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City of Atlanta run-off elections likely will be decided in the city council’s 6th district

It all will come down to the 6th district.

The outcome of the city of Atlanta’s four run-off elections on Dec. 1 will largely be determined by the voters in Midtown, Virginia-Highland, Morningside and other neighborhoods in the northeastern section of the city.

The four Atlanta contests that ended up in run-offs show the incredible diversity that now exists in our city:

In the mayor’s race, it is between City Councilwoman Mary Norwood and former state Sen. Kasim Reed; in the race for City Council — a white woman from Buckhead running against a black man from Southwest Atlanta. Norwood received 46 percent of the vote, and Reed received 36 percent.

In the city council president’s race, it is between two Atlanta City Council representatives — Ceasar Mitchell, a black man who lives in the Historic West End community; and Clair Muller, a white woman from Buckhead. Mitchell received 49 percent of the vote, and Muller received 42 percent.

In the Post 2 at-large council race, the race is between former Atlanta school board president Aaron Watson, who is black and lives in northeast; and Amir Farokhi, an attorney of Iranian descent who also lives intown. Watson came in with 44 percent of the vote, and Farokhi received 41 percent.

The final Atlanta run-off race is in the 6th district. That will pit Alex Wan, a non-profit executive and gay rights advocate of Asian descent, against Liz Coyle, a white housewife who is a longtime neighborhood activist. Wan received 32 percent, and Coyle got 23 percent.

So why will it come down to the 6th district? It is the only district in the city that’s in a run-off, guaranteeing a high voter turnout in the run-off. Traditionally, voter turnout drops off dramatically when compared to a general election. But a hotly contested run-off election can get voters to go back to the polls.

On Nov. 3, the turnout citywide was relatively low — about 30 percent. The challenge for all the candidates still in the running is making sure their voters go back to the polls.

An analysis of last week’s election results shows that the districts with the highest turnout were primarily in the north — areas that went decidedly for Norwood. The district with the highest turnout was the 8th district, incorporating most of Buckhead, with 44 percent. Norwood received 79 percent of the vote in the Eighth district compared to Reed’s 8 percent.

The 6th district had the second highest turnout, with 40 percent of the vote. In that district, Norwood received 55 percent of the vote compared to Reed’s 21 percent.

Two districts on the southside (the 10th and 11th) did have turnouts of 35 percent, and Reed did well in those two districts. In both of those districts, Reed received 58 percent of the vote compared to Norwood, who received about 20 percent of the vote.

But amazingly, the 11th district race, which had nine candidates, did not end up in a run-off. Keisha Lance Bottoms received 54 percent of the vote for an outright win.

That leads us back to the 6th district.

Since 1997, the 6th district council representative has come from the gay community. First, it was Cathy Woolard, the first openly gay elected official in Atlanta.

When Woolard was elected as City Council president, the 6th district was represented by Anne Fauver, who also is openly gay. Fauver decided not to run for re-election this year, creating a wide open seat in the 6th district.

Because the 6th district is viewed by some as the gay seat on council, it is expected that there will be a high gay turnout on Dec. 1.

So a big question is which candidates in the runoff races will garner most of the gay vote?

This could be the one time when Reed might wish he could take back his statement that he is morally opposed to gay marriage. All the other mayoral candidates said they favored gay marriage.

That stance could come back to haunt Reed. Although Reed has received some gay support for his supportive voting record in the state legislature, he has alienated others in the community.

City Council President Lisa Borders, who came in third in the mayoral election with 14 percent of the vote, did have strong gay support. Conceivably, she could sway some of that gay vote if she were to endorse Reed or Norwood.

But it appears that Norwood, who also received backing by some gay organizations, will continue to have a significant edge in the 6th district.

That leads me to predict that as goes the 6th, so goes the city.

In other words, I predict that Norwood will win Dec. 1. After all, she only has to make up 4 percentage points to get to 50 precinct. Reed has 14 percentage points to get to 50 percent, virtually all of Borders’ votes.

Combine that with Reed’s relatively poor showing in the 6th district, it appears as though Reed has insurmountable challenges in his quest to become Atlanta’s next mayor.

But, I’ll be the first to admit I’m often wrong. I misread the general election, believing Borders would do much better than she did.

Beyond the mayor’s race, it’s harder to know how the 6th district will impact the other two citywide races.

Will Norwood’s voters select another white woman from Buckhead to be City Council president? Or will Mitchell, who has run city-wide and was only a few votes away from winning the seat without a run-off, come out on top?

In Post 2, Watson and Farokhi both have strong followings and are relatively evenly matched. Both have received endorsements from gay and lesbian organizations. From looking at yard signs in the 6th district, it looks as though they’ll split the vote. So which one will be able to get his voters to the polls? Who knows?

What is known is that for the next three weeks the 6th district will be the battleground for all the city-wide races.

And as goes the 6th, so will go the city.

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.



  1. Native Atlantan November 9, 2009 10:09 pm

    I believe your analysis is right on target. However, I would say Norwood supporters generally are more loyal and this is especially true on the south side where they have endured bruit force and intimidation. I think we will be surprised on voting day that Mary’s percentage in south atlanta will increase as voter turnout decreases.

    This is the essence of regime change – it is a hard fight for change.Report

  2. BPJ November 10, 2009 11:55 am

    Any actual evidence of “brute force” or “intimidation”? Other than just rumors?Report

  3. Progressive Dem November 10, 2009 4:57 pm

    I don’t believe this election is decided by the gay vote. No doubt it is important in the 6th. However, the district includes many neighborhoods with straight families, singles and seniors. (Morningside, Virginia Highlands, Lenox Park, Ansley Park and portions of Druid Hills and Candler Park.) Liz Coyle should be able to tunout a sizeable vote, and many of those votes will be open to voting for Reed.

    In mho, the mayor’s election is determined by who organizes a better ground game of voter turnout throughout the city. My gut says Reed, but Norwood has many advantages. Razor thin margin.Report


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