By Maynard Eaton
“I was stunned to see that I was accused of being a racist,” – Mary Norwood
Yes, this raucous Atlanta Mayoral runoff race was a doozy and disturbingly divisive. But, as the saying goes, “it’s all over but the shout” or as we can now report, “turn out the lights, the party is over!
After a bitterly contested runoff race Mary Norwood fell some 800 votes short of Mayor-elect Keisha Lance Bottoms on election night. It was a sigh of relief for those committed to continuing Atlanta’s rich history of consecutively electing black mayors ever since the inimitable Maynard Jackson in 1973. It was the rallying cry in behalf of Bottoms.
“We had a call to action, you understand, it was a 911 emergency,” opined Clifford Joseph Harris Jr. in a compelling social media message. Harris is, the Atlanta based actor and rapper known professionally as T.I. “And, we answered that [expletive] call, rose to the occasion and did the right thing because it was necessary. That’s why we are so [expletive] important to this country. We are the Mother Fu..ing Mecca!”
Conversely, Norwood and her supporters believed she was cheated and robbed of mayoral victory for the second time in eight years. That’s why she has exhaustively mounted a robust and rigorous challenge to the election outcome over the past two weeks by demanding a detailed recount. Norwood has been sharply criticized for those who say her reticence to accept defeat amounted to sour grapes, at best.
Well now that push back is over and so is the election. Norwood has now folded her tent and is going home. She has recently announced in a Facebook message that she won’t mount a court confrontation, saying “the process is now complete and although there were some irregularities with the election, I have decided not to contest it.”
For Mayor-elect Bottoms, it was about time because as she told me earlier, Norwood has been pursuing a futile quest. “I think it’s a waste of time, but if that is how Ms. Norwood chooses to spend her time than God bless her,” she said glibly.
Mayor-elect Bottoms’ victory is now confirmed that she is the city’s 60th mayor, and Atlanta’s sixth consecutive African American mayor, a trend that began with Maynard Jackson’s 1973 election that has since cultivated the balance between black political clout and white business interests that has come to define the city.
Atlanta has been known as “The City Too Busy to Hate” over the past five decades. That has been Atlanta’s mantra and its message. Norwood contends it “has been our carefully protected and cultivated Brand – a promise that Atlanta has offered to everyone.”
Now, she and others lament that has seemingly been shattered and torn asunder given the dicey and dastardly level of racial vitriol unleashed during this mayoral campaign—and the runoff became a bruising battlefield of racial animus by both blacks and whites.
It became a national news story when Atlanta CBS 46 news anchor Sharon Reed exposed a racist viewer, Kathy Rae, for calling her a “Nigger” in an email about the runoff race. Reed responded to her “live” during her newscast.
During a NEWSMAKERS Live interview with Bottoms at the BQE Restaurant, police had to be called and Bottoms was forced to abandon the broadcast event, when an ugly fight broke out between black supporters of both candidates. Those are just two examples of the negative and nasty tone and spirit that emerged during the runoff.
“I have always believed that Atlanta could be THE city that moved beyond the divisions that plague many of America’s communities; one that could serve as a shining example for the world as we charge further into the 21st Century,” said Norwood during her concession speech. “As someone who has been involved in politics, I know that it is a rough and tumble game, but I was appalled at the misrepresentations of me personally and others connected to me. I was stunned to see that I—a woman who had faithfully and equitably served all Atlantans for over two decades – was accused of being a racist who would turn back the clock to 1950. The election was made out to be all about race and the campaign was divisive.”
Votes tracked along racial lines in north-side and south-side neighborhoods, while both candidates won a fair share of votes in the pivotal political battleground of east Atlanta.
“Certainly, race is a conversation point because people are having this conversation at their kitchen tables,” Mayor-elect Bottoms told CBS 46 morning anchorwoman Amanda Davis the morning after her election. “And, so to act as if it was not an issue or a discussion point in this race, would be disingenuous. But, I think, at the end of the day people cast their votes based on who they thought would be best to lead this city. I think that transcended race.”
While outgoing mayor Kasim Reed is widely credited for being the adroit and astute campaign strategist who engineered Bottoms’ narrow victory – particularly for capturing national attention by persuading his friends Democrat Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamila Harris to make last minute get-out-the-vote appearances – but Reed is also viewed by some as a villain and a bully for his crushing, demeaning and derogatory denouncements of former mayoral hopeful Ceasar Mitchell, Mary Norwood and others. It was ugly and painful to watch and hear. It still is.
“Ceasar Mitchell what were you thinking sir? What was on your mind,” asked T.I. derisively and profanely about Mitchell’s endorsement of Norwood. “You trying to throw away decades of history; people who were here and fought for this shit before you were even thought about. They were here building this [city] for us to do the right thing. In the most nonviolent way I can say it, somebody need to slap the shit out you! How dare you go against Andy Young, how dare you go against Maynard Jackson?”
