Torpy at Large: Reed rhetoric hints at a racial runoff strategy

As we head to a mayoral runoff next month between Atlanta councilwomen Keisha Lance Bottoms and Mary Norwood, the question often asked is, “Will things get untidy?”

The campaign’s homestretch is set up to reveal the division lines in The City Too Busy to Hate — north/south, white/black, although you’ll likely hear platitudes from many that race doesn’t matter, abilities do.

But for some reason, you’ll find that a majority on the Southside will find Bottoms more able and that most on the Northside prefer Norwood’s abilities.

I can sense that it might get ugly, based on utterance from the person currently in that office: Mayor Kasim Reed. In essence, The Mayor was tipping his hand as to what’s coming in the next month. And it ain’t pretty.

In a press release issued by his office, which might as well be Bottoms Campaign Central, Reed — through one of his hired Hessians — accused me in a column I wrote Monday of peddling a “racial narrative built on innuendos, assumptions and unfortunate stereotypes.”

I wrote that the overwhelming number of contractors, especially those connected to the airport, are pouring money into Bottoms’ campaign. There has been a call from several former mayoral candidates and the previous mayor, Shirley Franklin, to slow down the contracting process because of an ongoing federal investigation into bribery for contracts in the city, which a prosecutor (not me) called “prolific.”

Tellingly, the one city employee to go down so far is the city’s procurement director. (That’s not including the ex-worker who threw rats on an informant’s front porch.)

“Torpy indulges his deep and personal bias against Mayor Reed and minority contractors whom he feels should not be allowed to compete for business or — heaven forbid — make political contributions to one of the two leading Mayoral candidates,” Reed’s flack wrote.

No, I said nothing about whether these political givers were black or beige, I simply employed a time-honored tool of journalism and pointed out to whom government contractors gave. It’s an especially important discussion now.

There’s a lot of talk about this election being the first time in 44 years where Atlanta might not have an African-American mayor. Perhaps this gets people more emotional. According to The Mayor, I have a problem with minority contractors eating and am blowing the dog whistle.

He also accuses the “right-wing” AJC (please stop laughing) of being in the bag for Norwood. Our sister station, WSB-TV, is also in cahoots, according to Hizzoner’s histrionics. Also, he accuses us of hiding Norwood’s sneaky ways.

Torpy “also fails to note that Mary Norwood accepted significant political contributions from the same airport vendors during her last race for Mayor in 2009.”

OK, I’ll bite. I checked.

An AJC story written by one of our investigative guys dated Oct. 16, 2009, said, “Norwood’s airport donors gave her $11,300 this period,” about 8 percent of her donor total.

That same story noted that then-City Council president and mayoral candidate Lisa Borders brought in $20,150, about 8.5 percent of her donor pool. (She finished third and didn’t make the runoff.)

And a charismatic state senator who was climbing his way up the polls at the time pulled in $36,350 from airport companies and individuals. That young(ish) pol was none other than now-Mayor Reed, the same fellow sending out a letter telling me to look into Norwood.

The AJC, the 2009 story said, “found in recent mayoral campaign reports that almost one of every five dollars given to Reed from large donors came from businesses or individuals with a financial stake at the airport. Such donors — concessionaires, engineering firms, parking companies and limousine companies — were a significant source of cash for Franklin’s campaigns.”

That is Franklin, as in Shirley, who was mayor at the time and was pushing for Reed, just like Reed is now pushing for Bottoms. Franklin, I may add, now can’t stand to be in the same room as the current mayor, mostly because of his penchant for dumping on her time in office in a narrative that extols his accomplishments.

The old way in Atlanta, historically known for civil rights and business, was for the African-American machine to pass the Maynard Jackson torch down to the next able person.

In 2009, that guy was Reed, getting a blessing as he entered the campaign from civil rights hero and former Mayor Andy Young. During the runoff, all sorts of support in the black community came out to push Reed across the finish line, 715 votes ahead of Norwood.

This time, in a city that is a bit more white and upper-income, the surviving two candidates will vie for the supporters of six vanquished opponents, who make up 55 percent of the remaining vote.

I called Ricardo Jacobs, a veteran who works at a Department of Veterans Affairs center and who chairs Neighborhood Planning Unit-R, which is in Bottoms’ district on the southwest side.

Jacobs likes both candidates.

“Mary Norwood has always been in our community helping out,” he said. “Keisha lives in the community. She’s a little different. She has a strong staff who does things in the community.”

Jacobs said voters in the surrounding neighborhoods, who are mostly black, will be sorting through the qualifications of Bottoms and Norwood in the remaining days.

“NPU-R is an older community and many of the elders will support Mary. They know her. The younger voters will probably go for Keisha.”

Jacobs added there’s no longer an anointing. “It’s no longer, ‘You’re next in line.’ You don’t have that meeting at Paschals,” referring to the African-American restaurant that served as a meeting place for Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders during the civil rights movement, and also was an unofficial headquarters for political meetings.

“There’s no longer direct ties to certain people,” Jacobs said. “It’s wide open now.”

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