Shirley Franklin endorses Mary Norwood (back, left) as she watches with Peter Aman and Ceasar Mitchell. Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin endorsed Mary Norwood’s campaign at a press conference in front of City Hall along with former Atlanta chief operating officer Peter Aman and City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Former Atlanta Mayor Franklin endorses Norwood to lead City Hall

A pair of high-level Democrats, including a former mayor, gathered at the steps of Atlanta City Hall to throw their political weight Monday behind a woman some have called a “closet Republican.”

In the strongest endorsements for Mary Norwood’s campaign, former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin was joined by former Atlanta chief operating officer Peter Aman, a rival of Norwood in the general election earlier this month, to announce their support.

The runoff is next week.

Franklin’s backing gives Norwood a strong political ally to attract African-American women voters, the largest bloc of dedicated voters in the city, in her attempt to defeat Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms, who has the support of Mayor Kasim Reed.

Monday’s endorsements bucked more than 40 years of Atlanta political behavior.

A former mayor had defied an incumbent. A Democrat had supported an alleged Republican. And one of Atlanta’s most popular black female political figures vowed to work to put a white woman in an office occupied by African-Americans for decades.

Aman worked in Reed’s administration. Reed also served as Franklin’s campaign manager. And Franklin and Aman supported Reed over Norwood in the 2009 election, during which Reed narrowly defeated Norwood by mere 720 or so votes.

Eight years later, Franklin and Aman had reversed course, largely, they said because of Reed’s failure to address poverty and the corruption that brought about a federal bribery investigation.

Reed’s office declined to comment on Monday’s endorsements.

Switching gears

As recently as last month, Aman had criticized Norwood for being a corrupt, career politician. But on Monday he said he could not support Bottoms.

“Can Atlanta afford four more years of a Reed-Bottoms team?” Aman asked. “I don’t think so.”

Bottoms campaign declined to comment on the endorsements and Aman’s comments. In addition to Reed, Bottoms has been endorsed by former Mayor Andrew Young and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Franklin began her 20-minute long speech leading up to her endorsement citing statistics: one quarter of the city’s population lives in poverty, and 85 percent of African American children in Atlanta live in highly impoverished areas. Then she spoke about several university studies that showed Atlanta is the worst major city in American to be born poor.

“These are the harsh truths that we must face to move our city forward,” Franklin said.

Franklin said attempts to tie Norwood to the Republican party are nothing more than a distraction. Norwood identifies herself as a “progressive independent.”

Reed, Franklin’s former protege, endorsed Bottoms in early October, at the end of a morning radio show.

Then he appeared in a Bottom’s campaign commercial, promising that with the progress made under his administration would continue with Bottoms.

But definitions of progress depend on perspective — a fact that seems to now have brought some issues of social justice and corruption to the forefront.

Among the success Reed’s staff have touted are eight consecutive credit ratings increases, record reserves of $200 million and 18 regional or national headquarters relocations.

Yet data indicates that although rising financial tides lift all boats in the city, they don’t lift people who lack boats to begin with.

For years, Atlanta has ranked among the worst U.S. cities in terms of economic disparity. According to the Equality of Economic Opportunity Project, a child in Atlanta born to parents who’s income is in bottom 20 percent has a 4.5 percent chance of reaching the top 20 percent income bracket.

Reed’s endorsement of Lance Bottoms appears to have helped vault her to the No. 1 spot in the crowded general election earlier this month and signaled potential donors who want to support a business friendly candidate.

The endorsement hasn’t stopped her from embracing messages that the city hasn’t done enough to address poverty. When City Councilman Kwanza Hall endorsed Bottoms more than a week ago, Bottom’s borrowed his campaign slogan, acknowledging that, “We have been great about building buildings, but not so great about building people.

Franklin is a very visible and popular figure in Atlanta and could steer black votes to Norwood. Those votes are key in a city where women make up 58 percent of the electorate and where black women make up the largest portion of super voters – those who voted at least five times in the past four years.

At Monday’s press conference, Franklin said the election was less about race, but more about equity and integrity.

The ongoing FBI investigation into alleged bribery schemes at City Hall has led to a guilty plea from the city’s former top procurement officer Adam Smith.

“All signs are that the investigation would continue,” Franklin said. “The indictments will continue.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is providing comprehensive coverage of the race for Atlanta City Hall on our subscriber site, myAJC.com.

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The AJC’s Stephen Deere keeps you updated on the latest in the Atlanta mayoral race and everything else going on at City Hall. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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