With the party’s biggest guns ducking the chance to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, Democratic leaders are now vetting a young ally of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed for the race.
Attention has turned to Michael Sterling, a relatively unknown former federal prosecutor who heads the once-troubled Atlanta Workforce Development Agency.
People with knowledge of the matter say Sterling, who served as Reed’s senior adviser before running AWDA, is being vetted for the gig. Sterling declined comment for this story.
He’s the latest potential candidate the party is scouting after bigger names decided not to take on Isakson, who is seeking a third term after disclosing in June he has Parkinson’s disease.
The Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, decided against a run after flirting with the race for weeks. Former U.S. Rep. John Barrow and former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin have resisted recruiting efforts. Former state senator and gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter also won’t consider it.
Sterling, 33, would have an uphill battle against Isakson if he decides to run. Sterling has never held elected office, while the sitting senator holds a formidable war chest. Isakson is also a regular at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative service at Ebenezer Baptist Church and has positive relationships with many Georgia Democrats.
But Sterling, a Texas-born Democrat, would seek to galvanize young and minority voters at a time when movements like Black Lives Matter are focusing more attention on youthful black leaders.
Sterling graduated from Morehouse College and interned for Reed, who was then a state senator. After studying law at Thurgood Marshall, he spent his 20s prosecuting federal public corruption, money laundering and child exploitation cases in Chicago.
He returned to Atlanta in 2011 to work as an adviser to Reed, until the mayor directed him to run AWDA in 2014 after an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed that the agency had squandered hundreds of thousands of dollars on meager or worthless training.
Sterling’s name has also recently been mentioned in Atlanta’s political circles as a potential mayoral candidate in 2017.