While some public-health officials hoped that states experiencing a summer COVID-19 outbreak would learn from New York’s misfortune, it appears that Georgia Governor Brian Kemp took home the wrong lesson, re-creating the conflict between Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio that hampered coordination in the pivotal early days of the pandemic. But unlike the conflict between New York politicians, Kemp’s growing feud with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms appears to be a more one-sided affair.
On Thursday Kemp filed a lawsuit that aims to overturn Bottoms’s recent order requiring masks in public — itself a rebuke of the governor’s ban on cities and counties ordering face coverings in public. Now Bottoms says Kemp’s move was “personal retaliation,” noting that the governor “did not sue the city of Atlanta, he filed suit against myself and our City Council personally.” While Kemp has claimed the sole authority for issuing rules to halt the spread of the coronavirus, Bottoms has asserted that she is following the recommendations of public-health officials, including a July 14 report from from the White House coronavirus task force, which advised Georgia to “mandate statewide wearing of cloth face coverings outside the home.”
The two had sparred earlier this month over Bottoms’s order for Atlanta to return to the first phase of its reopening plan, which Kemp called “merely guidance.” But the lawsuit regarding masks escalated the conflict, as the governor requested that a state superior-court judge stop Bottoms from issuing any public-health mandates “more or less restrictive than Governor Kemp’s executive orders” and ban her from any media appearances related to the matter.
It was not a request that Bottoms voluntarily obliged. “The governor has done many things as of late and said many things as of late that, quite frankly, are simply bizarre,” she said Sunday on Face the Nation. “There were other cities in our state who instituted mask mandates, and he did not push back against them. I don’t know if it’s because perhaps they were led by men or if it’s perhaps because of the demographic in the city of Atlanta. I don’t know what the answers are, but what I do know is that the science is on our side.”
The conflict has been drawing a floodlight of attention, in part because of the national standing of the state leaders. Bottoms — who tested positive for the coronavirus on July 6 — is reportedly in the running to be Joe Biden’s vice-presidential pick. Kemp’s attention isn’t quite the same career bump: Though his polling numbers aren’t as bad as in early May, when his 33 percent approval rating made him the nation’s least-liked governor, Kemp is currently at 43 percent and expected to sink further due to Georgia’s alarming summer wave. Over the last week, an average of around 3,100 new cases were reported in the state each day, with over a third of those coming in the Atlanta metro area.