Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced Thursday he is suing Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms over the city’s mask mandate, claiming the measure violates his emergency orders.
“This lawsuit is on behalf of the Atlanta business owners and their hardworking employees who are struggling to survive during these difficult times,” Kemp tweeted.
“These men and women are doing their very best to put food on the table for their families while local elected officials shutter businesses and undermine economic growth.”
Bottoms fired back moments later, tweeting “3104 Georgians have died and I and my family are amongst the 106k who have tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, I have been sued by @GovKemp for a mask mandate.”
“A better use of tax payer money would be to expand testing and contact tracing. #ATLStrong”
The lawsuit marks a stunning escalation in the brewing feud between Kemp and Bottoms after the Atlanta mayor introduced her mandatory mask ordinance. Under her order, not wearing a mask within Atlanta’s city limits was punishable by a fine and even up to six months in jail.
But the governor’s office has argued the mayor’s plan is not “legally enforceable” because Kemp signed an executive order that prohibits local action from being more prohibitive than the state’s requirements.
“Once again, if the mayor actually wants to flatten the curve in Atlanta, she should start enforcing state restrictions, which she has failed to do. We ask citizens and businesses alike to comply with the terms of the governor’s order, which was crafted in conjunction with state public health officials,” Kemp’s office said in a statement earlier this month.
“These common-sense measures will help protect the lives and livelihoods of all Georgians.”
The lawsuit also comes just one day after Kemp suspended all local government mask mandates despite the rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in his state.
Under the executive order the Republican governor extended the state’s public emergency and said face coverings are “strongly encouraged,” but not required.
Kemp’s executive order voids masks mandates imposed by some local governments as Covid-19 cases tick up in cities across the state, already claiming over 3,000 lives.
Even as Kemp has been resistant to a statewide mask mandate for Georgia, other Republican governors are now requiring face coverings in their states.
Growing tension with other Georgia mayors
Kemp’s executive order on Wednesday set off a deluge of criticism from mayors in the state.
The mayor of Savannah Van Johnson wrote on Twitter Wednesday “It is officially official. Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us,”
“Every man and woman for himself/herself. Ignore the science and survive the best you can.”
Savannah residents, beginning July 1, were required to wear a face covering in public or face a fine of up to $500. It’s unknown whether Kemp plans to file similar lawsuits against Savannah and other cities with mask orders.
In a CNN interview earlier this month, Johnson said because the city was hitting new daily records for coronavirus cases, “it was really necessary for us to take more drastic action to protect our city.”
He told CNN that the city would offer masks to offenders before giving them a citation.
After Kemp’s order was issued, Johnson said on Wednesday that Savannah would continue to “follow the science” and still have masks available for residents.
The mayor of Dunwoody, whose city council approved a mask mandate that was set to start Thursday, said small businesses had asked the city to require masks because employees worried about being exposed. The city sits in one of the top five counties in Georgia with the highest number of confirmed cases.
“You know who is caught in the battle between the Georgia Governor and Local governments? Grocery store clerks, retail workers, and restaurant servers,” Mayor Lynn Deutsch wrote on Twitter. “In other words, just the folks who aren’t likely to have health insurance and paid time off.”
Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, Kemp’s rival in the 2018 gubernatorial race, argued on MSNBC that Kemp is “following the lead of the incompetency and the immorality” of President Donald Trump.
“From the beginning of this catastrophe, Brian Kemp has demonstrated that he has absolutely no competency in this process,” Abrams said Wednesday.
Kemp has encouraged Georgians to wear a mask, and has worn one in public himself, but argues against requiring them for all residents.
“We don’t need a mandate for people to do the right thing,” Kemp told reporters earlier this month.
With the uptick in cases, a growing number of US states have mandated the use of masks and face coverings while in public.
Republican Gov. Kay Ivey of the neighboring state of Alabama on Wednesday mandated face coverings in public through July as Covid-19 cases soar in the state and hospitals report record number of patients.
“I still believe this is going to be a difficult order to enforce, and I always prefer personal responsibility over a government mandate,” Ivey said at a Wednesday press conference. “Yet I also know, with all my heart, that the numbers and data the past few weeks are definitely trending in the wrong direction.”
Kemp has long faced criticism from Democrats in his state for his handling of the state’s coronavirus response. He was among the last governors to sign a shelter-in-place order and one of the first governors to allow some businesses to open their doors after the shutdown.
CNN’s Joe Sutton, Dianne Gallagher, Steve Almasy, Pierre Meilhan and Sharif Paget contributed to this report.