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Who Is Keisha Lance Bottoms, One Of Biden's Potential Running Mates?

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is one of several candidates reported to be under consideration for Joe Biden's running mate. From member station WABE in Atlanta, Emma Hurt reports that Bottoms was an early Biden supporter, and during the pandemic and protests, she caught the eye of many across the country.

EMMA HURT, BYLINE: Remember November, pre-COVID, when hundreds of people and 10 Democratic candidates could gather for a presidential debate?

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UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: Live from Atlanta, Ga., and the Tyler Perry Studios...

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HURT: November was also back before many in Georgia had picked a Democratic candidate, except Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. She endorsed Joe Biden more than a year ago and milled around after the debate talking to reporters.

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KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS: In a conventional year, you wait, and you lick your finger, and you stick it up, and you see which way the wind is blowing. We don't have time for that this year.

HURT: Bottoms traveled the country arguing Biden was a statesman and the one to beat President Trump. Tharon Johnson advised her on her mayoral campaign and managed Barack Obama's 2012 race in the South. He says he tried to get her to wait a bit on the endorsement.

THARON JOHNSON: And she said no.

HURT: She was with Biden before it was cool to be, Johnson says.

JOHNSON: And she stayed committed to his campaign even when it looked like his chances of being the nominee was bleak.

HURT: And since, her profile has risen fast due to her response to the pandemic. She's spoken out often against the policies of Georgia's Republican-led state government. And then a late night May press conference reverberated nationally. Previously peaceful Atlanta protesters had begun destroying buildings. She told them to go home.

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BOTTOMS: If you want change in America, go and register to vote. You are disgracing our city. You are disgracing the life of George Floyd and every other person who has been killed in this country.

HURT: Bottoms, a mother of four children, says she thinks the message resonated because she speaks from personal experience.

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BOTTOMS: I have a nephew who was murdered. I know what it feels like to lose someone suddenly to senseless violence. I know what it feels like to experience racism.

HURT: Bottoms grew up as the daughter of a famous singer, but because of a drug addiction, he ended up in prison. And her mother struggled to keep a small business afloat in Atlanta. Johnson says Bottoms's relatability, drawn from her range of life experience, is the key to her success. He points to how she announced her positive coronavirus test this week.

JOHNSON: She could have easily been selfish and not told anyone and tried to cover it up. But what did she do? She came out and said, look. You stay at home. And I want people to know that this pandemic is real.

HURT: Tammy Greer teaches political science at Clark Atlanta University. She says the mayor has had a clear message for protesters, particularly as the state and federal governments have sent mixed signals.

TAMMY GREER: That forward-facing side has been one of strength. That forward-facing side has been one of decisiveness. And I say forward-facing because the policies do not align with the forward-facing side.

HURT: Greer argues Bottoms's administration has not been able to change the status quo in a city plagued by what one estimate is the greatest income inequality in the country. Bottoms says there has been progress.

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BOTTOMS: But when people don't feel as if we are moving the needle, then obviously perception is everything. But it's happening, and it's getting better. But with so many systemic issues and challenges that we have, it just can't happen soon enough.

HURT: So does Bottoms think she's qualified to be a vice presidential candidate? In a word, yes.

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BOTTOMS: When you are leading a major city, you are dealing with a number of issues all at once. You're dealing with the same issues that we're seeing across this country.

HURT: And while she knows people will keep talking about it, her focus now, she says, remains on Atlanta and the job she has. For NPR News, I'm Emma Hurt in Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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