ATLANTA — Andre Dickens, a veteran City Council member, was elected mayor of Atlanta in an upset on Tuesday night after promising voters that he would help guide the city in a more equitable direction.
Mr. Dickens, 47, will step into one of the most high-profile political positions in the South after defeating Felicia Moore, 60, the City Council president, in Tuesday’s runoff election.
In a first round of voting, Ms. Moore had bested Mr. Dickens by more than 17 percentage points. But on Tuesday, Mr. Dickens had about 62 percent of the vote when The Associated Press declared him the winner at about 10:30 p.m.
Mr. Dickens, a church deacon, delivered an upbeat, roof-raising victory speech to supporters, noting his humble upbringing in the working-class neighborhood of Adamsville, his engineering degree from Georgia Tech and the daunting problems he has promised to tackle.
“We are facing some generational problems in our city,” he said. “Atlanta is growing in population and in wealth. Businesses are flocking to the city, yet we still have people living on our streets. We have people working at our airport just to meet last month’s rent. People are still fighting to stay in their homes in the city that they love.”
But if there was “any city in the world” that could face these issues, he added, “it’s Atlanta.”
The mayor’s race unfolded at a time of promise and peril for Atlanta. The city’s population grew 17 percent in the past decade, to about 499,000 people, and a number of major technology companies are expanding their footprint in the city in hopes of increasing diversity, given that nearly half of city residents are Black.
But like many U.S. cities, Atlanta has been struggling with spikes in a number of violent crime categories, including murder. In May, the city’s political future was thrown into doubt when Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced she would not run for re-election after a first term in which she was forced to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, a high-profile police shooting of a Black man, Rayshard Brooks, and racial justice protests that occasionally became violent.
As other killings rocked the city, public safety emerged as the key issue in the mayor’s race, giving an early boost to former Mayor Kasim Reed, who argued that his experience made him uniquely qualified to solve the crime problem. But Mr. Reed, who left office in 2018, also brought significant political baggage, with numerous members of his administration convicted or indicted on federal corruption-related charges.
Mr. Reed’s complicated past was a likely factor in the surprise outcome in the initial balloting, when Mr. Dickens nudged out the better-known Mr. Reed to secure a spot in the runoff against the first-place finisher, Ms. Moore.
Since then, Mr. Dickens and Ms. Moore endeavored to distinguish themselves in the nonpartisan race, despite the fact they are both liberal Democrats who share many of the same policy goals.
Both supported hiring more police officers, encouraging the reform of police culture and increasing Atlanta’s stock of affordable housing.
Both candidates also opposed a controversial effort to allow Buckhead, an upscale, majority-white neighborhood, to secede from Atlanta, taking with it a substantial chunk of the city’s tax base. This potential divorce, which has been fueled by crime concerns, would require approval by the Republican-dominated State Legislature and a subsequent vote by the neighborhood’s residents. To derail the plan, the next mayor will need to deploy the bully pulpit and engage in nimble and strategic lobbying of Republicans who control the Statehouse.
During the campaign, Ms. Moore, a real estate agent, leaned into her reputation as a thorn in the side of previous mayors, including Mr. Reed. Before he left office, she argued that he should be held accountable for the corruption on his watch. She reminded voters that she backed legislation creating a new inspector general for City Hall as well as an independent compliance office, both in reaction to the scandals that dogged the Reed administration.
“I am actually like the outsider that’s on the inside, fighting against corruption, fighting against the status quo, sometimes fighting the established order of things,” Ms. Moore told a recent audience at a mayoral forum.
Mr. Dickens is the chief development officer at TechBridge, a nonprofit organization that uses technology to help amplify the work of other nonprofits. During the campaign he emphasized his role in increasing the minimum wage for city employees, as well as spearheading the creation of a city transportation department. Mr. Dickens, who was endorsed by Mayor Bottoms and former Mayor Shirley Franklin, argued in recent weeks that Ms. Moore had spent more time criticizing others than racking up her own achievements over the course of her long career.
“She does nothing and I do a lot,” Mr. Dickens said in a recent interview.
Both Ms. Moore and Mr. Dickens are Black. Tuesday’s election extends a streak of Black mayors in Atlanta since the election of Maynard Jackson in 1973 despite a recent influx of white residents that caused the share of Black residents to decline from a slight majority to 47 percent of the population, according to an analysis of 2020 Census figures.