A look at who’s funding the Atlanta City Council president candidatesCity Council president candidates who have filed campaign finance reports include, clockwise from upper left, Natalyn Archibong, Courtney English, Doug Shipman and Mike Russell.
As fundraising totals head toward the $750,000 mark in the Atlanta City Council president race, it’s easy to measure by the size of the war chests.
But in the nitty-gritty of contributor lists — beyond the usual gaggle of attorneys, developers and airport contractors — there’s a finer-grained picture of the subcultures and niche groups each candidate is attracting as a constituency. Who’s locking down old-school Atlanta? Who’s riding with the new school? Who’s got the actual schools and key neighborhoods? There are hints aplenty.
The candidates so far are Natalyn Archibong, Courtney English, Samuel Manuel, Mike Russell and Doug Shipman. They’re competing for one of the City government’s most powerful positions. Elected citywide, the council president appoints committee members, casts tie-breaking votes, and acts as mayor if the incumbent gets sick, dies or resigns.
As of the latest campaign contribution reports, filed June 30, they had raised a combined total around $734,000. (That doesn’t count Manuel, who entered the race after that reporting period and did not respond to a comment request.)
Shipman led by far in the fundraising with $373,775.23, followed by Archibong ($221,934.56), English ($121,174.90) and, in a distant last place, Russell ($16,630).
The next campaign finance reporting deadline doesn’t arrive until Sept. 30, when totals presumably will be much higher.
But who is putting up that cash, and what does it tell us about the candidates? While every candidate has plenty of regular folks contributing, some names and trends stand out. Here’s a look through the hundreds of pages of donor rolls from April and June on file with the Municipal Clerk’s office.
Archibong is finishing her fifth term as City Council member for District 5, which includes such neighborhoods as East Atlanta, Reynoldstown, Cabbagetown, Sweet Auburn and Kirkwood. An attorney and founder of the East Atlanta Business Association, Archibong comes from a political family. Her father Nathaniel Mosby was a DeKalb County commissioner and her brother Howard Mosby is a former state rep. (and also a contributor to her campaign).
Archibong has classic establishment contributor rolls loaded with ex-City Hall figures, major contractors, and some neighborhood bar and restaurant owners.
Former City Council President Ceasar Mitchell is a contributor, and so are former council colleagues Kwanza Hall (also briefly a U.S. congressman), Aaron Watson and Yolanda Adrean. Former Police Chief George Turner (now the Atlanta Hawks’ security chief) and former Fire Rescue Chief Joel Baker (now chief in Austin, Texas) gave money, too.
Alfred Berry, a former City pension fund board chair, and former Fulton County Sheriff Jacquelyn Barrett-Washington contributed.
Current public officials on the rolls include Jason Esteves, chair of the Atlanta Board of Education, DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston, and Cathelene “Tina” Robinson, Fulton County’s clerk of courts.
MARTA chief Jeffrey Parker gave $500, as did Melissa Mullinax, MARTA’s chief of staff and, once upon a time, a senior advisor to former Mayor Kasim Reed, who is making a comeback run this year.
Other familiar names include Atlanta Bicycle Coalition director Rebecca Serna, and Michel “Marty” Turpeau, v.p. at parking contractor the Aaron Group and also the board chair steering the Development Authority of Fulton County through a financial scandal.
Developers and contractors abound in all campaign contributions, but Archibong’s list has several coming right from the top. Fuqua Development, a major real estate company, maxed out with a $2,800 contribution, as did Robert Matthews, chairman of C.W. Matthews, a top road construction contractor. Also on the list: Dwayne Heard, head of the Atlanta airport’s branch of Master ConcessionAIR, a restaurant operator and contractor, and Billy Corey, founder of Corey Enterprises, the real estate and advertising company known for the Corey Tower downtown.
Restaurants, entertainment and nightlife contributors show up often in Archibong’s reports. Michael Sard, a top alcohol-license attorney, was among them. So were the owners of the Flatiron in East Atlanta Village, Joystick on Edgewood Avenue, and Kiss Ultra Lounge in Castleberry Hill. Jay Nault, an owner of the Tokyo Valentino adult-entertainment shops that have long had legal battles with Atlanta and other metro cities, gave a maximum contribution.
