By Maggie Lee
Under a sunny sky on a freezing day, with a half-hour wait ahead of them, a few folks were looking in the glass front doors of Morehouse’s Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel, waiting to head into the swearing-in of new Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, of Atlanta City Council members and municipal judges.
Over the next four years, Bottoms and Council will hear demands for affordable housing, for a plan to retain police officers, and to generally ensure opportunities for success for people who live in a city with one of the nation’s highest wealth gaps.
There are also decisions coming on where and how to spend hundreds of millions of dollars of transit revenue coming in from a new sales tax. And the matter of seeing if anything else comes of a federal investigation into corruption in the procurement department, which netted four guilty pleas last year.
But the city is in better financial shape than when Mayor Kasim Reed took office eight years ago. Since then, both the rainy day fund and the city’s bond rating have risen.
Bottoms, in front of a crowd of about 2,500 people, returned to several promises from the campaign trail in her inaugural speech. Toward the beginning, she made an appeal for unity.
“It is imperative that we be united, so we can move forward and take the next great step in our collective future,” she said. “Now is the time to put aside race and division and geography and politics and invest in becoming One Atlanta.”
In a very close race, she bested fellow candidate Mary Norwood by about 800 votes, less than one percent of the total.
Bottoms reiterated plans for an ethics overhaul, a cleanup of procurement and contracting, and a $1 billion half-public, half-private spend on affordable housing.
“We cannot stand by and watch prosperity for some push others out of the city and strand them on the margins of society, she said.
She also plans to name a person to her cabinet to oversee education initiatives and cooperation with city schools.
Bottoms, a former state court judge has long said many of men who appeared in her courtroom on charges hadn’t finished ninth grade. “It is essential that we improve our schools,” she said. Bottoms also said the city has an opportunity to set a new course by building on pre-arrest diversion programs that point certain offenders to services and support rather than jail.
After the public ceremony, Bottoms said legislation is being filed today to create commissions in the areas of criminal justice reform, affordable housing, homelessness, economic development and workforce training.
It’ll also be a high priority this week, she said, to work on some real estate transfers: giving deeds for Atlanta Public Schools properties to the schools, and giving deeds for property formerly used by Morris Brown — like Gaines Hall— to Clark Atlanta University. Both of those cases have been in court
As for her cabinet picks, she said some department heads have said they’ll be leaving in the coming months, and she said she’ll be taking a fresh look at working relationships with the current department heads. “We’ll get to know one other better and we’ll make adjustments accordingly,” she said.
After eight years on Council she takes office with a bumper crop of Council freshmen: seven of 14 members are new, in part because of incumbents trying for higher office last year.
Council veteran Felicia Moore was one of those departing Council members and was sworn in as Council president. She too called for strategies to break the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.
Moore also some dozen issues she said she wants to work on with the public and with fellow elected leaders, from homelessness to potholes to stepping up code enforcement.
“You only get the city demand,” said Moore, ”So I ask you to add to your 2018 resolutions: get involved: let us hear your voice, let us hear your concerns, let us work together.”
Ambassador and former Mayor Andrew Young introduced Bottoms, who he’s long known. He’s also long known the Bottoms family, including her husband Derek, who is a Home Depot vice president.
“Atlanta understands business, we have been a part of the global economy forever, we probably created it with Coca-Cola” said Young. “You’re really bringing a team that knows politics, Atlanta, family but also the economics, the global economy and how to pull people together who differ, and develop consensus that makes this the ‘brave and beautiful city’ … we’re putting the city in great hands,” he said.