Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D), an early supporter of President Biden who was touted as a potential running mate, said Friday she would not seek reelection this year because she no longer has the fight in her heart to continue in the job for another four years.

During a sometimes emotional news conference at Atlanta City Hall, Bottoms told reporters she had been torn since her early months in office about whether she would seek reelection. Bottoms added that the past year has been an exceptionally difficult time to lead the city and that it was time to give voters the opportunity to select a new mayor.

“It is time to pass the baton on to someone else,” Bottoms said, noting that that is why there are elections every four years.

She acknowledged many of the challenges the city has been through over the past three years, including a crippling cyberattack and a federal investigation into alleged corruption in city government that she inherited from the previous administration.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) announced on May 6 that she will not seek another term as the city's mayor. (Keisha Lance Bottoms)

The last year has been especially difficult. “There was last summer. There was a pandemic. There was a social justice movement. There was a madman in the White House,” Bottoms said, referring to former president Donald Trump and the unrest that engulfed Atlanta and other cities following the killing of George Floyd. “And at every turn, and every opportunity, this city rose above, and I am so proud of that.”

Bottoms is one of several Black women who created buzz in political circles for their roles as chiefs of the some of the nation’s largest cities. They have largely been praised for their response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has had a disproportionate impact on Black communities. Bottoms in particular drew attention for clashing with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who sought to override her decision to keep Atlanta businesses closed after he lifted state coronavirus restrictions sooner than federal health officials recommended.

But Bottoms and other mayors, including Chicago’s Lori Lightfoot (D) and D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), also have been criticized by activists for their resistance to calls to defund their police departments and their responses to ongoing incidents of police using lethal force against Black and Latino residents. They also have faced pressure to address the rise in violent crime in their cities.

Bottoms said there was no single reason for why she decided not to seek a second term. She noted she had already raised more than a half-million dollars for her campaign, and had received private polling that showed her easily ahead in the mayor’s race.

“I can be mayor again,” Bottoms said, but added “just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do it.”

But Bottoms referred to “a divine voice inside all of us” that helped her reach her decision.

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

Bottoms already had at least one high-profile challenger for the Nov. 2 election — Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore — and the incumbent mayor’s decision not to seek reelection is likely to attract several more candidates.

Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.), chair of the Georgia Democratic Party, thanked Bottoms for her leadership and wished her well “as she finishes out her term.” Williams, in a statement, also said the party looks forward to “engaging with voters throughout Georgia’s capital and electing another strong Democratic mayor for the city of Atlanta come November.”

Bottoms, 51, who was elected mayor of Georgia’s capital in 2017, gained a national profile in the wake of last year’s unrest following Floyd’s murder in police custody in Minneapolis. She was praised for a forceful, personal appeal to protesters, including some who had begun vandalizing property in Atlanta’s downtown. “This is not a protest. . . . This is chaos. A protest has purpose.”

Just two weeks after Floyd was killed, Bottoms faced her own police crisis when a White Atlanta police officer fatally shot a
27-year-old Black man, Rayshard Brooks, in the parking lot of a Wendy’s restaurant. The shooting intensified the ongoing protests against racial injustice and sparked widespread community outrage.

Bottoms quickly moved to fire the officer, Garrett Rolfe and accepted the resignation of her police chief. But the decision outraged Atlanta police officers, who said they felt abandoned by city leaders.

On Wednesday, Atlanta’s Civil Service Board reversed the decision and reinstated Rolfe, concluding that city leaders had not afforded him due process. The board’s decision has become fodder for Bottoms’s critics, who said it represented her hasty and inconsistent leadership style.

Bottoms defended her actions on Friday, saying she had to act swiftly last summer to avoid further social unrest.

“I firmly believe it was the right decision,” Bottoms said. “If you go back to last summer and the challenges we were facing in this city . . . I firmly believe if I had not made this decision, that this city would have seen much worse.”

In her remarks Friday, Bottoms vowed to address the spike in crime, which has drawn criticism from her onetime ally, former mayor Kasim Reed. During a recent radio interview, Reed did not mention Bottoms by name but said the level of crime across the city was “unacceptable.”

Reed’s outspokenness stunned political observers, some of whom saw it as pointed criticism of Bottoms’s leadership. Reed and Bottom had been close politically, with Bottoms serving in Reed’s administration before becoming mayor.

“For Reed to come out as directly as he did about crime and link it to bad choices or inaction by the current mayor, it’s quite incredible,” Michael Leo Owens, an associate professor of political science at Emory University said this week before Bottoms announced her decision.

Reed was scheduled to speak with The Washington Post on Friday afternoon, but abruptly canceled after Bottoms’s decision became public. Some Georgia political observers believe Reed is now considering whether to enter the race.

According to Atlanta police crime statistics, the city has recorded 44 homicides this year, 16 more than at the same point last year. There were a total of 157 homicides in Atlanta last year, which was the city’s deadliest year in more than two decades.

Assaults, burglaries and auto thefts are also up by at least 30 percent compared with this point last year, crime statistics show.

In recent months, perceptions about crime in northern Atlanta neighborhoods have provided momentum for a campaign to allow Buckhead, a tony majority-White commercial corridor, to form its own municipality.

On Friday, Bottoms said fighting crime would remain a chief focus until she leaves office in January.

“We’ve had a very challenging year in this city and we are unfortunately not alone,” Bottoms said. “Across the country, we’ve seen a spike in crime, and it has so much to do with people emerging from this pandemic. I will continue to do everything I can do alongside [Police Chief Rodney Bryant] and the other men and women of this city to make sure that this city is safe. And I’m doing that not because I’m mayor, but because I’m a mother in this city. ”

But Moore, the city’s council president, had vowed that Bottoms’s record on public safety issues would be a key tenet of this year’s campaign.

In an interview with The Post earlier this week, Moore said Atlanta was facing a “crisis,” and she blamed Bottoms for not doing enough to boost morale among police officers. Moore also suggested that Bottoms had been too focused on presidential politics and Atlanta’s national image instead of working to develop a more effective crime-fighting strategy.

“I think she has done an excellent job of keeping the national profile up for the city of Atlanta,” said Moore, who announced Friday that she has raised $480,000 for her campaign. “I am going to be a mayor who is going to focus on Atlanta, and making sure we keep our city running and operating safe going forward.”

Bottoms, who first announced her decision in a letter late Thursday night, wrote that she is “not yet certain of what the future holds.”

“It is my sincere hope that over the next several months, a candidate for mayor will emerge whom the people of Atlanta may entrust to lead our beloved city to its next and best chapter,” she wrote in the letter.

Deborah Scott, chief executive of Georgia STAND-UP, said she supported “the hard decision” that Bottoms “had the courage to make.”

She also said it was “a tremendous opportunity” for voters to choose a mayor who will be more responsive to the needs of all city residents. “Atlanta is the most unequal city in the country. It’s not always black and white here. It’s about resources and who can afford to live in the city,” said Scott, whose nonprofit advocates for and organizes marginalized communities to push for social and economic justice.

Tanya Washington, a professor at Georgia State College of Law who has lived in Atlanta for 18 years, said she thought Bottoms’s speech Friday was honest and poignant. “It took a lot of courage and grace to step out of the race and to do so early enough in the election cycle to give other people who may not have wanted to run against her the opportunity to throw their hat into the ring,” she said.

Now that she doesn’t have to worry about running for reelection, Washington said, Bottoms can more aggressively tackle issues such as affordable housing, reducing homelessness, gentrification and income inequality.

“I look forward to her making good on a lot of promises she made when she came into office because now she’s liberated to do so,” Washington said.

John Wagner contributed to this report.