- Bill Torpy The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A Keisha Lance Bottoms supporter was teasing (sort of) that the Great White Hope went down in flames during the mayoral election Tuesday.
I responded that flags were at half-staff in mourning along West Paces Ferry Road in Buckhead, where three precincts went 92, 93 and 95 percent for Mary Norwood, who lost by 759 votes out of 92,000 cast.
White folks overwhelmingly vote for white candidates in these kind of black-white, Dem-GOP match-ups. But that is countered by precincts in southwest Atlanta that polled 92, 89 and 88 percent for Mayor-elect Bottoms.
Interestingly, there was a precinct, Reynoldstown, a couple of miles east of downtown, that went exactly 50-50 in the race. But I’d venture to say it’s because the black residents who haven’t been priced out of the gentrifying neighborhood were still around to vote for Bottoms, while the young whites who would have supported Norwood haven’t yet moved into their luxury townhouses.
This was supposed to be a different kind of race, where people were going to shake off the ancient racial mores. A former black mayor supported a white candidate and a white gubernatorial candidate went for the black mayoral candidate.
I heard from some black residents who went for Norwood because she has always been around, attending community meetings and answering their phone calls. Others were mad at Mayor Kasim Reed because, well, it’s just so easy to reciprocate an emotion he dispenses so effortlessly.
Some white folks voted for Bottoms after their first choice was vanquished in the general election last month. Other liberal and moderate white residents went that way after a last-minute, Democratic Party-funded media onslaught that painted Norwood as a sneaky Trumpie.
I’ve said that if Hillary Clinton were president, Mary Norwood would be mayor-elect. Trump drives left-leaning people to flee from anything that hints of Republicanism. Norwood’s voting record is both D and R, and she describes herself as an Independent.
But her flat-footed refusal to not immediately criticize Trump at a candidate forum was a massive blunder in a city that voted 80 percent against the future Bloviator in Chief.
Bottoms even said so.
“The pivotal moments in the campaign came from you,” Bottoms told WAOK talk show host Rashad Richey in an interview after the election. “Those two issues were game-changers.”
Richey moderated forums where Norwood stumbled over the Trump question and where she hesitated to answer whether Atlanta cops racially profile people. Norwood, who had the police union’s endorsement, was trying to be more nuanced. But nuance doesn’t cut it in Yes-No situations on the campaign trail.
With that, Norwood became portrayed as a Trump-lover who doesn’t mind seeing black folks yanked out of their cars by overzealous police officers.
It was an unfair characterization, but it was emotional and it resonated, allowing local Dems to wage racial politics — the kind they criticize the GOP of employing.
Norwood is a master campaigner, an energetic and even empathetic dynamo. She’s just not a good candidate. Her answers on issues and policy questions often meander and her sentences look like they come through a blender.
“She’s amazing at retail politics, but she wasn’t nimble enough to hit back,” said Robert Patillo, an Atlanta lawyer who hosts a radio show. “She is not a negative campaigner and was painted into a corner as a crazy, Republican Trump supporter.
“She didn’t have the political apparatus to go toe-to-toe with the Kasim Reed Machine.”
Patillo and several others have noted that Reed had a large hand in the last five mayoral victories in Atlanta — two as campaign manager for Mayor Shirley Franklin, his own two elections, and the latest as Bottoms’ mentor and attack dog.
Local political operative Tharon Johnson, who ran Reed’s campaign in 2009 and helped Bottoms this time, pushed back on the thought that Reed had become the new operator of the Maynard Jackson Machine, or that he was the driving force in the Bottoms’ victory.
“You can’t take this away from Keisha, you have to give her credit,” Johnson said. “She was a disciplined candidate. She had the kitchen sink, the bathroom sink, the closet sink thrown at her.”
Johnson was correct about Bottoms having campaign discipline. But he certainly downplays the effect of the mayor putting Bottoms in as Rec Authority director as a résumé builder, of getting longtime airport contractors to support her campaign, of hosting her first fundraiser, of publicly beating the snot out of her competition — a strategy that allowed Candidate Bottoms to smile and stay above the fray.
Makeda Johnson, a Vine City resident and community leader on the West Side, said gentrification and displacement of longtime residents are the key issues where she lives.
“We need new people in the community but there has to be retention,” Ms. Johnson said. “It has to be an inclusionary community. But none of the candidates had a good answer on affordable housing.”
Ms. Johnson (no relation to Tharon Johnson) said Norwood’s stumbles in the debates on racial profiling and Trump hurt her in many quarters.
“I love Mary,” she said. “Everybody appreciated that she had a wonderful ability to create relationships, and when you call, she answered …”
“Her not understanding that there is a police problem in Atlanta didn’t help with people,” said Johnson, who declined to say who she voted for. “I’m not crazy,” she said, laughing.
The overwhelmingly black districts west of downtown generally went about 80-20 for Bottoms, a slight disappointment for Norwood’s camp.
“I have friends who voted for Keisha and some who voted for Mary,” said Johnson. “It was difficult to determine who was best. Some people made the decisions in the booth.”
Now she hopes Bottoms stands true to her post-election vow to bring both sides of the city together.