by Maggie Lee
The two candidates in the runoff to be Atlanta’s next mayor met at a forum Tuesday night, in front of the woman who might just be the queenmaker in the race, and her court, of sorts.
Cathy Woolard, the third-place finisher in the first round of voting, welcomed Keisha Lance Bottoms and Mary Norwood onto a Carter Center stage and said much of the audience was made up of people who were her supporters.
Woolard’s supporters made up about 17 percent of Atlanta voters, concentrated on the east side. Bottoms got 26 percent, Norwood got 21 percent.
And almost as soon as those results came out earlier this month, Woolard said she was going to plan a forum. For about 90 minutes, it was on.
When Bottoms and Norwood got the same questions, their answers were sometimes similar: both said they’d work to get funding for transit from the state. Both called for transit on and connected to the BeltLine. Both said they would pull the city out of legal appeals to a court ruling that handed Clark Atlanta University ownership of property once owned by Morris Brown University. Both said official Atlanta needs to do more to fight HIV and Aids.
Both said they’re dedicated to growing Atlanta’s stock of affordable housing, and returned to ideas they’ve talked about before.
Norwood said the first step is for the city to build affordable housing on Atlanta Housing Authority land. And she said she pushed at the state Capitol for a legal change that lets the city get blighted properties redeveloped more quickly. And she said she wants to set up a way for employers to assist in bankrolling workforce housing.
And Bottoms detailed her $1 billion affordable housing plan: to get half of that in public money, half in private money to build affordable housing. It won’t be quick, she said, and might take as long as 12 years.
Woolard didn’t give them all the same questions.
Bottoms, when asked, said it’s time to take a fresh look at workforce development — getting folks trained to take the skilled jobs that employers need filled. But she returned to a theme that she’s often emphasized: that problems are interconnected. For example, if someone is trained for a job, they still need transportation to get there.
On the idea of public handouts to attract Amazon, Norwood said she’d like to be partners with Amazon and offer it the chance to locate in a diverse city. (Norwood said she agreed with a September Woolard editorial that said just that.)
But Woolard didn’t skirt two of the most reverberating themes in this election: race and ethics.
Norwood, if elected, would be Atlanta’s first white mayor since 1974. Woolard asked who advises her about race and how she would make sure she is hearing from people who are not like her. Much ink has been spilled about an early campaign forum where Norwood paused and asked for clarification on a question about whether she thinks police racial profiling exists.
Norwood said she’s long had colleagues who are black and that as an elected official and campaigner, she’s had a majority African-American staff, including her campaign manager and other campaign leaders.
“They give me advice every day,” Norwood said. She said her trying to be thoughtful about the profiling question has been misinterpreted as her being disconnected.
“I am not disconnected,” Norwood said. Earlier in the day, she’d appeared in front of City Hall with city of Atlanta union workers — many of them black — and with African-American leaders like Joyce and Hattie Dorsey and former mayoral candidate John Eaves, to receive their endorsements. She also has the endorsements of outgoing Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell and former Mayor Shirley Franklin, both African-Americans.
“I have so much support across this city because people are not different,” Norwood said.
Then Woolard turned to Bottoms with what she called a hard question. She said a lot of times people don’t give women credit for knowing their own minds.
But she also said Bottoms has done some things that appear problematic — like controversially holding two city posts at one time (Council, and boss of the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority, where she oversaw the sale of Turner Field). Atlanta’s been hurt by scandal after scandal, Woolard said, and some people don’t feel Mayor Kasim Reed has been ethical or transparent.
Woolard asked Bottoms how she would be different and how she would restore trust.
By way of background, Reed has been one of Bottoms’ most prominent supporters.
Bottoms said she’s not perfect, but that you don’t have to be perfect to serve. And she said an opinion from city’s ethics officer cleared her to hold the two simultaneous posts.
And Bottoms said the notion that somehow she needs any man to hold her hand to become mayor of the city is an insult to her and to all women who work hard.
“Mayor Reed will move on to what ever his life is in January and it will not involve being mayor of Atlanta. This will not be a third term of Kasim Reed. I have support across this city,” said Bottoms.
Earlier in the day, she had published her ethics and transparency platform, which includes a promise to set up a new independent evaluation process for city contracts.
After the forum, Woolard said she’d make a statement on Wednesday morning.