'Time to pass the baton on': Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms explains decision not to seek reelection

With tears in her eyes, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said her decision to not run for reelection was something she had been thinking about for a long time.

Speaking to reporters the day after her announcement in an open letter, Bottoms said that she wrote two letters weeks ago - one that had her staying in the mayor's race and the other with her deciding to not run again.

"I make this decision from a position of strength, not weakness," Bottoms said.

In the end, Bottoms said she chose the second after praying.

 "This is not something I woke up and decided yesterday. This is something I have been thinking about for a very long time," Bottoms said.

Bottoms said despite doubts about running again that started as early as her first year in office, she was determined to remain for all four years of her term - pointing to that as the reason why she did not join the cabinet of President Joe Biden.

"Part of the delay in my decision was the guilt," she said. "Am I doing harm to my city by not running again?"

MORE: Mayor Bottoms will not seek re-election, releases letter

However, the recent tornado that hit the metro Atlanta area was a reminder to the mayor "that moments and things are bigger than just one person." 

In the end, Bottoms said it became "abundantly clear to me … that it is time to pass the baton on to someone else," though she decided to not offer an endorsement of any specific candidate.

The 51-year-old mayor, who narrowly won a runoff election four years ago, pushed back against any questions about whether she could have secured a second victory later this year. She noted a reelection fundraiser she held with Biden’s support.

Pointing to internal polls, Bottoms said the numbers predicted she would win the election handily without the need for a runoff and that 70% of Atlantans "still liked me."

The mayor did not say what her plans were in the future and did not rule out getting back into politics eventually. She did, however, say rumors that she or her husband were going to go work for the pharmacy store chain Walgreens were not true.

Responding to a question by FOX 5 reporter Morse Diggs, Bottoms said that the donors to her re-election campaign have either already received or will receive letters offering to refund the money they had donated to her.

Bottoms’ tenure has been a mix of rough-and-tumble City Hall politics and an ever-brightening national spotlight for her beyond the city.

She was among Biden’s earliest endorsers, taking a risk early in a crowded Democratic primary campaign. She was later rewarded as one of the women Biden considered to be his running mate, though he eventually chose Kamala Harris, the former California senator who is now the first woman to hold the national office.

Bottoms nonetheless watched her profile rise during the coronavirus pandemic and with the renewed attention on policing in the United States after George Floyd’s killing by a white Minneapolis officer last spring.

She drew praise for a nationally televised news conference in which she chided protesters to "go home" while noting her own experiences as a mother of Black sons to empathize with citizens distraught over police violence. She pledged to review Atlanta’s police procedures in the wake of Floyd’s killing.

Yet Bottoms met criticism herself just weeks later when an Atlanta police officer shot and killed Rayshard Brooks. The officer, Garrett Rolfe, was fired last June, a day after he shot the Black man in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant. Rolfe was later charged with murder.

The Atlanta Civil Service Board on Wednesday reversed the firing, finding that the city did not follow its own procedures and failed to grant Rolfe due process. Bottoms said then that Rolfe would remain on administrative leave while criminal charges against him are resolved.

Speaking Friday, Bottoms said she firmly believed in her decision to fire Rolfe and disagreed with the ruling, but said that it had no part to play in her choice to not run.

For the remainder of her term, the mayor emphasized her focus on affordable housing, services for the homeless, and continuing plan to increase safety in the city.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.