Travelers moving through the world’s busiest airport probably don’t know they’re feeding the quiet financial engine of Atlanta politics when they drop their money on the Kentucky bourbon on Concourse T, the peppered goat cheese and honey on F, or the neck pillow and paperback thriller on C.
They are, though, and this year, with nine major candidates vying to replace Atlanta’s term-limited Mayor Kasim Reed in an election Nov. 7, the role of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport’s political money has sprung messily into public view.
Airport vendors –including contractors, engineers and concessionaires — or would-be vendors have provided about a third of the money raised by candidate Keisha Lance Bottoms, who is endorsed by Reed. Meanwhile Reed and another candidate, City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, have been feuding over who should control airport contracts that don’t expire until late next year. Another candidate, former Bain & Co. partner and ex-city COO Peter Aman, took the unusual step last month of publicly outing the vendor-political money tree. He said a political operative tried to school him on the mutual back scratching rules for tapping it.
“It was appalling, in terms of the connection between the vendors at the airport and the money and the influence,” Aman said in an interview.
With more than 104 million passengers last year, Hartsfield-Jackson is the most trafficked airport on the globe, followed by Beijing and Dubai. The city of Atlanta owns it, and controls the billions in contracts tied to it — for engineering, construction and design work, parking, shuttle service, advertising along its concourses and the concessionaires who run its shops and restaurants.