Atlanta’s mayoral election has attracted a crowd of candidates this year, and creeping up in the polls is City Councilmember Keisha Lance Bottoms.
Lance Bottoms is a two-term member of the Atlanta City Council representing District 11, the city’s southwestern-most region. She has made headlines during her tenure for her role in overseeing the $30 million sale of Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves, and for her close relationship with incumbent Mayor Kasim Reed.
In order for a candidate to win outright in Atlanta’s nonpartisan mayoral race, they must get more than half of the vote during the election in November. If no candidate wins outright, a runoff election between the top-two vote-getters takes place the following month.
Here’s what you need to know about Keisha Lance Bottoms:
1. A Democrat, Lance Bottoms Has Been Gaining Ground in Recent Polls
Lance Bottoms is listed as a Democrat by Politifact Georgia, and has aired television ads styling herself as “the Democrat for mayor” in 2017’s crowded race.
The city council member’s’s TV spot describes the various menial jobs she held as she “worked her way through college and law school,” as well as her success in re-opening recreational centers across the city.
Lance Bottoms also picked up an endorsement from the Georgia Stonewall Democrats during her 2013 campaign for re-election to City Council. “Councilwoman Lance-Bottoms has received our endorsement in past election cycles and has not disappointed in her fervent support for equality and fairness,” the endorsement read.
Most of Lance Bottoms’ rivals are also self-declared Democrats, apart from fellow City Council member Mary Norwood, who calls herself an independent and currently enjoys a strong bipartisan lead in the recent polls.
But Lance Bottoms has also been gaining ground with Democratic voters. Her campaign released a statement in early September after a WSB TV poll showed her just edging out Norwood in popularity among Democrats.
2. Lance Bottoms & Incumbent Mayor Kasim Reed Are Childhood Friends, & Some Have Questioned the Role He Has Played in Her Success
Lance Bottoms is well known around Atlanta as a close ally of incumbent Mayor Kasim Reed. The two have a long history that dates back to when they were teenagers and has plagued the city council member in the form of allegations of cronyism and special treatment.
In April 2015, Lance Bottoms was hired as the executive director of the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority, which is responsible for managing the Atlanta Hawks’ Philips Arena, the city zoo and Turner Field, the home stadium of the Atlanta Braves.
Of the AFCRA’s nine board members, Mayor Reed appoints six; the remaining three are appointed by the Fulton County Commission. The commission’s chair, John Eaves, issued a statement of protest shortly after it was announced that Lance Bottoms’ would replace then-Executive Director Violet Ricks—a hired, not appointed, position.
“The hiring of a sitting City Council Member hired as a full time employee, as I understand it, in Ms. Ricks place was not done as part of a transparent open process. There was no interview by the Authority nor was the position advertised,” Eaves said in the statement.
He added: “Paying a political figure to oversee the board smacks of cronyism and is extraordinarily questionable. Neither I, nor our County Attorney, was consulted in advance and have not received any form of communication from AFCRA.”
The job carries with it a $135,000 annual salary, which is in addition to the $60,300 annual salary Lance Bottoms receives for her position on the City Council.
The city council member defended her appointment, pointing out that she had met with city ethics officer Nina Hickson to discuss potential conflicts of interest prior to accepting the job. Hickson released an official opinion on April 3, 2015, in which she concluded that “there is no per se conflict of interest under the City’s Ethics Code that would prohibit this appointment.”
Hickson did add, however, that Lance Bottoms is obligated to disclose any conflict of interest that may arise during City Council decisions, and in those cases must recuse herself from discussion and voting. She also warned that holding dual roles might create an “appearance of impropriety” that could “[cause] a reasonable taxpayer to question whether the interest of a Council Member serving in this position impairs that person’s ability to act in the best interest of the City,” but noted that the city’s Ethics Code does not regulate such circumstances.
“Council seats have historically been seen as a part-time position, so it’s not unusual for council members to have outside employment,” Lance Bottoms said in response to the criticism, adding that she would, indeed, recuse herself should a conflict of interest arise. “I serve at the pleasure of the board. … It’s not a political appointment. It’s not an appointment from the mayor. It’s not an appointment from the county commission chair.”
Reed has not officially endorsed Lance Bottoms in 2017’s mayoral race—Reed is term-limited—but he has taken a few jabs at one of her top rivals, City Council President Ceasar Mitchell.
Last month, an ethics complaint was anonymously filed against Reed over large placards the mayor placed outside of his office criticizing Mitchell for having “paid the second-highest ethics fines of any sitting elected official in Atlanta municipal government.” The complaint alleged that the placard was “political and related to campaign issues, not city business.”
City Attorney Jeremy Berry called the complaint “completely without merit,” adding: “I have seen many things during an election season, but never before have I witnessed someone filing an ethics complaint against two city employees who were lawfully performing their City duties.”
Around the same time the ethics complaint was filed, a flier was making its way around the city attributing Lance Bottoms’ success to her relationship with Reed. The flier featured a picture of the two captioned, “Kasim is more than just a friend … I wanted to run for City Council. He made it happen. I wanted to be on the Fulton County Board. He made it happen.” The group behind the flier remained anonymous.
“It is unfortunately common when a woman runs for office for her success to be credited to a man,” Lance Bottoms said in response to the flier. “I’m proud the polls show me as the No. 1 choice of Democrats and African-Americans. Unfortunately, that means other campaigns are going to try and tear me down.”
3. On City Council, She Has Chaired Multiple Committees and Launched an Economic Development Initiative for Underserved Neighborhoods
First elected to the City Council in 2009, Lance Bottoms has served as vice-chair of the Public Safety Committee, chair of the Zoning Committee and vice-chair of the Transportation Committee.
