How will race impact Atlanta's mayoral election?
And while the city’s demographics have changed, the change may not translate into votes. The percentage of white residents has increased since 2000, but there’s little change in the percentage of white registered voters. About 37 percent of Atlanta’s registered voters identify themselves as white. The majority, 50.5 percent, still describe themselves as black, although the percentage has dropped by 5.5 percent since 2001.
Some black voters said they will support an African-American candidate this fall.
Southwest Atlanta resident Sabrina O’Neal, who is black, is not convinced a white candidate can win this year. She asked a friend one recent morning who she supports.
“The black guy,” the African-American woman said, referring to Reed. “I vote for my folks.”
The Norwood camp is banking on potential voters like Sylvia Johnston, an African-American woman who lives in Mozley Park and has a Norwood sign on her lawn. Johnston said Norwood has been more responsive than black elected officials to problems like trash on abandoned properties.
“If we can elect Obama, then we can put Mary Norwood in,” said Johnston.
With no candidate holding a commanding lead, Borders, Norwood and Reed have vigorously appealed for votes among all racial groups as well as the city’s influential lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Borders has been more willing to discuss race, saying Atlanta is “largely inattentive” to the subject. Reed, who’s highlighted Atlanta’s diversity when asked about race, plans a speech on the topic this week.
Norwood has preferred focusing her public safety message. Spikes and other candidates have attacked Norwood’s record, arguing she is part of the Atlanta bureaucracy that’s responsible for many of the city’s troubles.
The true test of Norwood’s chances will come in places like The Final Cut barbershop on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. It’s in city council district 10, an overwhelmingly African-American area in which city elections have traditionally been decided. Shirley Franklin won her largest share of votes here, 5,753, in 2001, the first of her two victorious mayoral campaigns.
On a recent Friday, the folks there said race won’t be a factor for them, but they thought it might be for others.
“Race is always going to be a factor,” said customer Bishop Brown, 43. “Will it be the predominate factor? Probably not. But it will be a factor.”
Sam Massell, the last white mayor, predicts race would be a major plotline in a runoff.
“The real battle will come in a runoff where you’ll have a black and white candidate,” said Massell, mayor from 1969 to 1973 and now president of the Buckhead Coalition. “That’s when the fight will be.”
AJC Opinion Page Article - Kyle Wingfield