Biden taps Keisha Lance Bottoms for White House job

Bottoms, the former mayor of Atlanta, will serve as the new director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

Keisha Lance Bottoms thegrio.com
(Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for ESSENCE)

Keisha Lance Bottoms has been hired by the Biden administration to serve as its next director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. The former mayor of Atlanta, Georgia–who was also in the running to be Biden’s vice president–will replace the senior-level role left vacant by former director, Cedric Richmond. 

President Joe Biden has wanted Bottoms in his administration since he was on the campaign trail, and now his wish has finally been granted. As the former mayor of one of the nation’s biggest economies, Bottoms brings experience in forward-facing politics.

Even after Biden chose Vice President Kamala Harris as his running mate over Bottoms, the ex-mayor remained on the Biden transition team’s shortlist for a role in the administration when it was laying the groundwork for its now historically-diverse White House. 

Bottoms was initially offered a position as administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA), but she ultimately turned down the role. A source told theGrio that the offer was seen as a slight to Bottoms, who was the leader of a city that is home to some of the largest Fortune 500 companies in the nation. While she was expected to seek a second term, Bottoms shocked many when she announced that she would not seek reelection.

Vice President Harris Visits Atlanta For Vaccine Mobilization Event
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks with community members and students at Clark Atlanta University during a vaccine event lead by Vice President Kamala Harris on June 18, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. Vice President Harris is visiting Atlanta as part of a nationwide tour to encourage Americans to get vaccinated. (Photo by Megan Varner/Getty Images)

During an interview with Axios, which broke the story on the appointment, Bottoms said that she plans to do “more listening than anything” in her new role as a spokesperson for the White House.

“It’s important that people feel their voices are reflected and their voices are heard,” she said.

As mayor, Bottoms managed a city that faced various issues, including rising crime stemming from mass protests over the murder of George Floyd, as well as the deadly Asian hate crime shooting that caused national outrage. Bottoms was challenged on the handling of policing in the city, though she was largely praised for her leadership during that time.  

“I know what it’s like to lead through difficult times and how important it is to have strong leaders around you to navigate,” she told Axios. “We’ve been through some very challenging times, especially for African Americans in this country.”

The Florida A&M University graduate and former prosecutor added, “Those challenges are still very fresh and real to me. And I live it every day: I live it as a Black woman, I live it as a mother of four children, and I know where those challenges are, but I also know where the opportunities are.”

However, Bottoms doesn’t just bring political prowess. She also brings with her a large base of community support as a member of The Links, Inc. and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.–both respected, historically Black organizations for women. 

It should come as no surprise that Biden tapped Bottoms to finally join his administration, as she was fiercely loyal to Biden during the most challenging point of his presidential campaign. During a debate in 2019, Kamala Harris–then a Democratic presidential candidate running against Biden–had jabbed the former U.S. senator on his record opposing busing as a tool to desegregate schools. It was seen as a politically fraught moment for candidate Biden’s standing with Black voters. 

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden talks with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms after a drive-in rally for U.S. Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock at Pullman Yard on December 15, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Bottoms, a rising political star in the Democratic Party, was the first Black politician to stand with Biden publicly after the tense moment with Harris. Hours after the debate, Bottoms announced her endorsement of Biden, though Harris had earlier courted her support. 

President Biden is expected to officially announce Bottoms’ appointment Wednesday, as well as the nomination of Jerry Blackwell as a district court judge. Blackwell served as part of the prosecution team that convicted former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of Floyd.

Civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton told theGrio that he believes Biden’s decision to appoint Blackwell is a “good choice.” He acknowledged that he and his organization, National Action Network, worked with him during the Chauvin trial. 

Blackwell is not a well-known name but diversity and inclusion advocate and pop culture guru, April Reign, told the theGrio that Blackwell has worked on “both sides” of the law, including defending large corporations and securing Minnesota’s first posthumous pardon in the state’s history for a Black circus worker who was accused of raping a white woman in 1920. 

In this image from video, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell questions Dr. Lindsey Thomas, a forensic pathologist, now retired, as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides Friday, April 9, 2021, in the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd. (Court TV via AP, Pool)

“It is significant that Blackwell was appointed a special assistant attorney general in the Derek Chauvin case,” said Reign, who noted that he took the case pro bono. 

“His skill in communicating difficult concepts in ways that a layperson could understand meant that he was the right person to both give the opening statement and the closing rebuttal argument,” Reign recalled. “This breadth of experience should serve him well as a jurist.”

As for Bottoms, while it will be her first time working for a presidential administration, it will not be her first time inside the Biden White House. Just weeks into the Biden-Harris administration, Bottoms paid a visit to Washington for a White House meeting with city mayors to discuss federal needs in response to crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

After deciding not to run again for mayor, Bottoms took a gig at CNN as a political commentator. At the time, she described it as her “dream” job.

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