Peter Aman opened an aggressive new phase of his bid for Atlanta mayor with the hiring of a new campaign manager, the debut of a radio ad blitz and a retooled message.
Trailing in the polls after 10 months in the race, Aman has embraced a new slogan – #BelieveInTheA – while honing his campaign pitch around the $14 billion in infrastructure funding that he said could be available to the next mayor.
He’s hired Fred Hicks, a veteran political strategist with clients on both sides of the aisle, to lead his campaign to succeed a term-limited Kasim Reed. He said he will help Aman, who is vying to be the city’s first white mayor in more than four decades, step up his appeal to minority voters.
Aman said the changes are not a sign of a campaign reboot but instead part of a long-planned upping of the ante. Still, he’s faced increased questions about his campaign after a WSB-TV poll released earlier this month showed him with about 2 percent – within the poll’s margin of error. That was far behind Councilwoman Mary Norwood, state Sen. Vincent Fort and others in the crowded field.
“I’ve had my plans since I got in the race,” said Aman, a former Bain and Co. partner who was Reed’s first chief operating officer. “We’re right where we thought we were going to be. Second in fundraising, first in cash on hand. But with name recognition we need to build.”
Aman and several other candidates have struggled to gain traction ahead of the November vote and a likely runoff between the top two vote-getters.
Norwood, the runner-up in the 2009 mayor’s race, is the early favorite to land one of those spots. But there’s no telling who will land a second one, and new entrants to the contest – Fulton County Commission chair John Eaves became the latest big name to join in February – shake up the vote.
Hicks said that jumble leaves an opening for Aman, in part because there’s no clear candidate in second-place. He said Aman will start throwing sharper jabs at both Norwood and City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, another formidable candidate who has struggled in the polls.
“This campaign is like an iceberg, and 80 percent of it has been under the surface,” Hicks said. “Now we’re about to surface.”
It will start with a launch of radio ads on Thursday that will be followed by TV ads. Aman said the campaign plans to stay on air through the November vote.
“We’re going to define me as a candidate to those that haven’t had the pleasure of meeting me,” he said. “We’re going to lead with the importance of integrity – having a city that has the integrity to work with everyone.”
At campaign stops and candidate forums, he plans to highlight what he calls the “once-in-a-generation” amount of money available to the city through MARTA sales tax revenue, federal matching grants and airport expansion funds.
“The city is already an incredibly complex place to run. This will make it even more difficult to run,” said Aman. “Who do you trust to spend that money?”
Hicks said he’ll guide the campaign to talk “deliberately and up-front about issues of race” in a contest that could theoretically pit two white candidates against each other in a runoff.
“Is Atlanta ready to elect a white mayor?” Hicks asked. “Our answer is Atlanta is ready for a mayor who will make the city work well for them.”
That means more discussion on the campaign trail about equity in funding, affordable housing and preserving civil rights sites, Aman said.
“If any city can set an example for the country in how to talk about race during an election, it should be Atlanta,” he said. “That means we need to be sensitive to the issues of race but take the risks to be willing to talk about it, even though it’s uncomfortable.”