Opinion: A clear choice in Atlanta mayoral race

The sprawling field of candidates to be Atlanta’s next mayor produced a splintered electorate. Forty-seven percent voted for one of the candidates in next week’s run-off; 53 percent didn’t. Forty-nine percent voted for a white candidate, 51 percent for a black candidate.

One divide was more decisive: Twenty-six percent voted for Mayor Kasim Reed’s preferred candidate, but 74 percent did not.

The most salient fact in this election has been Reed’s support of Keisha Lance Bottoms, who won a narrow plurality in the first round but with less than a week to go finds herself in a dead heat against Mary Norwood. His support pushed Bottoms to the top earlier in the race. Might it now be the thing that holds her back?

The federal investigation into bribery and corruption at City Hall — which so far has led to guilty pleas from two contractors and the city’s former chief procurement officer, and shows no sign of being complete — happened on Reed’s watch. He insists he is both innocent and cooperative. But the scandal’s stench is strong, and several candidates ran on the premise that the next mayor should have no loyalties to the current regime when trying to clean house.

Bottoms lacks credibility on that point. Not only is she the choice of the current regime, and not only is that fact largely responsible for her making the run-off. But she also was Reed’s appointee to a full-time, $135,000-a-year job as head of the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority, which was highly questionable given that she was already serving on the City Council.

Bottoms made her clearest claim to independence yet on Tuesday night, at a forum organized by third-place finisher Cathy Woolard. “This will not be a third term of Kasim Reed,” Bottoms declared, adding she is “not a pixie-dust candidate.”

It wasn’t enough to sway Woolard, who on Wednesday morning endorsed Norwood. “I feel like the lack of transparency at City Hall has crushed the spirit of our city,” Woolard explained, “and I feel like we need a clean break with this administration and a new start here with a fresh set of players.”

She echoed the arguments made by fellow ex-candidates Peter Aman and Ceasar Mitchell in endorsing Norwood. That puts three of the top four also-rans in Norwood’s camp (the other, Vincent Fort, said he’s neutral) along with Reed’s predecessor, Shirley Franklin.

That’s a big chunk of those most recently and closely involved in city politics opting for a new day at City Hall.

It’s the most reasonable conclusion to reach here. Distance from an administration that may have more rot yet to be exposed is one thing. Judgment and prudence are another.

An example: Bottoms says it was OK for her to take the Recreation Authority job while serving on the City Council because she received a legal opinion giving her the green light. That opinion came from city attorneys who also work for Reed; an attorney for the Georgia General Assembly demurred. More to the point, Bottoms is a lawyer and a former judge herself. She had all the background and training necessary to recognize, and avoid, such a conflict of interest. She took the job anyway.

Given the particular cloud hanging over City Hall, Atlantans need someone who makes better decisions. Franklin, Woolard, Aman and Mitchell are right: That person is Mary Norwood.

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