With Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed expected to coast into his second term, two citywide races involving his strongest allies have emerged as the contests to watch in this fall’s elections. In an Atlanta Journal-Constitution review of campaign finance reports released this week, the two at-large races each reveal credible challengers with real money to burn.
In one corner, former Reed mayoral opponent Mary Norwood and Councilman Aaron Watson are going head-to-head for the seat Norwood once held. The veteran politicians have each raised six figures to carry them to the polls in November. While Watson, a former Board of Education member, has more cash to spend, Norwood carries strong name recognition from her heated 2009 race.
In the other, Andre Dickens, a little-known candidate with the backing of former Mayor Shirley Franklin, has $61,000 in cash to take on embattled Councilman H. Lamar Willis.
It’s a race that intensified this week when Willis, a three-time councilman, was disbarred for ethical and financial misconduct in his private law practice after depositing in his bank account thousands of dollars intended for an injured child. Willis reported raising more than $71,000 this quarter and has $45,000 in campaign cash, but just how his disbarment affects his final month of fundraising is yet to be seen.
Longtime Atlanta politico Angelo Fuster said the money is intended for a single purpose: name power.
“That’s the most valuable thing donors’ money can do,” said Fuster, a former Maynard Jackson staffer.
Watson and Willis have the city’s top fundraiser — Reed — as their biggest promoter. The mayor reported $2 million in cash and is known for the impressive political network he’s already deploying to aid his allies. He’s hosted fundraisers for the men where he credits them for helping overhaul the city’s pension system and rebuilding the city’s reserves.