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Atlanta mayoral candidates feel the heat at Spelman debate

The mayoral forum on Friday night began with an acknowledgement that the candidates were short on time. They needed to get somewhere else soon. And after about half hour, it was easy to see why. 

The stage of the Sisters Chapel at Spelman College wasn’t a place that either councilwomen Keisha Lance Bottoms or Mary Norwood seemed to feel comfortable. 

The moderators included Student Government Association President Jill Cartwright and activist Avery Jackson, a Morehouse College alum. 

For Lance Bottoms, the evening was about confronting questions about the sale of Turner Field, a transaction that brought accusations that she sold out the community. 

For Norwood, it was about clearing up confusion surrounding her belief – or lack thereof—that racial profiling exists. 

Jackson asked Bottoms how she could claim during a debate the day before that residents around Turner Field had applauded her, in light of longtime community members occupying the field for 60 days to protest the deal. 

As executive director of the Fulton County Recreational Authority, Lance Bottoms oversaw the transaction, but did not obtain a community benefits agreement that some residents wanted so they would have more of say in how the stadium was developed. 

Bottoms said there weren’t many bidders on the empty baseball stadium, and if she hadn’t acted swiftly it would have sat indefinitely without a suitor. 

“You cannot wait,” she said. “Because if you wait a year, we will have an empty stadium which will be even worse for the community.” 

She said that she still addressed neighborhood concerns and that after she kept her word the same people who had wanted to rip her apart months earlier applauded. 

“There still is not a community benefits agreement,” Jackson said.

When Cartwright asked Norwood how she would stop police from criminalizing people of color, Norwood immediately brought up a moment during another forum that left some wondering whether she believed racial profiling existed. 

“I absolutely believe there is racial profiling,” Norwood said, adding that if people watched the entire video of the event, they would understand why she asked for clarification. 

But that opened the door for Lance Bottoms. That debate occurred before the Nov.-6 election when more than 10 people still in the race. 

“Everyone else answered immediately,” Bottoms said. “Mrs. Norwood took an extensive amount of time to get clarification on very simple question: ‘Do you believe racial profiling exists?’ … We cannot have hesitant leaders.” 

Norwood stood up to reply, placing both hands on the table in front of her. 

“I didn’t ask for hesitation,” she said. “I asked for clarification … I will post the dialogue on my website and you can see it. And you can see that what I am saying is true.”


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, including these stories:

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