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Monday, November 9, 2009

Unfinished business: Looking at the Dec. 1 runoffs

On Dec. 1, an abysmally small percentage of Atlanta voters will return to the polls for the city runoffs:

click to enlarge Reed celebrates on election night
  • Reed celebrates on election night

MAYOR

As the city saw on Nov. 3, Kasim Reed’s an expert finisher who passed Lisa Borders heading into the home stretch and now carries that momentum into the runoff.

But it won’t be easy to beat Mary Norwood, whose supporters hail from all corners of the city and arguably are more enthusiastic than Reed’s, and thus more likely to flock to the polls on Dec. 1. Last week's results also confirmed previous polls that suggest Norwood seems to have a lock on north Atlanta's white vote, which may convince the Reed campaign to try to peel away her strong support among black voters. If Reed decides to employ racial politics, the race could turn ugly and divisive.

"Reed has to increase his black voters, but it would be to his detriment to make an overt racial appeal," says Emory political science professor Michael Owens. " I suspect you'll see his surrogates and supporters do that for him."

Reed could also try to reverse the public perception of Norwood as an outsider and agent of change, despite the fact that she's the one who's served on the City Council for the past eight years.

Even though the mayor's race is non-partisan, the state Democratic party sent out mailers attacking Norwood as a closet Republican, and some pundits now expect the national party to get involved as well.

Whatever happens in the next few weeks, the mayor's race will be difficult to ignore.

COUNCIL PRESIDENT

With a hotly contested mayor’s race sucking all the oxygen out of the room, don’t expect to hear too much about the battle for council president. For starters, that race is between two Council colleagues who’ve so far kept things cordial. Also, neither candidate is likely to be able to afford to air TV ads.

Representing North Atlanta for 20 years, Clair Muller has earned a reputation for her knowledge of Atlanta’s infrastructure. Caesar Mitchell, who lives in the West End and practices law in Buckhead, has become a voice for promoting the city’s nightlife.

Mitchell, who nearly won the general election outright, has an edge in having run city-wide twice before, and is arguably the more energetic campaigner. Muller could be helped by an expected higher turnout on the north side of town, but is waging an uphill battle.

Both candidates, however, are fighting general voter apathy and widespread confusion about what it is the council president actually does. There may not be an antidote for that.

POST 2 AT-LARGE

Aside from race and age, very little separates veteran civic leader Aaron Watson and progressive wunderkind Amir Farokhi. They both promise to push for smart growth. They both envision a green and sustainable Atlanta connected by transit. Hell, they both are cyclists who went to Duke Law. But on Dec. 1, voters will have to choose one of the two to fill the Post 2 At-Large seat.

When polls closed on Nov. 3, Watson narrowly edged out Farokhi in the citywide contest. Because both the mayoral and city council president races are also on the ballot, the candidates will be able to rely on a decent turnout. But they'll still have to gain name recognition and remind voters to return to the polls.

Farokhi has a solid support network among young people and urban pioneers. And according to his most recent disclosure report, he's got approximately $25,000 left in his war chest. Watson, who edged out Farokhi in some politically active neighborhoods, is familiar to voters who saw him help lead the Atlanta Public Schools board out of a downward spiral. But he's also out of cash, so he'll have to raise funds and rally support at the same time.

DISTRICT 6

The district that includes Candler Park, Morningside and Midtown is well known for its election time surprises. That didn't change this year, as six candidates battled to replace retiring and unbeloved incumbent Anne Fauver.

Thanks to additional support from Druid Hills voters, longtime community activist Liz Coyle elbowed Morningside resident Tad Christian out of a Dec. 1 runoff with Alex Wan.

Both candidates have solid bases of support. Coyle, who's served on every community and city board or committee imaginable, is well known among politically active neighbors. The openly gay Wan boasts strong support in the district's LGBT community.

But that might not be enough to catapult either candidate into City Hall. Henry Carey, an associate political science professor at Georgia State University, says Wan will have to boost his gay community base with voters who might be more familiar with Coyle. He has an advantage, however: According to the most recent disclosure reports, Wan's sitting on roughly $38,000 in available cash compared to Coyle's $8,700.

And while the main issues on district voters' minds are taxes and public safety, GSU professor Harvey Newman says politically active residents might push candidates on their thoughts about density along the Beltline. Project planners' proposed vision for 10th Street and Monroe Drive has divided some nearby residents.

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