Memo about a 'black agenda' in mayor's race roils Atlanta

Now that America has elected its first black president, Atlanta – the jewel of the South – is facing a very real possibility of electing its first white mayor in more than a generation.

Enter “the black agenda.”

A memo circulating in Atlanta’s political back rooms this week talks explicitly about the importance of electing a black mayor in November who could advocate for “a black agenda [that] would better enable us to have our interests respected by and our influence realized in any administration.”

“With the ‘Black Mayor first’ approach there is an unstated assumption that having a black mayor in Atlanta is equal to having a black social, economic and political agenda or at least someone in office who would be sensitive to that agenda if not a full promoter of that agenda,” reads the memo, distributed and written at least in part by Atlanta-based political strategist Aaron Trupeau.

It's not hard to imagine the outcry that would have erupted had any group of conservatives proposed a "white agenda." Still, the memo, which argues that the African-American community should rally around a single black candidate to ensure that an African-American prevails, has caused a tremor in a city that prides itself on being “too busy to hate.”

The memo is "dangerous" and "offensive," writes the Altanta Journal-Constitution's Jay Bookman in a blog, in that it "treats the mayor’s office as a black possession, a trophy of sorts that could be surrendered to white Atlantans for the first time in 35 years." Seven candidates have thrown their hats in the rings – all but one of them black. The two front-runners in the mayoral race are City Councilors Lisa Borders, who is black, and Mary Norwood, who is white.

Mr. Bookman continues: “The memo is valuable because it brings to the surface a sentiment that is more widely held among black voters than many local leaders, black and white, would care to publicly acknowledge. Many black voters — older voters in particular — take pride in the idea that Atlanta is a black-run city, and for some that sense of pride would be diminished if a white person were elected to lead it.”

To be sure, Southern blacks can point to a long history of political exclusion under white administrations as a major reason to hold onto power. But the memo nonetheless may suggest that urban black leaders – both here and in places like New Orleans – feel themselves to be in an uncomfortable position as they worry about the voting inclinations of younger, middle-class whites who have gone urban in the past decade.

Republican US Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R) of Kansas recently came under fire for speaking of her party's need for a “great white hope” to counter President Obama. The “black agenda” memo, which shows there are countervailing forces intent on maintaining racial dominance in places like Atlanta, is also causing a stir, at least locally. If Mr. Obama wants to keep up the public dialogue about race in America, it appears he's going to have ample opportunity.

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