Best known as a former chair of the Atlanta Board of Education, English is also a Morehouse College graduate and former teacher. He’s now director of community development at Star-C, a nonprofit that provides wrap-around services to families in affordable apartment communities.
The Morehouse and teaching connections appear to explain English’s support from contributors in some far-flung places, including New York City, New Orleans and St. Louis. Contributors affiliated with charter schools and consulting firms are frequent on the list.
Ed Chang, director of RedefinED Atlanta, a nonprofit school funder, is a prominent local contributor in the education world. Also on the list: Ayanna Hill-Gill, the recently departed head of Atlanta Girls’ School, and Alisha Thomas Morgan, a former state rep. and former charter school head.
Buckhead-area Atlanta school board member Nancy Meister is a supporter, as is former Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen. Matt Westmoreland, a former school board member now serving on the City Council, is a contributor. So is City Councilmember Andre Dickens, who is now running for mayor.
Former Mayor Shirley Franklin is on the list. So is Ingrid Saunders Jones, a one-time aide to the late Mayor Maynard Jackson and a former chair of Coca-Cola Foundation and the National Council of Negro Women. Howard Franklin, head of the lobbying firm Ohio River South (and no relation to Shirley), is another contributor.
A retired U.S. Army officer with military police experience, Russell got a later start than most of the other candidates and is running an outsider campaign. That translates to skimpy fundraising mostly grassroots in nature, with few big names among the nurses, bankers, real estate agents and others who have contributed.
However, the addresses show the majority of Russell’s support comes from Atlanta’s northern arc: Buckhead, Northwest Atlanta, and northeast neighborhoods like Piedmont Heights, Morningside/Lenox Park and Virginia-Highland. Russell lives in Piedmont Heights, and he’s campaigning on a more conservative approach to policing that resonates in Buckhead, where crime fears have fueled a movement for separate cityhood for the neighborhood. An Atlanta Police captain is among Russell’s contributors.
One politically prominent name on the list for Russell, who is gay, is Jamie Ensley, a former leader of the national and Georgia chapters of the Log Cabin Republicans, a conservative LGBTQ rights organization, and former treasurer of Georgia Equality. Ensley also was a campaign official for Buckhead’s Mary Norwood in her unsuccessful 2017 mayoral campaign; Norwood is now running for City Council.
Shipman is former CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. He has also worked as a consultant.
Unsurprisingly, his contributor list is loaded with museum officials, arts executives, artists, nonprofit chiefs and foundation leaders.
Less predictably, Shipman is also attracting a bevy of tech business executives and venture capitalists of the new-school Atlanta economy.
University executives and professors are prominent on the list as well, particularly from Georgia Tech and Emory, Shipman’s alma mater.
Museum and art leaders on the list include such figures as Rand Suffolk, director of the High Museum of Art; Breman Museum Executive Director Leslie Gordon; and Susan Ambo, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s chief financial officer. Plaza Theatre owner Christopher Escobar is another contributor.
Nonprofit and foundation leaders include Carter Center CEO Paige Alexander; Natalye Paquin, CEO of the Points of Light Foundation; and heads of the Georgia Health Foundation and the Wilbur & Hilda Glenn Family Foundation.
A prominent out-of-state contributor is Tom Bernstein, president and co-founder of the Chelsea Piers Sports & Entertainment Complex in New York City. He’s also involved in human-rights philanthropy.
Most of the tech-oriented businesses represented on the list by employees or founders are not household names or necessarily public-facing; one exception is the founder of SharkPad, a luxury short-term home rental business. The most familiar name may be David Cummings, founder of the Atlanta Tech Village startup hub in Buckhead and of the companion capital business Atlanta Ventures. Cummings gave the $2,800 maximum contribution.
Brian McGowan, the former Atlanta BeltLine Inc. CEO who now leads the Centennial Yards mega-development in Downtown, is a well-known figure on the list. Another is Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, a former state rep. and Reed administration official who now heads her family’s company, the Stuckey’s convenience store chain.
More traditional contributors on the list include Alicia Ivey, president and CEO of airport contractor Goldbergs Concession Corporation, and Kevin Perry, head of the Georgia Beverage Association.