Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms believes “personal retaliation” is behind Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s lawsuit challenging her decision to require masks in her city in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I do believe it’s personal retaliation and he sued us personally,” Bottoms told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on “New Day” Friday morning. “He did not sue the city of Atlanta. He filed suit against myself and our city council personally.”
The ongoing feud between Bottoms, a Democrat, and Kemp, a Republican, reached new heights Thursday when Kemp challenged her mask requirement, saying it violates his emergency order prohibiting local action from being more prohibitive than the state’s requirements.
The controversy has attracted national attention not only due to the swirling debate about whether authorities should require masks but because Bottoms is viewed as a potential running mate for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
On Wednesday, Kemp issued a statewide executive order that voids mask mandates imposed by local governments, despite a rising number Covid-19 cases in the state. So far, more than 3,000 Georgians have died as a result of the virus, and under Bottoms’ order, not wearing a mask within Atlanta’s city limits was punishable by a fine and even up to six months in jail.
The governor defended his move at a Friday morning press conference, saying he’s “confident that Georgians don’t need a mandate to do the right thing.”
“Mayor Bottoms’ mask mandate cannot be enforced,” he added. “But her decision to shutter businesses and undermine economic growth is devastating. … I refuse to sit back and watch as disastrous policies threaten the lives and livelihoods of our citizens.”
In response, Bottoms — who, along with her husband and one of her children, has tested positive for Covid-19 — called his remarks “propaganda” and that her city was offering voluntary guidance for businesses as it relates to reopening.
“For him to say that we are closing businesses in the city of Atlanta and costing people money is a blatant lie,” she said.
She noted to Camerota that Kemp’s lawsuit was filed the day after President Donald Trump visited Atlanta. Upon his arrival, the President did not wear a mask.
“I don’t think it was happenstance that this lawsuit was filed the day after Donald Trump visited Atlanta,” Bottoms said, because Kemp “does the bidding of President Trump.”
She added that Kemp’s lawsuit is a “complete waste of time and money” at a time when the governor’s attention should be focused on addressing the pandemic, and noted that several other cities, including Savannah and Kemp’s hometown of Athens, have not been similarly sued for their mask mandates.
Asked for a response to Bottoms’ comments, Kemp’s office referred to his press conference, in which he said his actions were about safeguarding Georgians’ lives. When asked by a reporter at the event if he would sue other cities with mask requirements, Kemp said such mandates are “unenforceable” but did not say whether he would pursue legal action.
Despite his executive order and lawsuit against Bottoms, Kemp is urging Georgians to wear a mask when in public or when social distancing inside isn’t possible. As the state’s public health commissioner, Dr. Kathleen Toomey, put it at Friday’s press conference, “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of this virus. Wearing a mask prevents an infected person from spreading Covid-19 to others.”
Bottoms told CNN it’s “beyond my comprehension that we can’t follow the science on this.”
“This is about the lives of people,” she continued. “And the people in my city are dying. The people in our state are dying.”
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