The Joe Biden campaign for president has been a spectacle to behold this year. On the one hand, if you wrote out Biden on paper, it would look something like this: seasoned older white man, executive experience, wingman for the first black president. You’d think he’s a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination in 2020. Yet, life—and in some cases, California Sen. Kamala Harris—comes at you fast.
Biden has remained the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in polling and fundraising, but his lead, even with black voters, is often described as “soft” and many of his supporters are still secretly swiping left on their accounts. One group that has remained steadfast in their support for Biden (in addition to older black voters) are long-standing black politicians. In the face of a vile, xenophobic and racist Donald Trump, what makes a black political leader, especially one running the black mecca of the United States, (no shade to D.C., but really) throw in with Joe Biden in a field of hundreds?
The Root spoke to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms about Biden, winning and what mayors do that others can’t in the wake of Trump.
Mayor Bottoms endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden soon after his no good, very bad day at the hands of Kamala Harris during the second debate.
The Root: Why Joe Biden and why now?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: I know Joe, and by that I mean, we all know who he is. We know his longstanding history and his leadership. I’m looking at who I thought had the best chance to beat Donald Trump in 2020. I think he has the absolute strongest chance; his strength in the Rust Belt states—Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania—we need someone who has international standing and respect, too. Someone who has a long and solid history of progressive domestic policies in this country.
Your second question: Why now? One of the biggest concerns is that our nominee will go limping into the general. It’s good to consolidate early; I know my endorsement bucks conventional wisdom, but this is not a conventional year. We have a president like this country has never seen, and I think it’s going to be extremely important to consolidate around a candidate going into this general election.
TR: I’m going to push back on this a bit. Doesn’t your own candidacy provide a counterexample to this? You had a brutal primary in the Atlanta mayoral election. After you were past the first round, essentially the entire slate, including some Democrats and members of city council you served with, endorsed your opponent and you still won. The idea that a rough primary leads to a weakened general election candidate didn’t apply to you, why would it apply to Biden?
KLB: Well, part of what you’re asking about is being the strongest candidate. And I was that candidate. We have multiple candidates that are better qualified than Donald Trump. This is about who I think is the strongest candidate to beat Trump in 2020. We can pick apart everyone’s record. In the end, who is the strongest one? I believe that it will be Joe Biden.
If you look at where we fell short in 2016, he’s strong in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania. He might be able to take southern states like Georgia and North Carolina. I’m hard-pressed to see any other candidate do that.
Locally, Mayor Bottoms continues her aggressive policy pushes to maintain Atlanta as not only a cultural hub, but a commercial and policy model as well. However, you cannot separate running a major city in America from Trump’s policies. Even a local issue, like what to do about the Atlanta City jail closing in Fulton County has national immigration implications. Mayor Bottoms has proposed turning the jail into a community resource center, but why that is happening has a lot to do with the 2020 election and the current resident of the White House’s policies.
KLB: When we eliminated cash bail bonds in Atlanta, which President Joe Biden will support, and closed our doors to ICE detainees we dropped to about 70 people per night [in the jail]. There was just no reason to keep it open in its current form. I thought, how do we provide services on the front end that will allow people to not make the same mistakes if we give people the skillsets and a physical space to improve their lives? We’re working with partners from across the city; we’ve created a task force [which met for the first time on July 16] including some formerly incarcerated individuals and is led primarily by women. Women on the Rise. We’re all re-imagining how this physical detention space can now become an equity space in the city. It will be a model that is replicated across the country.
TR: There are several mayors or former mayors running for president in 2020, most, outside of Bill de Blasio, are from cities smaller than Atlanta (Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Cory Booker, Secretary Julian Castro, Mayor Wayne Messam). What do you think it is about being a mayor, what skills go into running a city, that would translate into being president?
KLB: Mayors get things done, and we get things done with limited resources. You don’t know what the next day will hold and you don’t have an opportunity to take into account every position, you just have to make it happen. You have to lead diverse people sometimes who don’t agree with you—nearly 50 percent of the people in the city didn’t want me to be mayor —and mayors still have to lead against what appear to be insurmountable odds. I think that’s why you see some people drawn to Mayor Pete Buttigieg, I can’t speak to why those people aren’t having the same affinity for Sen. Booker, maybe they don’t see him as a mayor, they see him more in the senatorial light.
TR: Is there anything you think the entire country should know that we should all be taking into consideration when it comes to the 2020 election, or your endorsement of Joe Biden in particular?
KLB: We just have to be very careful going into this election cycle that we don’t get caught up in this absolute idea that we think we have to absolutely agree on every single issue for us to support a candidate. If we stay home—if African Americans, if Democrats stay home—this country will have four more years of this president. It makes me cringe, it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up thinking of what this president will do to the world. I don’t want a candidate going into 2020 limping because we can’t agree 100 percent of the time. This election is too important for us to get stuck on this stand-alone issue or that. In the grand scheme of things, where we are with our domestic policies and our international standing, we don’t need to fight Trump’s racism only, we need to fight his policies and work with our allies as well.