“Everybody in our culture looked at what was going on in Atlanta,” opined Reed, who is leaving office after two testy terms.
“I didn’t take it lightly that Sen. Cory Booker came to my son, Brandon’s home, and Mayor Kasim Reed was there on candidate Keisha Lance Bottoms behalf,” said politically active attorney Rita Williams. “And, people got electrified in that room. I believe that those people who were there had a lot to do with her winning.”
Since Maynard Jackson’s election every black mayor since then, other than Bill Campbell, has come out of Atlanta’s District 11, which is largely Southwest Atlanta. Bottoms continues that tradition, plus she was the only black female among the 12 general election candidates. Consequently, she benefited from the largest and most reliable bloc of voters which are African American women garnering about 95 percent of that electorate.
“For all the little girls out there, who need somebody to believe that you are better than your circumstances, I want you all to remember that black girl magic is real,” Bottoms said in her election night victory speech.
Black Girl Magic is a term used to illustrate the universal awesomeness of black women. It’s about celebrating anything we deem particularly dope, inspiring, or mind blowing about ourselves. The term is also often associated with Voodoo.
“Keisha didn’t start that, she didn’t coin that,” said Dargan Burns, a fiercely loyal Bottoms follower and fervent campaign volunteer. “She utilized it, maximized it, and put it to a different kind of use. Black Girl Magic had been a phrase coined about the artistic abilities of black women. Keisha applied that whole concept to professionalism, politics and getting the job done.”
Burns also helped inflame the racial toxicity of the runoff clash when he posted a meme where Mitchell and Norwood’s faces were superimposed from a scene in the movie, “Driving Miss Daisy.” The black/white putdown went viral.
“It’s not to be demeaning, it was meant to send a subliminal message,” opined Burns, an accomplished tax accountant. “When you talk about ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ that implies that you are beckoning at her call, and taking her places she can’t go by herself – and that you are doing that at her pleasure and at the expense of others. So, you are looking at your self-serving needs instead of the broader picture of the base that you come out of. And, Ceasar Mitchell has come out of a southwest Atlanta base, and to some extent he betrayed that.”
Others argue that criticism is cruel and unfair because he and other African American Norwood supporters are entitled to vote for whomever they choose. Still, Mitchell, and former Mayor Shirley Franklin, among others have been excoriated – the targets of scathing condemnation because they publicly endorsed Norwood, the white mayoral candidate, rather than Bottoms, the black Atlanta native.
“During the campaign and afterwards, there has been a lot discussion about the Influence of race endorsements and party affiliation,” Mayor Franklin told this reporter. “The policy issues that might have influenced voters haven’t had much media coverage. It would be helpful for any analysis to have the advantage of exit polls.”
“Atlanta has shown that it’s black power base is real solid and still alive,” adds Jim Welcome, co-founder and Executive Producer of NEWSMAKERS LIVE/JOURNAL. “The election of Keisha Lance Bottoms embodies everything that any black Intellectual has gone through to reach the heights of politics. She is truly one who has made it to the promised land. Those of us who didn’t embrace her in the beginning can only hope that she will change the culture and be more inclusive. We are rooting for you Keisha.”
Dr. Joyce Dorsey is a politically savvy and highly respected Atlanta native who fights for the poor as president of FACCA, the Fulton Atlanta Community Action Authority. She and her sister, Hattie Dorsey, the founder of ANDP [Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership] both endorsed Norwood.
“As the election date drew nearer, the sentiment to ‘vote black’ grew stronger and more intense,” Dr. Dorsey recalls. “The intensity grew obviously within the black community amongst seasoned leaders and youth who are currently dissatisfied with many local issues but under the administration of a black mayor! That’s when I openly declared my support of Mary Norwood whom I have known since the mid-1970’s. I do have sincere wishes that Mayor-elect Bottoms is successful and that’s because I love Atlanta.”
Mayor Franklin echoes that “it’s time for Atlanta to heal its political wounds” sentiment. “As Mayor-Elect Bottoms and Council President Felecia Moore prepare for the start of the inauguration and start of their terms in office, I wish them much success in guiding the growth of the city and operation of city government over the next years,” Franklin says.
“Norwood’s steady stream of endorsements gave license to black voters and intown whites to back the long-serving councilwoman, despite troubling revelations about her racial views and partisan leanings,” opines Howard Franklin, a dynamic young political strategist and lobbyist. “Bottom’s response was brilliant and previously untested in Atlanta politics: amplifying celebrity and influencer endorsements through social media, and thus, injecting excitement into her surging candidacy. When voters are choosing between being given permission or stoking excitement, the latter will win every time.”