What’s old is new again on the Atlanta City Council, which begins another term in January with only two fresh faces on its 16-member board.
Mary Norwood returns to City Hall after ousting Aaron Watson in the November election, and Andre Dickens will replace H. Lamar Willis.
But will the duo’s arrival change the direction of the council, which in recent years has largely sided with the mayor on such important issues as building a new Atlanta Falcons stadium and pension reform?
Probably not, political observers and current council members say.
“I think you’ll see tighter votes,” posits Steve Anthony, a Georgia State University political science lecturer. “(But) this wasn’t like the Atlanta school board — not enough change-over in approach to really flip outcomes.”
While the school board will welcome six new members to the nine-member panel, Norwood and Dickens will be the only new faces to the 16-member council.
Norwood’s election marks a homecoming as she returns to the city-wide seat she held for two terms before challenging Reed in the 2009 mayoral race. Dickens is wholly new to politics, though he has the backing of former mayor Shirley Franklin and her son, Cabral Franklin, who ran his campaign for the Post 3 city-wide seat.
Rarely is the council locked over an issue, Anthony said, and Norwood and Dickens’ arrivals isn’t likely to change that.
But they could give rise to a “more vocal” opposition, he said, a role that until now has largely been played by District 9 Councilwoman Felicia Moore.
Moore, often the lone “no” vote on city legislation, has earned a reputation as the most ardent opponent of Reed on the council. The mayor, for his part, spent thousands through a Super PAC that was partially deployed this fall in an attempt to oust her from office.
Reed also backed Watson and Willis, who both lost their city-wide seats in the November election election. (The mayor endorsed a swath of candidates who were returned to the council.)
While Anthony said Norwood and Dickens could add to the number of non-Reed allies, Moore said she, too, expects the shifts on the council to be more subtle than stark.
She thinks Norwood, known for her commitment to constituent services and public input, will push for more discussion of controversial legislation.
“We’ve had some major issues that were just voted on immediately. You can only do that as a mayor if you have unflinching support from enough members to go ahead and push it,” she said, noting the $1.2 billion Falcons stadium deal passed with a heavy majority, 11-4. “I think (having new council members) will make sure we have an opportunity for more vetting from the council and more input from the public.”
Veteran Councilman C.T. Martin, who represents District 10, said while Dickens has a “learning curve,” Norwood knows the ropes and other council members know her style. Martin praised her ability to build alliances and reason with others in disagreements.
While he agreed with the rest that the council may not dramatically change when it convenes next month, “I think (the council) may end up working better,” he said. “I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see.”