Atlanta business community assessing mayoral candidates

By Maria Saporta

The wooing between the Atlanta business community and the two mayoral candidates is in full swing.

Although the business community can’t produce the number of votes to get a candidate elected (partly because many executives live outside the city), their financial contributions are critical in financing campaigns in a close election.

A week ago, both mayoral candidates had back-to-back meetings with the executive committee of the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the executive committee of Central Atlanta Progress.

Former state Sen. Kasim Reed met with the CAP executive committee at the Hurt building at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 11.

At the exact same time, City Councilwoman Mary Norwood was meeting with the executive committee of the Metro Atlanta Chamber at its headquarters building a few blocks away.

Then both candidates swapped places; Norwood went on to CAP and Reed went over to the Metro Chamber.

“A week after the election, we felt it was important to meet with both candidates,” said A.J. Robinson, president of CAP.

“Now that the field has narrowed, you can really compare Kasim Reed and Mary Norwood,” Robinson added. “Both have a high energy level. Both candidates are in a position to prove, not just to the business community, but to everyone that they can lead the city in an accountable and realistic way.”

Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, about 30 people attended the session at the chamber, and the executive committee members were able to ask both candidates questions about how they would run the city. Williams said it “was just coincidental” that the Chamber and CAP were holding meetings with the mayoral candidates at the exact same time.

“We just set it up as soon as we could,” Williams said.

Both Reed and Norwood fully understood the importance of establishing a close working relationship with the city’s business community.

Neither candidate was the first choice of many of the city’s top business leaders. They actually had put their support behind Atlanta City Council President Lisa Borders, who came in third on Nov. 3. Since then, Borders has endorsed Reed for mayor.

Norwood said she had talked to Borders about her possibly serving as a liaison between her campaign and the business community. But that was before Borders endorsed Reed.

The meetings at the chamber and CAP felt more like an interview rather than a discussion, Norwood said. She said business leaders asked questions about the city’s pension crisis, its financial situations and public safety.

Norwood said she told the group that she didn’t have all the answers, but that we would look to the business community to help her solve the city’s problems. She envisions establishing technical advisory committees to work on the various issues.

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin created the Atlanta Committee for Progress, a high-powered group of top business leaders, to help her work on several of her top initiatives — from the Beltline to the homeless to the Peachtree Corridor.

“I’m very interested in continuing an organization like the Atlanta Committee for Progress,” Norwood said. “The business community is so important to Atlanta’s health and Atlanta’s prosperity.”

Reed said he enjoyed having an opportunity to meet with the executive committees of CAP and the chamber.

“I think I have a clear vision of where I want to take this city, and I believe both CAP and the Metro Chamber are essential partners,” Reed said. “I hope I conveyed to them how essential they are to a thriving Atlanta and to an Atlanta that works well.”

Several business leaders who were in the meetings were reluctant to publicly comment on how well the two candidates in their presentations.

It is widely thought that the business community will hedge its bets by sending contributions to both candidates.

But it appears that Borders’ endorsement has translated to more tangible support for Reed among business leaders. Also, several business leaders described Reed as having honed in his message and as having matured during the campaign.

And even before a new Atlanta mayor has been elected, the Metro Atlanta Chamber already has gotten involved in next year’s gubernatorial election.

On Tuesday, Nov. 10, it invited the top four Republican candidates for governor — Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, Secretary of State Karen Handel, former state Senator Eric Johnson of Savannah and U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal — at a session moderated by former WSB-TV reporter Bill Nigut.

Then this Tuesday, the top four Democratic gubernatorial candidates were invited to a similar session at the Metro Atlanta Chamber. Interestingly enough, Attorney General Thurbert Baker had to cancel the day before for health reasons.

That left three Democrats to be interviewed by Nigut — former Gov. Roy Barnes, former Georgia Labor Commissioner David Poythress and state Rep. DuBose Porter of Dublin.

In talking to a couple of people who were present at the Democratic session, Barnes showed a strong command of the issues, and Poythress was impressive. There was one awkward moment, however, when Porter stayed on stage longer than his allotted time. Apparently, he had more to share with the group than time allowed.

Unfortunately, both sessions with the gubernatorial candidates were closed off to the press.

About Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.
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