  Senator Vincent Fort  has signs posted - (South Fulton, etc.) in predominately Black neighborhoods.  The race for Mayor is shaping up to be a racially charged contest pitting 2 of Atlanta's better known career politicians Mary Norwood against Senator Vincent Fort.   Ethics is the GOP "red meat"  to try to divide the People of Atlanta from electing another Democrat Mayor of Atlanta.

Starik
Starik

@Robert1959 Well, it's obvious that the current administration has not only ethical, but criminal problems. Is race more important than an honest government to you?

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

@Robert1959 Ethics is very clearly stated in the text as meaning someone who won't take bribes like the current city hall officials are accused of doing.   Of course Atlanta is racially divided, but I don't think ethics is a dog whistle.

Doomy
Doomy

@Robert1959


Shorter please. You coulda just said any race related problems are all the Republican's fault and that Dems nevah, evah play the race card. 

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

We want the Black gal, she already knows how kickbacks work ( signed ) Atlanta Federation of City Contractors & Scam Artists

breckenridge
breckenridge

Politician and ethics are not two words that often go together.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

I am leaning towards Norwood but is there a candidate that is unqualified to be mayor. Seems each candidate has there pluses and minuses. But is there one what would run this city into the ground?

MiltonD
MiltonD

@McGarnagle Vincent Fort would run the city into the ground.  He would have to raise taxes to pay for all of the handouts he wants to give and he can't even figure out how to pay his own taxes, how is he going to balance the city's budget.  

ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

Just outside of the city limits but good luck....it still seems to be more a function of machine politics but perhaps we see. I hope that all the tax abatement strategy etc is enough to continue driving density in the midtown downtown spine and hoping they don't botch the MARTA expansion...I share your concern about public schools but it's apparent that those that can bypass them will bypass them 

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

Not only do we need ethics in City Hall, but in all branches of our government, esp Washington. Trump has no clue of ethics; he probably thinks it is a liberal plot! How do Christians, real Christians...not faux Christians (CINO's) support his shenanigans?

BTC
BTC

@RoadScholar Emoluments!?  We doan need no steenking emoluments!

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RoadScholar You know, it is possible to discuss a topic without bringing Washington or Trump into it ... or at least, it used to be possible.

Pub Heaven
Pub Heaven

Kyle, we (many of us) underestimated the feelings that resulted in Trump's election.

Don't underestimate the humiliation many of us feel in having this man represent America.

And it's (former) values.

bu22
bu22

@Pub Heaven  Were you humiliated when Bill Clinton was president?  If no, you are just a sore loser, not someone with values.

Starik
Starik

@ATLAquarius @Kyle_Wingfield @RoadScholar Does a single day go by without some outrageous act by Trump or a member of the administration? The daily tweets alone create controversy and keep the administration's screw-ups a subject of discussion. It's unavoidable.

Pub Heaven
Pub Heaven

Post promptly when Trump reaches your boundaries...

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RoadScholar Not what I said. What I said was it would be nice if you'd stick to the topic of the mayoral election.

Pub Heaven
Pub Heaven

For instance, Senator Bob Corker, today:

"I think the things that are happening right now that are harmful to our nation, whether it's the breaking down of -- we are going to be doing hearings on some of the things that he purposely is breaking down -- relationships we have around the world that have been useful to our nation," he said. "But I think at the end of the day, when his term is over, I think the debasing of our nation, the constant non-truth telling, just the name-calling ... I think the debasement of our nation will be what he'll be remembered most for, and that's regretful."

Pub Heaven
Pub Heaven

Senator Jeff Flake, today:

"We must never adjust to the coarseness of our dialogue, with the tone set up at the top," Flake said. "We must never accept the deadly sundering of our country. The personal attacks, threats against principles and freedoms and institutions, and flagrant disregard for decency."

"Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified," Flake continued. "And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy."