Atlanta’s political landscape shifting with Nov. 5 election wins and losses

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?

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.

4 replies
  1. John Hutcheson says:

    I have no problem with Liberty Media moving out of the city. The “Braves” have not lived up to their commitments to help the private sector develop the area around the stadium. Exploitive corporate citizens. Remember the primary reason the location did not work was because MARTA could not afford to create a hub in the area and that was because counties like Cobb refused to participate in MARTA because of — well let’s just be truthful — racism. All I ask as a taxpayer in Atlanta for many, many years, is that the same people who have exploited us do not get to use our name — so call them what they are —the Cobb County Crackers.
    John HutchesonReport

    Reply
  2. jamalA says:

    Good read, I was fan of lomax he envisioned the city like a planner with a emphasis on viable, walkable neighborhood’s this is Mayor Reeds legacy now to not screw it up. Whoever comes after him has to have that vision and be able to articulate it. After hearing Michael Bond whine about loosing the Braves, rather than seeing the vision we have been wanting of getting that space back is telling and sad. What happens here with the proximity to downtown, Castleberry hill, the trolley having a real impact in growth of the short Auburn Ave corridor and finally findings away to curb unwanted behavior downtown in a more interesting way that offensive planter boxes is critical. And race is irrelevant.. well almost.Report

    Reply
  3. John Hutcheson says:

    jamalA Hi Jamal, I agree with most of what you added, but remember that Lomax was an advocate of city-county consolidation which was a suburban ploy to recapture white control of city government. Had that occurred there would be no neighborhoods in the city to protect. It is relevant to note that the primary (faux) argument for city-county consolidation was efficiency — it was argued that it would eliminate duplication. Interesting, when that plan failed because of demographic (race) changes in Fulton County, the suburban forces reversed field and started the incorporation movement  — Johns Creek, City of Sandy Springs, etc. — obviously, efficiency was not longer relevant — then, what was the motivation. I would contend it is and always has been greed and insulation — insulation from people who don’t look like them or don’t have the wealth that they will protect at all costs. Did you see the laudatory piece on the Mayor of Sandy Springs in the AJC? Money has captured the press.Report

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.