Former city official Michael Sterling Tuesday morning announced his departure and simultaneously endorsed City Council President Ceasar Mitchell less than two weeks before the November general elections. Sterling gave an exclusive interview to The Atlanta Voice, where he explained why he dropped out of the race and why he’s now supporting his former competitor City Council President Ceasar Mitchell.
Tell us a little about yourself and why you were running for mayor of Atlanta.
I’m a 2004 graduate of Morehouse College. I served as an assistant United State attorney under the Barack Obama administration.I was appointed by Attorney General Eric Holder. I served as the senior adviser to the current mayor of Atlanta (Kasim Reed) for roughly three years. Then I took over the city’s workforce development agency when it was facing some really difficult days and was charged with turning it around so that it could become an asset to the people in our city who were looking for jobs and opportunities; helping kids in our community find summer employment. We really turned that agency around.
I decided in 2016 last year that I was going to run for mayor of Atlanta because I thought the city had some serious challenges that I thought needed to be confronted and I thought I could bring a very fresh voice and perspective to some issues and challenges that our city has been facing for many years.
What are some of those challenges that you felt like the city of Atlanta was facing?
The issues that I have been most passionate about have been the income inequality —we’re number one in the country for income inequality; about 20 percent of people in our city make less than $16,000 per year while the top earners in our city make well over $200,000 a year; 80 percent of African American children who live in the city of Atlanta live in neighborhoods that are concentrated in poverty which leads to unequal educational access and opportunities for those children. We’ve got issues related to traffic and infrastructure. We have a serious HIV and AIDS epidemic in our city. We’ve got corruption in City Hall.
Just looking at some of these issues and challenges, I thought I could be a really refreshing voice and bring a fresh perspective to some of these issues and that I could be a voice for people who felt left behind and forgotten about in our city.
Why did you feel it necessary to drop out of the race at this time?
I think my decision to suspend my campaign was consistent with what I have been saying throughout the campaign. One of the concerns for so many people was that there were so many candidates in the race that could lead to a splintering of votes. People were fearful that this may have led to two people in a runoff that people in Atlanta wouldn’t be happy with.
I have been consistent in saying throughout my campaign, to my supporters and anytime that I was asked about it publicly, that if I got to a point where I no longer believed there was a realistic path to victory, that I would withdraw and that I would support a candidate, who I believed that could deliver on many of the issues that I had raised throughout the campaign. At the One Music Fest candidates forum, it was one of the first questions I received.
For me, even a week and a half ago, we still saw a path to victory if we’d done some things correctly and if we’d hit some of the fundraising marks we needed to hit.
I’d spent a lot of time at the Atlanta University Center, I was trying to drum up the voter turnout. There is usually around 20 to 30 percent of people who vote in the mayoral elections, which is deplorable for our city.
So, I’d been working really hard to get young people out to the polls and getting young people to start to vote. That door started closing on us when we realized that we weren’t going to have the money we needed to execute our strategy of getting young people out.
As hard as we pushed, when that path to victory closed, we knew we were going to have to suspend our race if we were going, to be honest about what we’d been saying all along. I had to make the tough decision to suspend my campaign.
Now that you’ve dropped out of the race, you announced that you decided to endorse Ceasar Mitchell. What made you come forward with that decision, despite the fact that Mary Norwood has been announced as the frontrunner in various polls?
I think Ceasar Mitchell is our best hope. Just candidly, Ceasar is our best hope to do two things: (1) win the race for mayor to become the 60th mayor of Atlanta — he’s got the resources, he’s got the support to win the race, and I think he will address the challenges that I have fought so hard for in the campaign.
We sat down and had a conversation. There are other good candidates in the race. I wouldn’t discount anybody, but when I evaluated the candidates, for me, in looking at the issues and challenges — hearing them over and over in forum and after forum, and deciding whose message resonated with me, who I thought would stand up to the issues that my supporters were concerned about, it was Council President Mitchell who earned my support.
And then, (2) you have to make a realistic calculation, as I’ve done in terms of withdrawing from the campaign, about who can win. If you have a run-off today and let’s say Mary Norwood is going to make the run-off, and you take each of the candidates and put them in a one-on-one with her, Ceasar Mitchell is our best hope for winning the election.
So, no Keshia Lance Bottoms?
Ceasar Mitchell is our best hope of winning the election. I wouldn’t have come out and supported Mitchell if I didn’t believe that. When I was in the campaign, I’d always say, “My opponent isn’t the people who I am running against, my opponent was the status quo that let so many people down and left so many people behind. And that was what I was concerned about. So, I feel very strongly that Ceasar can win and that he can address those issues for people who feel left behind. I truly believe he is our best hope to win this race.
I didn’t want to look back and see Council President Mitchell come up short 800 or so votes, while I got 2,000 votes and then we look back and I go, “Man, I could have helped someone win who would have been serious about the problems.
I can’t be about you. If you’re in this business of running for office, it’s not supposed to be about you. I thought it was important to put my support behind someone who was going to be serious about addressing those challenges, and who could win — because, if you don’t have someone who can win, it won’t matter.
I thought about Keisha Lance Bottoms. And this is not an attack on her, I think she’s served ably. But there was one thing that Keshia said that in particular, that stuck with me early on in the campaign.
Councilwoman Bottoms said in response to question about what she deemed different from her competitors, she said, “Well, I’m the type of person who smiles when I cut you.” And that stuck with me. Every now again in the campaign, you get a candid moment, it is was one of those candid moments that just concerned me.
It concerns me because once you tell me who you are, every time I see you smiling, I’m going to wonder when’s the cut coming? I think you can be really tough without losing your authenticity. That was one of the things that concerned me. I think you should be held to what you say.