During her tenure on the latter, the Atlanta Airport, one of the busiest in the country, opened the Maynard H. Jackson International Terminal, which CNN called “a billion-dollar solution to the much-griped-about entry procedure for Atlanta-bound passengers.”
Lance Bottoms also spearheaded Invest in Southwest, which she calls a “360-degree urban planning initiative with the goal of expanding economic development within underserved communities.” The legislation created a task force that focused on creating economic growth in the areas of Greenbriar, Camp Creek Marketplace, Campbellton Road and Cascade Road.
Additionally, she secured a $100,000 grant from the Atlanta Regional Commission to update the Greenbriar Towncenter Livable Communities Initiative, a program that conducted a livability study back in 2001 on how to reduce urban sprawl and air pollution. The city council member also donated $25,000 of her own money to the initiative.
But some have criticized the official for using her Invest in Southwest initiative to campaign on city time. Back in 2015, Lance Bottoms sent out about 19,000 mailers to the tune of $21,000 enumerating the successes of the program; a picture of the city council member appeared on 23 of the 30 pages.
At the time, Lance Bottoms was merely rumored to have her eye on the 2017 mayoral race and had not confirmed whether or not she would run. Nonetheless, critics questioned why the report had been sent out across the city instead of just to residents of the district in question.
Executive Director of Better Georgia, a liberal advocacy group, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the ubiquitous appearance of Bottoms’ face on the report gave “at least an appearance that she’s using her office to advance her profile in advance of a city-wide election, at a minimum.”
But Bottoms retorted that the success of the initiative depended on the involvement of multiple communities, not just those in the Southwest. “I obviously can’t just get people to invest in Southwest who live in Southwest; I need a cross-section of people,” she stated at the time. “To the extent you can humanize the messaging is important,” she said of the many photos.
City ethics officer Nina Hickson told the Journal-Constitution that she had not received any complaints regarding the mailer.
4. She Is the Daughter of R&B Legend Major Lance
Lance Bottoms is one of nine children born to soul music legend Major Lance, whose fame peaked in the 1960s—at least in the U.S. In 1972, he moved to England, where obscure American soul music had become trendy at dance clubs.
His most famous single, “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um,” peaked at #5 on Billboard’s chart; 12 other songs he co-wrote made it into the music giant’s Hot 100 chart during the 1960s.
Lance stayed in England for two years before returning to the U.S. and settling in Atlanta in 1974. In 1978, after several years of trying unsuccessfully to break back into the music business, he was convicted of selling cocaine and spent four years in prison.
After he died in 1994, The Chicago Sun-Times opined that his 1963 single “The Monkey Time” had “signaled the birth of the Chicago Sound,” referring to the city’s musical tradition of jazz and blues with a heavy folk influence.
Lance Bottoms, now 47 years old, would have been about eight years old when her father went to prison, and just 24 when he died.
Lance Bottoms told CBS46 in Atlanta that people used to recognize her father in the street, and at the time she didn’t believe him when he told her of his former stardom.
“My dad used to always tell me he opened for the Beatles when they came to the US, but I didn’t believe him. I thought he was exaggerating,” she said, adding: “I’d say ‘Daddy, so and so said that they knew you’ and he was like, ‘Yeah, I know you don’t believe me, but I was a very popular man.”
She also told the local CBS affiliate that her perseverance came from her father, but she did not inherit his musical aptitude. “I’m a genetic freak of nature. I have no rhythm; I can’t sing; I can’t dance,” she laughed.
5. She Is Married to Derek W. Bottoms, With Whom She Has Four Adopted Children
Lance Bottom is married to Derek W. Bottoms, a vice president of employment practices and associate relations at The Home Depot, according to his Linkedin profile.
Prior to becoming a vice president, he had worked as a senior counsel for the mega-corporation for 11 years; before that, he was an associate at the law firm of Powell Goldstein, specializing in employment law.
Both Bottoms and Lance Bottoms received juris doctor degrees from Georgia State University’s School of Law. It is unclear where the two met; however, Bottoms graduated in 1994, while Lance Bottoms started her education the same year.
According to City-Data.com, the pair own a house in Southwest Atlanta near the Cascade Road corridor that is valued at $326,000. Additionally, the couple purchased a home in June 2016 on the elite island of Martha’s Vineyard just off the coast of Cape Cod.
The house, which is located in the island’s Oak Bluffs neighborhood, was purchased for $1,010,000.
Bottoms and Lance Bottoms have four adopted children: Lance, Langston, Lincoln and Lennox. In 2014, Lance Bottoms spoke to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about her experience with adoption during November’s Adoption Awareness Month:
We were dealing with unsuccessfully trying to conceive, and fertility treatments, and all the emotion that goes with that. For me the biggest hurdle was the first step, just seeking information. It sounds really silly, but when you’re dealing with fertility and when you’re a woman of faith, (I worried) does this mean I’m giving up because I’m looking at adoption? Even though adoption was something I always wanted to do, I thought it would be in addition to biological children. Once I worked through the unreasonableness of that thought process, it really worked out.
The council member told prospective adoptive parents “to be patient,” adding that being open to adopting a biracial child could speed up the process.
Earlier that year, she participated in a brief interview with Atlanta Parent about daily life in her family, saying that they “are a pretty busy family so just being able to spend a day at home with nothing scheduled for anyone is a real treat. … It sounds simple but it’s these kinds of moments that allow us to really bond as a family.”