Atlanta mayoral race 2009: Why a white woman might win
Atlanta has elected only African-American mayors since 1973. But Mary Norwood – the only white candidate in the Atlanta mayoral race – was leading in public opinion polls.
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For a city that has not had a white mayor since 1973 and sees itself as the iconic post-civil rights epicenter of African-American politics, the campaign has been a shock to the system.
To some observers, it suggests that Ms. Norwood simply has used the levers of racial politics more effectively than her five African-American opponents. To others, though, it points to a generational shift toward political color-blindness – most prominently seen in last year’s presidential election but now influencing voters even in this bastion of the Deep South.
“It’s disturbing to some that you would have this change in a city where African-Americans have had a hold for over three decades – and it goes beyond politics,” says Earl Ofari Hutchinson, author of “How Obama Won.” “But the question we come back to is this: With the election of President Obama, how much does race really matter anymore in terms of politics? We’ve had a breakthrough at the national level, and now we’re beginning to see it in municipal elections.”
What has happened?
Many younger African-American voters don’t feel less allegiance to black candidates than did African-Americans who lived through the Civil Rights era, some experts say.
The choice of campaign issues has also been key.
For Lisa Borders and Kasim Reed, the two black candidates who were trailing Norwood in preelection polls, the primary focus has been bolstering the city’s gutted police department. While violent crime is down overall in the city, a few high profile murders and a rise in property crimes means residents are agitated.
But Norwood has built her campaign around the recession, focusing on mismanaged city finances and how foreclosures are blighting the city.
“There’s no money to do big, grand and bold,” says Michael Leo Owens, a political scientist at Emory University. “Norwood has tied her candidacy to economic worries where people are looking up and down the federalist ladder and having nightmares about what their future taxes are going to look like. She’s saying, ‘Vote for me and have one less nightmare, because I’m going to keep a hold on local taxes.’ ”
Race still an issue
Still, race is a factor.