Buckhead’s Mary Norwood becomes a mayoral campaign issue, hires election monitoring company
By John Ruch
Mary Norwood isn’t running in the mayoral race for a change, but Buckhead’s City Councilmember-elect has become a last-minute campaign issue in the contentious runoff between Councilmember Andre Dickens and City Council President Felicia Moore. Norwood herself says she has privately hired a company to monitor the election for voting problems.
Norwood’s involvement in an infamous 2020 “Kraken” election lawsuit has become fodder for Andre Dickens’ campaign to associate rival Felicia Moore with President Trump by way of her friendly relations with Norwood. Moore calls the claim part of a “despicable” attempt to divide Black voters that shows Dickens is “not fit to run this city.” Norwood says she isn’t working for either candidate, and that they didn’t ask her to.
The attempt to connect Moore and Norwood was launched openly in a Nov. 24 Facebook post by Vincent Fort, a Dickens campaign consultant and former state senator. “YOU ARE KNOWN BY THE COMPANY YOU KEEP!!!” he proclaimed with a link to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story about Norwood and the lawsuit. Fort also rehashed a list of recent issues where the Dickens campaign has painted Moore as allied with racists or Trump supporters. Both Dickens and Moore are Black and Democrats.
“I know over the years that… Felicia and Mary Norwood are close and they’re friends,” Fort said in a phone interview. “They worked closely together on [the] council, and my concern is that Felicia Moore is a close ally of a person who made common cause with Donald Trump to suppress the Black vote in last November’s election.”
He didn’t mention Norwood, who is white, is also known for her razor-thin losses in mayoral races to Kasim Reed in 2009 and incumbent Keisha Lance Bottoms in 2017, who are Black. Both contests were marked by racial division and claims that Norwood is a closet Republican, which she has always denied, saying she is an independent. And there’s Norwood’s home neighborhood of Buckhead, which is in the throes of a cityhood secession movement that is a major campaign issue. Norwood says she’s neutral on the issue at the moment.
Norwood previously served on the City Council alongside Moore, who represented District 9 and then became council president, as well as for four years alongside Dickens, who holds the Post 3 at-large seat. Norwood and Moore worked together on some legislation, including an ultimately successful effort to put City financial activity online for transparency. Norwood now chairs the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods (BCN), a coalition of local neighborhood associations, and last month won election to Buckhead’s open City Council District 8 seat without any competition.
Moore fires back
Moore said in a phone interview that she knows Norwood through local politics but has not always agreed with her and did not seek her endorsement. Moore blasted the Dickens campaign for such public claims as well as what she called a “whisper campaign” that led one of her own volunteers to ask if she had voted for Trump.
“This is crazy,” said Moore. “I think this is showing me the way you run your campaign has a lot to do with the way you govern, and if this is the way you run, Mr. Dickens is not fit to run this city.”
“I find it despicable and insulting that… every time I turn around, there is a different attack that is clearly targeted to get Black voters to not support my campaign,” Moore said, adding that the campaigns should focus on substantial issues.
In her response she also Dickens’ status as a church leader: “As an African American woman who has worked hard and done her job to serve this city all these years, the deacon, Andre Dickens, needs to sit back and think about what they are doing, because it’s hurtful, it’s divisive, and it’s unfair.”
A Dickens campaign spokesperson did not immediately respond to a comment request.
Some Buckhead precincts were among those where Moore polled higher than Dickens in the general election. She attributes that in part to her well-known, regular appearances at community meetings — large and small — in that area and many other parts of the city over her years of service. The BCN was frequently among the many organizations where she appeared from time to time. Those citywide relationships, she says, are why she thinks she is the better candidate to deal with “the threat of Buckhead leaving our city.”
Moore said Norwood’s only election-time work she is aware of is general get-out-the-vote efforts, following concern that Buckhead turnout would be lower than normal. Moore said she didn’t seek any endorsements until Dickens started touting some, and said she specifically did not seek Norwood’s endorsement.
“Mary ran for mayor and she had a good run at it, but I wanted to run my race on my own,” Moore said.
As for the attempt to tie her to the Trump election lawsuit via Norwood, Moore said, “I think that’s an extreme stretch and Mr. Fort should be ashamed of himself.”
