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 one, Atlanta is becoming more white. Many blacks have fled the city’s aging neighborhoods, and white families are moving in, attracted by historic housing stock and closer proximity to jobs. In 2000, Atlanta was 33 percent white. In 2007, it was 38 percent white. Between 2000 and 2006, Atlanta’s white population grew faster than that of any other US city, according to a study by the Brookings Institution.Skip to next paragraph
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Yet black voters remain the dominant political constituency, and efforts to win their allegiance have been, at times, transparent.
Mr. Reed last week insinuated that Norwood is secretly a Republican – a dig aimed to disquiet African-American voters, who are primarily Democratic here. (Norwood replied in an ad that she voted for Mr. Obama in the last election.)
And in August, two Clark Atlanta University political science professors wrote a memo about the need for black Atlantans to hold onto City Hall, and how they should do that.
The “black agenda” memo turned out to be a coup for Ms. Norwood. Both Mr. Reed and Ms. Borders denounced the memo as racist and divisive, but never addressed its merits.
In the meantime, Norwood stayed above the fray while making several moves to appeal to black votes: using the voices of people who are obviously black in her radio ads, setting her campaign office in the former office of Martin Luther King’s old office building, and visiting closed fire stations in poor, black parts of the city.
“Mary Norwood has effectively racialized the campaign while simultaneously causing two African-Americans to run a de-racialized campaign, which has hurt them,” says Ms. King. “Norwood ran the most politically savvy and strategic campaign to African-American voters.”
With six candidates in Tuesday’s election, a runoff is likely, which could be problematic for Norwood. Her polling numbers have surged close to 50 percent in recent days, putting an outright win within her grasp. But Norwood could struggle in a run-off against Mr. Reed, who has won the endorsement of several members of Atlanta’s old civil rights guard as well as popular entertainers like the rapper Ludacris.
Yet the 2009 Atlanta mayoral race has redefined expectations and perceptions about politics in minority-majority cities, regardless of the outcome.
“This is not 1979, this is 2009,” says Mr. Hutchinson. “Instead of color, African-Americans are looking at: Are [candidates] honest on a personal and political level? Can they move political and economic interests to create a good employment base? Are they accountable and responsive to the African-American community? If those elements are there, they’re going to trump race."
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