Forty-four years – the longest streak in any major American city. Atlanta voters have chosen African-American mayors to lead their city since 1973. However, recent demographic changes and a white candidate running a strong campaign may break this trend.
Local polling done by Channel 2 Action News shows City Council Mary Norwood, a white woman, with a dominant lead in the race to become the next leader of Atlanta. Out of eight major candidates polled, Norwood heads the pack by a landslide with 28.6 percent of the total vote. Her closest competition, state Sen. Vincent Fort, came at 9.3 percent. However, 28 percent of voters still consider themselves undecided.
Norwood has a long history in the city. She was first elected to City Council in 2001. In fact, she ran for mayor eight years ago and nearly defeated then-candidate Kasim Reed. Norwood had finished first the 2009 general election, but failed to win a majority. Her runoff with Reed ended in a razor thin loss of about 700 votes out of 84,000 cast.
Fast forward eight years and Councilwoman Norwood has her eyes on the mayoral seat once again. Besides already having experience campaigning for Atlanta’s top spot, Norwood has another thing going for her this time: White voters are making a comeback in the city. Forty-four percent of voting age residents in the city are white. Looking to escape long commutes to work, a huge of influx of these new white residents are millennials.
Would a Mary Norwood victory be symbolic for the city of Atlanta?
Interviews conducted by the Atlanta Journal Constitution show a majority of people claiming race is no issue when it comes to choosing the next leader of City Hall. In their minds, job creation and fiscal matters are of their utmost concern.
If elected, Norwood would be the first white mayor since Sam Massell was elected in 1969. Black candidate Maynard Jackson unseated Massell four years later and began the unbroken chain of African-American mayors.
While the mayoral election is nonpartisan, politics will still likely play a role in this election. In Norwood’s first run in 2009, the Georgia Democratic Party spent around $165,000 attacking her as a “closet” Republican during her runoff with Reed (Reed previously served in the state Senate as a Democrat). She has since tried to form better relations with the Democratic Party to avoid a repeat of this.
Nine major candidates are taking part in the election. Besides Norwood, state Sen. Vincent Fort, Councilwoman Keisha Bottoms, Councilman Kwanza Hall and City Council President Ceasar Mitchell are a few of the major players.
The election will be held on November 7.