By Maria Saporta
As unusual as it sounds, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed both won and lost on Nov. 5.
Although he solidly won re-election against three challengers, Reed lost three city council races that he had fought hard to win .
Those three races were: Andre Dickens, who was backed by former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, beat embattled City Councilman Lamar Willis, who was strongly supported by the current mayor. Former Reed rival Mary Norwood beat City Councilman Aaron Watson, who was supported by Reed.
And Reed was unable to get city councilwoman Felicia Moore defeated. She won with 69 percent of the vote against two opponents.
All sorts of conclusions — right and wrong — can be drawn from the election outcome.
First and foremost, one can’t define Atlanta’s politics strictly along racial lines. Norwood, a petite white woman from Buckhead, actually received significant support from African-American neighborhoods. And Watson, an African-American corporate attorney who lives in Morningside, received strong support in white parts of the city.
Second, voters apparently wanted more check-and-balances at City Hall. The new members of City Council are expected to be much more independent than the departing members — much more willing to question proposals coming from the Mayor’s office that their predecessors.
City Council President Ceasar Mitchell welcomed having a more independent council strongly believing that the legislative body should serve as a check and balance to the executive branch.
Third, Nov. 5’s election results already have set off speculation on the next mayoral race in 2017.
Norwood, who lost to Reed by only 700 votes in 2009, could be positioning herself for another mayoral run by winning her old city-wide council seat. But she will have competition. Council President Mitchell has made no secret of his intention to run in four years. Michael Julian Bond, who also has a citywide Council seat, also is seriously considering a run for mayor.
Other possible candidates include City Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms, who is close to Mayor Reed; City Councilman Kwanza Hall; and even State Rep. Margaret Kaiser.
It is interesting to note that the last City Council president to be elected mayor was Maynard Jackson in 1973, when the position was called vice mayor. And the only City Councilman to become mayor in that period was with Bill Campbell’s election in 1993. So being on the City Council clearly is not the ideal stepping stone for someone with mayoral aspirations.
But Atlanta is changing — politically and demographically.
Without a doubt, the 2013 election closed out an era of Atlanta politics.
Forty years ago, Atlanta elected Maynard Jackson — its first African-American mayor —a larger-than-life persona who was elected by the city’s growing black population and its burgeoning neighborhood movement.
Jackson’s strong political influence — sometimes called the “Maynard Machine” —continued to be felt even 10 years after his death.
In reality, the “machine” really was a continuum of power among Jackson’s protégés and numerous campaign operatives who helped elect Andrew Young in 1981, Bill Campbell in 1993, Shirley Franklin in 2001 and even Kasim Reed in 2009.
A deep reverence and respect for Jackson existed among Atlanta’s top political leaders. Take Franklin, who was a member of his cabinet and a student of his leadership style. When Jackson thought Franklin needed political experience, she became deputy director of Andrew Young’s first mayoral campaign. She later became Young’s chief operating officer.
In those days, Jackson still carried great political weight. He was re-elected as mayor for a third term in 1989. But he ended up only serving one term.
That’s when Jackson decided to commit his political team’s support to Bill Campbell, then a city councilman, rather than fellow “Morehouse Man” Michael Lomax. According to Jackson insiders, that ended up being one of his greatest regrets – backing the flawed leader to run his beloved city.
When Franklin was running for mayor — following Campbell’s two terms, she refused to say anything negative about him even though he ended up going to jail. Instead, she let her campaign slogan say it all: “You make me mayor, and I’ll make you proud.”
When she agreed to run for mayor, Franklin accepted the mantle of leadership — and she felt responsible to start grooming the next generation. At the urging of Young, she tapped state legislator Kasim Reed to be her campaign manager — giving him much greater visibility on the Atlanta political stage. Reed also managed her re-election campaign.
In the last two years of the Franklin administration, the economic recession hit causing financial hardships at City Hall. Franklin took on the unpopular task — along with City Council — to pass a significant property tax increase in the summer of 2009 while the mayoral race was in full swing.
The 2009 City Council also changed the way the city budgeted its reserves. The budget stipulated it had to accumulate up to $25 million a year in reserves — explaining how we went from $7 million to about $125 million in our coffers.
During the fall of 2009, it was understood Franklin was supporting Reed behind the scenes despite Reed criticizing the way the city had been run during her administration.
As soon as Reed got elected, Franklin received little of the ceremonial appreciation from Reed that had been part of Atlanta’s great tradition. In fact, Reed rarely mentioned how his successes in building the city’s financial reserves and balancing its budget were partly due to the property tax increase that Franklin and City Council had passed before he was elected.
Unfortunately — for Atlanta’s sake — the schism between Franklin and Reed has only widened — coming to a head in this fall’s race between Dickens and Willis.
Franklin insisted her support for Dickens was simply that — not a proxy fight against Reed. She felt Dickens would be the better elected official.
“I’m glad Andre won,” Franklin said Sunday night. “He has a lot to learn. And I think he’ll be a good Councilmember. I’m glad that he won with a coalition of voters from all over the city.”
She also said that both she and Maynard Jackson also won with a broad coalition of voters from all over the city.
That’s what makes the 2013 results so fascinating. They show that our city’s complexion can’t just be defined by race or geography.
It also begs the question as to whom will hold the seat of Atlanta’s political power going forward. Will it be Mayor Reed? Mayor Franklin? Or are we entering a great unknown in Atlanta politics?