At this point, the choice must be clear.
Whether folks value access to their city officials above all, or they prize a candidate's relationships with state decision-makers, or they simply want a mayor who looks like them, it's a good bet that most voters have by now made their minds up regarding next Tuesday's runoff election.
If that's the case, then there's only one major question that remains about the mayor's race: Namely, which candidate – Councilwoman Mary Norwood or former state Sen. Kasim Reed – will be more successful at spurring voters to show up to the polls.
However, if you're one of the few undecided – or disenchanted, apathetic or simply wishy-washy – ones left standing, here's CL's analysis of the candidates, informed by our October endorsement and the campaign-trail events of the past month.
Let's be blunt: Norwood has an obvious advantage. By most accounts, her poll numbers haven't slipped in her core neighborhoods of Buckhead and Northside Atlanta, and she can count on a large turnout in District 6, which includes Midtown, Morningside and Virginia-Highland – an area she handily carried during the Nov. 3 general election.
"Most of her support is cemented and isn't going to be swayed," observes former Mayor Sam Massell, the longtime president of the Buckhead Coalition.
Still, Massell predicts that Reed will win the runoff.
Say what? For months now, long before the general election, Massell has forecast that Reed will be Atlanta's next mayor because he believes the now-ex state senator has the strongest political support network.
Massell isn't talking about the so-called "Maynard machine," although Reed certainly has tapped into many of the same organizations in the African-American community, such as labor unions and black churches, that helped elect the late Mayor Jackson. Rather, he's talking about the personal and political connections that have enabled Reed to draw public backing from a range of heavy-hitters, from former Gov. Roy Barnes to a number of fellow state legislators – and at least two of Norwood's fellow Council members.
Since Nov. 3, Reed has received a slew of endorsements, including ones from his former opponent, Council President Lisa Borders, the city's police union, Civil Rights pioneer the Rev. Joseph Lowery, and former Atlanta legislator Jim Martin.
The Norwood campaign, meanwhile, has garnered nods from less splashy names, including freshman state Rep. Ralph Long, D-Atlanta, and former state Rep. "Able" Mable Thomas. In fact, Norwood's camp has been largely quiet, holding small neighborhood gatherings and promoting unsupported allegations that Reed hadn't paid some property taxes. At one Norwood press conference last week, reporters were surprised to discover the candidate herself was a no-show.
And even though Norwood met with Borders in an attempt to win her endorsement, she subsequently has dismissed endorsements by elected officials as unimportant, instead touting her support by 46 percent of voters in the general election.
Not only does the respect and support of other public officials help candidates win elections, Massell explains, but those resources are vital to successful governing, especially for a large city such as Atlanta with interests that are regional in scope.
And yet, much of Norwood's appeal is based on her carefully cultivated image as the ultimate outsider, a candidate with no obligations or entanglements at City Hall (despite being the one who's served eight years on Council) – just a deep, abiding concern about the residents of every neighborhood in the city.
In October, the news staff at Creative Loafing endorsed Reed as mayor. As we wrote at the time, Reed was the strongest candidate because of "his strong record of leadership as a minority-party legislator; his solid relationships with state lawmakers; and his clear-eyed, pragmatic vision of Atlanta's future."
With Council President Lisa Borders out of the running, the choice seems even clearer. Norwood has run what in many ways has been a counterintuitive campaign, decrying her inability over the past eight years to gain access to information related to finances and city operations. She's often put the blame on Mayor Franklin's administration.
"Atlanta has a strong mayor/weak Council form of government," Norwood explained at a televised candidate forum in September. "There are [pieces of information] I've asked for for years that I haven't been able to put my hands on."
At several forums, Norwood repeatedly admitted not being able to understand the city budget, a problem she attributed to "Enron-type accounting." But, back in June, when Borders convened several offsite budget workshops so that Chief Financial Official Jim Glass and a host of private-sector accounting gurus could tutor Council members on the city's finances, Norwood didn't bother to attend.
But few of these apparent failings seem to have damaged Norwood in the eyes of her most ardent supporters. How could that be?
Not to beat a dead horse, but one of the major factors is race.
On election night, a Buckhead political activist confided to CL that many of his neighbors had come up to him in recent weeks and said, "Isn't it exciting that we're finally going to have a white mayor?"
In many corners of the city – including, notably, some African-American households – black civic leadership has become equated with incompetence and corruption.
"What has black leadership done for us?" one African-American woman asked at a panel discussion hosted by a black media organization in October, echoing the complaints of many black residents who are frustrated with the state of economic development, crime and city services in their neighborhoods.
Norwood has cannily fed this dissatisfaction with Atlanta's black leadership with one campaign ad after another that effectively attacks City Hall and the Franklin administration, criticizing everything from inmate parole to ill-fitting covers on city water meters.
And even though Reed has never been on the city payroll, he's been branded by Norwood backers as "more of the same." His status as a black candidate and prominent Franklin supporter has implicated him as a potential continuation of the alleged reign of incompetence.
Ironically, Reed has pointedly criticized Council's approval of increased pension obligations, a measure that has helped cripple the city's finances – and which Norwood, alone among mayoral candidates, helped pass.
And yet Norwood has effectively promoted herself as representing fiscal accountability.
Perhaps the most intriguing question for pundits and political observers is whether Atlantans will elect as mayor a candidate who's devoted most of her time as an elected official to campaigning for higher office – Norwood began holding neighborhood meet-and-greets and "town hall" gatherings at least six years back – rather than being effective at the job for which she was elected. The answer could affect how future candidates plan their political careers.
As we said, the choice is clear.
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