Fort, however, was unrepentant when told of Moore’s displeasure. “It’s the Jesse James thesis,” he said. “If you hang out with bank robbers, you must be a bank robber yourself.”
Regarding Moore’s concerns that such claims attempt to divide Black voters, Fort said: “She’s done a good enough job of that. I don’t have to do that.”
Echoing his Facebook post, Fort repeated some of the recent campaign sniping and blunders. Moore had to retract an endorsement video where a supporter who turned out to be a Trump backer incorrectly bashed all of Atlanta’s Black mayors as corrupt. She backtracked on a statement about the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, the teen who last year shot three men during his vigilante patrol of a protest in Wisconsin, first focusing on racial disparities in such cases and later on the victims. The Dickens campaign also scored coverage of a complaint that a campaign ad portrayed him with darker skin. Moore’s campaign says it was not involved in the ad, which apparently came from a political action committee, and questions whether the photo was altered in the first place.
Norwood’s election monitoring
Norwood said in a phone interview that she is making good on her promise not to endorse or work for any mayoral candidate this year. “No campaign has asked me for an endorsement of any mayoral candidate all the way back [to the general election], again, because people know it’s not a team sport. So that’s that,” she said.
Norwood offered praise for both remaining mayoral contenders — though more strongly for Moore and more faintly for Dickens.
“Number one, Felicia and I have always worked well together. We always have,” said Norwood. “…I have always respected her work ethic, her sense of responsibility to know what is before her when she takes a vote or chooses to vote negatively, and I will say in my years of being down there [on the council]… I never looked up at the big scoreboard in the sky and questioned any of her votes, ever… So I respect her very much.”
And what about Dickens? “I sat next to Andre [on the council] for four years,” said Norwood. “Andre is a very nice young man.”
As for that lawsuit filed last year as part of the Trump campaign’s conspiracy-fueled attempt to overturn his election loss, Norwood says her small role was “misconstrued” as support for Trump. Norwood was one of the hundreds who filed affidavits for the case about alleged election experiences — in her case, the 2017 mayoral election, where she claimed various irregularities and where many of her local supporters have long alleged some form of fraud. Norwood said she went to some effort to create the affidavit, including having her attorney brother draft its language, but that she filed it because a local advocate asked her to and only on the principle of good government.
“But it wasn’t part of [the movement saying], ‘Let’s all be part of Trump and this is investigating the 2020 election,’” Norwood said. “I didn’t care who it was, whether it was [Democratic voting rights activist] Stacey Abrams… It wasn’t a partisan thing with me or [about] a preferred candidate. I’ve been about fair elections forever.”
That interest extends into what Norwood says she is doing this campaign season — the unusual step of hiring a firm to monitor and report on the general and runoff elections. She said she’s spending her campaign money on the effort.
“I have hired a company that is doing election monitoring for me right now for the election,” Norwood said. The monitoring is “not for any particular candidate” but looking for “issues” and “anomalies” in voting. No major ones have been found so far, she said.
She identified the election-monitoring company as Custos LLC but declined to provide contact information for it until after the election. “I know them through friends of friends,” she said.
State records show Custos was incorporated on Oct. 20 and uses a Buckhead UPS store as its address. Its organizer is listed as Alex A. Cruce, who could not immediately be reached for comment. Its registered agent is an attorney who is listed as a member of the National Association of Republican Lawyers, a group whose mission includes “advancing open, fair and honest elections.”
A man named Alex Cruce reportedly spoke about alleged 2020 election irregularities last December at a Cobb County Republican Party office, according to reports in the Epoch Times and North Fulton Today, which are media outlets known for dubious sourcing and right-wing political affiliation. SaportaReport could not immediately confirm the reports or whether it is the same Alex Cruce as the Custos organizer.
Norwood says her hiring of the company, as well as other campaign spending on yard signs encouraging people to vote, are principled acts of promoting fair elections.
“I have made the decision to be absolutely apolitical,” said Norwood. “People will think that this [election monitoring] isn’t. I care a lot about elections.”
“If getting out the vote and making sure you have a fair election is not a good use of campaign money,” she added, “I don’t know what is.”