ATLANTA — Keisha Lance Bottoms, the first-term Atlanta mayor who rose to national prominence this past year with her stern yet empathetic televised message to protesters but has struggled to rein in her city’s spike in violent crime, will not seek a second term in office, according to two people who were on a Zoom call with the mayor on Thursday night.
The news shocked the political world in Atlanta, the most important city in the Southeast and one where the mayoral seat has been filled by African-American leaders since 1974, burnishing its reputation as a mecca for Black culture and political power.
It is unclear why Ms. Bottoms, a Democrat, is not seeking another term, but 2020 took a toll on mayors nationwide. It was one of the most tumultuous years for American cities since the 1960s, with the social and economic disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic as well as racial justice protests that sometimes turned destructive.
In November, St. Louis’s mayor at the time, Lyda Krewson, announced she would not pursue a second term. A month later, Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle announced she would not run for re-election. Several mayors in smaller cities have also declined to run again, exhausted or demoralized by the ravages of 2020.
Two contenders who have been seeking to unseat Ms. Bottoms in the November election have promised to do a better job fighting what Ms. Bottoms has called a “Covid crime wave,” which includes a 58 percent spike in homicides in 2020.
But Ms. Bottoms, 51, was expected to mount a formidable defense. She has a loyal ally in President Biden, whom she was early to endorse, and who repaid her loyalty with an appearance at a virtual fund-raiser in March. Ms. Bottoms was mentioned briefly as a potential vice-presidential running mate and said that she later turned down a cabinet-level position in the Biden administration.
Ms. Bottoms, who served as a judge and a city councilwoman before being sworn in as mayor in 2018, is also blessed with a voice — measured, compassionate, slightly bruised and steeped in her experience as a Black daughter and Black mother — that seemed uniquely calibrated to address the challenges of the past year.
It was in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis that Ms. Bottoms went on live television and became a national star as she spoke directly to protesters. Some of their demonstrations had descended into lawlessness, with people smashing windows, spray-painting property and jumping on police cars.
“When I saw the murder of George Floyd, I hurt like a mother would hurt,” she said. Then she scolded the protesters, insisting that they “go home” and study the precepts of nonviolence as practiced by the leaders of the civil rights movement.