I very much doubt that Joe Biden’s selection of a running mate will affect the outcome of this year’s election. However, the selection is important because (1) Biden has a pretty good chance of winning the election, in my opinion and (2) considering his age and diminished capacity, there’s a fair chance that, if elected, Biden won’t serve four years.
By deciding to select a woman, Biden has already restricted the field. If he also decides to select an African-American, which some say is his strong inclination, he will restrict it further.
Normally, a vice presidential candidate is, or has been, a U.S. Senator, a governor, or a House member of considerable prominence. But of the reported leading African-American candidates for Biden’s running mate, only Kamala Harris fits this description. The other leading candidates seem to be a former National Security Adviser who has never run for office, an obscure congresswomen, and a mayor.
The mayor is Atlanta’s Keisha Lance Bottoms. She appears to have replaced Stacey Abrams as the leading contender from Georgia.
This Washington Post piece profiles Mayor Bottoms. I should preface my discussion of her by disclosing that, as an attorney, I worked closely with Bottoms’ husband (also an attorney) on half a dozen or so litigation matters. I liked him a lot. I never had the pleasure of meeting his wife, the future mayor.
Mayor Bottoms seems considerably more qualified for the VP job than Stacey Abrams does. Unlike Abrams, she has governed something — one of America’s major cities. However, Bottoms has only governed Atlanta for two and a half years (although given events — the pandemic, the mass protests, and the killing of Rayshard Brooks — it might seem like longer). Moreover, mayors do not deal with foreign policy.
Bottoms also seems more sensible than Abrams, and indeed most big city Democratic mayors of whatever race. When protests in Atlanta got out of hand, she admonished:
I am a mother to four black children in America. . . so you’re not going to out-concern me or out-care about where we are in America. This is not a protest. . . this is chaos. A protest has purpose.
However, Bottoms’ response to the killing of Brooks was problematic, in my opinion. She fired Garrett Rolfe, the officer who killed Brooks, almost immediately after the incident in what I consider a rush to judgment. The firing might have staved off violent protests, but it struck me as grossly unfair. (Presumably, Rolfe’s union will fight the discharge and, perhaps, he will get a fair hearing.)
Rolfe was than charged with murder — an egregious case of overcharging. However, I understand this to be the decision of an opportunistic and possibly corrupt district attorney, not Mayor Bottoms.
Bottoms struck the right note after a number of police officers, in a show of solidarity with Rolfe, did not report for work. She told CNN:
We value our officers in Atlanta. I also recognize that our communities are hurting and our officers are hurting. And so, in the same way our demonstrators need an opportunity to vent and to express their frustration and their concern, understand that our officers need the opportunity to do that as well.
Bottoms recognizes the consequences to a city when its police force becomes badly demoralized due to lack of support from its politicians. Baltimore provides an unmistakable lesson. Whether Mayor Bottoms can prevent crippling demoralization in view of the treatment of Rolfe remains to be seen.
What, then, is the likelihood that Bottoms will be the vice presidential nominee? If Biden decides he wants an African-American running mate, I think he will give Bottoms strong consideration.
Kamala Harris seems to be the frontrunner among blacks on the shortlist. But she has lots of enemies on the left because of her record as a prosecutor. The Post’s article shows that Bottoms has enemies on the left, too. However, they are neither as numerous nor as vociferous as Harris’.
Susan Rice is also said to be a leading candidate. But she has never run for office and, as an establishment personage, hasn’t established her bona fides as a left-liberal or as a defender of African-American interests.
Furthermore, Bottoms is younger than Harris and Rice and presents a fresher face. In addition, unlike these two, she might well help Biden in a swing state.
The other African-Americans frequently mentioned as VP possibilities are obscure figures who haven’t been in the spotlight the way Bottoms has been recently.
The risk of selecting Bottoms lies mainly in her inexperience and, indeed, lack of any real experience in foreign policy and national security matters. Biden isn’t a risk taker, so I doubt that he will pick a less than one-term mayor as his running mate. However, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that he will do so in these exceptional times.