By Maria Saporta
Atlanta’s mayoral race has one less candidate.
In a fairly dramatic moment at the end of a mayoral forum Monday evening, candidate Duvwon Robinson removed his jacket and put on a Lisa Borders T-shirt, and then he announced he was withdrawing from the race and throwing his support behind the president of the Atlanta City Council. The two then hugged.
Robinson’s withdrawal from the mayor’s race means there are now 12 people who are running for the city’s top office. Because Robinson came armed with a Borders T-shirt, it’s obvious the announcement was premeditated.
One of the Sen. Kasim Reed’s supporters commented: “I would rather have the endorsement of Ambassador Andrew Young.” Young endorsed Reed last week.
Nine of the 13 mayoral candidates participated in the forum that was co-sponsored by National Black MBA Association and the Atlanta Business League held at Georgia Power’s auditorium.
The forum served as a reminder of why the field is being led by the four top candidates: City Councilwoman Mary Norwood, Borders, Reed and attorney Jesse Spikes.
The other candidates clearly didn’t have as much of a grasp of the issues facing the city, and a couple of them only seemed prepared to talk about one subject.
For example, candidate Peter Brownlowe kept saying he would make Atlanta a crime-free city. But when he was asked about other issues, such as how he would reduce the city’s unemployment, Brownlowe said he would rather answer a question about public safety.
The crowd of about 175 attendees responded most warmly to Norwood, Borders and Reed — often applauding after the three front-runners spoke.
Much of the discussion centered on how the city is broken and what the candidates would do to fix Atlanta’s city government.
Reed focussed on his tenure at the state legislature — four years in the Georgia House and seven years in the Georgia Senate. He said he had helped the city secure state loans to fix its sewer infrastructure, worked to help the city consolidate its courts and represented the city’s interests in the development of the Beltline.
Norwood, the only white candidate in the race, made it clear she was running to represent the entire city. She said she wanted to focus on the “nuts and bolts” of the city’s business and try to bring prosperity to the entire city including communities that have been left out of Atlanta’s revitalization.
Borders said she wanted to make sure the city was financially stable and safe. She also said that different sections of the city should not be competing with each other. “The mayor needs to stand as a cheerleader for Atlanta,” she said.
Spikes said Atlanta voters need to elect a mayor from outside of government because the three elected officials of not having fixed the city’s problems. “We need a fresh face,” Spikes said. “ The people who have been at the table before have not been able to get it done.”
Candidate Glenn Thomas, who often is included in the list of front-runners, top message Monday evening was that the city should charge a non-resident tax of about $30 a month per person. Although the city of Atlanta only has a half million
residents, it has a daily population of 2.5 million who use the city’s services.
“It’s something that works in many other cities in the country,” Thomas said of a non-resident tax, which he said would raise about $100 million a year.
Candidate Tiffany Thomas, a Midtown resident, said she would prefer a parking tax as a source for new revenues. She also said a top priority for her would be to develop a street light commission to make sure the city’s streets are lit as a way to reduce crime.
Candidate Rod Mack said he would encourage employees to work from home and that as mayor, he planned to walk to work every day.
When asked about whether the city should privatize some of its operations, Reed pointed to the city’s privatization of its water operations, which he called a “disaster” because the private company let the city’s infrastructure deteriorate. He also said Atlanta’s airport should not be privatized. “I think it is the city’s greatest asset,” Reed said.
One of the more interesting questions circled around race and the fact that the city has had a black mayor since 1973. Since the front-runner in the race right now is Norwood, what role will race play in the campaign.
“The river of race runs through every conversation that we have in the city of Atlanta,” Borders aid. “I think it will have some impact.” Then she added that the election “should not be about race or rhetoric,” but about each candidate’s qualifications.
(The most recent independent poll conducted by InsiderAdvantage showed that Norwood had the support of 30 percent of likely voters; Borders had 28 percent; Reed had 8 percent and Spikes had 2 percent. No other candidate had garnered support of at least 1 percent of likely voters. Some of the candidates have questioned the accuracy of that poll).
There also was a question about whether they would support the city’s affirmative action policies.
“I used to be for affirmative action,” Brownlowe said. “I believe we are at the stage now where we have come far enough.”
Norwood, however, strongly disagreed. “I believe we need affirmative action in the city of Atlanta, absolutely,” said Norwood, who has run women-owend businesses. “There’s always a need and responsibility of city government to make sure every one has equal access.”
Robinson, who now is no longer a candidate, admitted to being “conflicted” about affirmative action. “Minorities get contracts, and then they forget,” Robinson said. “We have black supremacy and we have white supremacy right here in Atlanta.”
The non-partisan election will take place Nov. 3. Given the number of candidate, even with one dropping out, it is almost guaranteed that the mayor’s race will end up with a run-off between the top two candidates.
But who those top two candidates will be is yet to be determined.