With all precincts reporting, Keisha Lance Bottoms appeared to have won the Atlanta mayor’s race, beating Mary Norwood.
Unofficial returns showed that Bottoms garnered 759 more votes than Norwood in the runoff election on Tuesday – a virtual repeat of the 2009 race when Mayor Kasim Reed defeated Norwood by 714 votes.
Norwood was unwilling to concede. She said that the absentee military ballots wouldn’t be counted until Thursday, that the campaign did not know how many provisional votes had been cast, and that it was unclear if votes from two precincts in recently annexed areas of DeKalb County had been counted.
“We can’t call this yet,” Norwood said, shortly after midnight to supporters. Norwood said that she would also ask for a recount.
At the same time Norwood was speaking, Bottoms was declaring victory at the Hyatt Regency in downtown.
“This is about Atlanta,” Bottoms said. “And what we said from Day One is that this is about what we hope this city can be for our children’s children.”
Bottoms then said she was honored to be Atlanta’s 60th mayor and only the second woman to hold the city’s top post.
Some voters said they made up their minds at the last minute, at the ballot box.
Travis Copeland arrived at his west end polling precinct with his decision for Atlanta mayor still up in the air.
He said he wanted to see the city “continue on the path that it’s on” — but that didn’t mean he was going to back Bottoms.
“I’m a maybe for Bottoms at best,” said Copeland, a 30-year-old who works in the airline industry. “But progress is important, especially in the southside. We’re lagging behind, and we need new development.”
In the runoff race, Bottoms most significant challenge was convincing voters her administration would not be an extension of Mayor Kasim Reed’s. The mayor’s endorsement of Bottoms in October seemed to vault her to the front in a 12-way contest in the general election. But he was heavily criticized for some of the comments he’s made during the runoff campaign. Two weeks ago, when City Council President Ceasar Mitchell endorsed Norwood, Reed described Mitchell and Norwood as “one man, one woman, two losers.”
At the last televised debate between the two candidates on Sunday, Bottoms said those Reed’s words not hers.
Reed is leaving office with City Hall under the cloud of a federal bribery investigation. He has never been identified as a person of interest in that investigation and has pledged to cooperate with federal authorities.
Bottoms has said questioning whether her administration would be an extension of Reed’s is sexist and “an affront to every woman like my mother who raises girls to be strong women.”
But Norwood cited a moment when Bottoms said the only difference between her Reed was that she could smile when she cut you.
For Norwood, the challenge was putting distance between herself and the Republican Party.
In the waning days of the campaign, ads by the Democrat Party of Georgia said electing Norwood would be the equivalent to handing the city over to President Donald Trump.
Norwood was also recorded telling a group of young Republicans in Buckhead that the reason she lost a runoff election to Reed in 2009 was partly due to voter fraud.
Norwood has identified herself as a “progressive independent.” She has repeatedly said that she voted for former President Obama and Hillary Clinton.
At Sunday’s debate, she defended the allegations she made about voter manipulation, saying she had the names of people who were “coerced” to voting in jurisdictions in which they didn’t live.
In some cases, the Republican label was too much for voters to overcome. Casting his ballot at Oakland Missionary Baptist Church, Edward Barnes voted against Mary Norwood.
“I definitely wasn’t voting for a Republican, which I know Norwood is,” he said.
Some of the most sought after group of voters were the progressives who cast ballots for former State Senator Vincent Fort and former City Council President Cathy Woolard in the general election.
After questioning both candidates at a forum a week before the election, Woolard endorsed Norwood.
At least one of Woolard’s supporters followed her lead.
Josh Jones, 25, a yoga teacher, said he voted for Norwood after Woolard backed her.
He said corruption in city hall was a big issue for him.
“People want somebody they can trust and who can keep Atlanta growing, because it’s booming,” he said. “Housing especially is a big deal.”
Hillary Bolle, a writer who lives in Midtown, reluctantly cast her vote for Norwood
“I wasn’t thrilled with either candidate,” said Bolle, who voted for Mitchell in November.
“There’s a lot about Keisha Lance Bottoms that makes me nervous with the corruption in city hall and the fact she didn’t pay her water bill,” said Bolle.
Bolle said it “gave her pause” to vote for a white candidate in a diverse city that has had black leadership for so long, but she didn’t feel Bottoms was an ethical candidate.
MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT.
Never miss a minute of what's happening in Atlanta politics. Subscribe to myAJC.com.