Mary Norwood and Atlanta’s LGBT vote: It’s not 2009

Atlanta mayoral candidate Mary Norwood. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

The political world has no reason to doubt the several polls that show Mary Norwood to be the strongest candidate in the large scrum running to become mayor of Atlanta.

But what they don’t show is that the councilwoman is probably in an inherently weaker position than she was eight years ago, when she lost a December runoff to a former state senator named Kasim Reed by a mere 700 votes.

Her current status ought not be traced to anything that she’s done, or hasn’t done. But times have changed. The U.S. Supreme Court has bestowed its blessing on same-sex marriage. And then there’s Donald Trump.

In the 2009 contest, Norwood could legitimately call herself the foremost champion of gay Atlanta. In 2017, she’s only one of many. Two of her rivals are card-carrying members of the gay community, including former council president Cathy Woolard, attempting a City Hall comeback after a 13-year absence.

Woolard has been endorsed by Georgia Equality, the most influential gay rights group in the state. The organization has retained Woolard as its Capitol lobbyist for several years.

At a recent forum sponsored by several LGBT groups, focused on young people, when the topic of discrimination came up, Norwood pointed to her authorship of an ordinance that condemned efforts in the state Capitol to give legal protections to business that don’t want to do business with same-sex couples.

“We should all be very respectful of every individual, and I will make sure we have no discrimination in the city of Atlanta,” she said.

Atlanta mayoral candidate Cathy Woolard. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

When Woolard’s turn came, she was able to note that when she was first elected to the council in 1997, she was the first openly gay elected official in Georgia history – who then authored the city’s current anti-discrimination ordinance. “I don’t have to look to see if we have that protection, because I put it there,” Woolard said.

But it didn’t stop there. Former state Sen. Vincent Fort noted his own unsuccessful attempt to repeal a state law that critics say unfairly criminalizes the spread of the AIDS virus.

Former Fulton County Commission Chair John Eaves told of his efforts to have transgender inmates in the county jail housed with members of their preferred sex. Peter Aman, former chief operating officer for the city, claimed credit for ending the “red dog” squad, the Atlanta police unit with a reputation for targeting gays.

Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms said the key to stopping state Capitol efforts to discriminate against gays was a strong alliance with the business community. “When all else fails, everybody understands money,” she said.

Council President Ceasar Mitchell expressed himself in much the same way. As did Michael Sterling, another ex-Reed administration executive.

To understand the distance Atlanta politics has traveled, hop into my Wayback Machine for a short ride:

In that runoff eight years ago, Norwood was a pioneer politician in favor of gay marriage, an opinion favored by only 37 percent of Americans at the time. Reed, who cited religious concerns and endorsed only civil unions, represented the majority in the U.S.

That mayoral contest may have been the first major display of the growing clout of the LGBT vote. “Mary essentially had Midtown on lockdown. At that time, it was really critical to chip away at some of that support,” said Reese McCranie, who is gay.

In the Reed campaign, it became McCranie’s job to do the chipping. While he would later join the Reed administration, McCranie’s boss would wait another three years before he joined President Barack Obama and endorsed marriage equality.

That kind of hesitation won’t wash today. “If you are not supportive of marriage equality, you don’t belong in the race,” said McCranie, who is now a candidate for the District 4 seat on the Fulton County Commission.

Gauging the strength of Atlanta’s LGBT community today still requires some guessing. Beth Schapiro, a mostly retired Democratic pollster, says gay voters probably make up between 10 and 12 percent of registered voters in the city – though a high rate of turnout probably could increase that influence to 13 or 14 percent.

“It’s a community that tends to be politically involved and active,” Schapiro said. She pointed down the November ballot, where gay candidates are in the race for city council president, two council seats, and that Fulton County Commission seat.

While Norwood may no longer own the franchise, she still has strong support within Atlanta’s LGBT community. “She is still beloved in the community, and has fought for us her entire career. So it’s not just that she comes here every four years, or every two. She’s there all the time,” said Jamie Ensley, her campaign treasurer.

Ensley, a Decatur bank executive, is the former president of the national Log Cabin Republicans, an organization of LGBT conservatives, and is the current president of the Georgia chapter.

Ensley may be the personification of Norwood’s future problems, should she – as is likely — survive a first November round of voting and head into another run-off.

In 2009, Norwood, who has always described herself as a political independent, was accused of Republicanism, both by Reed and the Georgia Democratic Party. She’s likely to face the same charges this time around.

But Trump has raised the ante, particularly among LGBT voters, with his ban on military service by transgender individuals.

While the national Log Cabin Republicans organization didn’t support Trump, Ensley endorsed the New York businessman during last year’s presidential primaries. Asked whether he remains a Trump backer, Ensley demurred. “I’m only concentrating on Mary Norwood now,” he said.

Candidates aside, the shift in political dialogue has been remarkable, and potent – the difference between standing on the outside of a population, looking in, and living on the inside, looking out.

At that Aug. 28 forum on the issues facing gay youth, the topic of the homeless loomed large. The estimate offered was that Atlanta has a street population of about 3,000. Roughly a third are young and gay.

“I was a gay kid,” Woolard said. “I ran away from home when I was 15, and I stayed away for weeks — caused my parents all sorts of hell.”

But it was Laban King, the other gay candidate in the mayoral contest, who brought an extended silence to the forum. King is an entrepreneur, an underfunded candidate unlikely to scratch in November.

When the renewed epidemic of HIV among young black men was mentioned, other candidates spoke of the need for more education and better access to medicines that control it. Of the need to increase discipline among those in treatment. King bluntly rejected the talk.

“If you don’t give me a reason to live, then why should I take a pill?” he asked. “The amount of emotional issues that LGBT youth face – spending your billions on science is not going to work. These people need hope.

“They need a reason to want to live. We need to let them know that their lives means something, and that they have value. And once they matter, then they’ll start to take care of themselves,” he said.

That’s something that never got said in 2009.

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Reader Comments 3

39 comments
vobinim
vobinim

our buddy's step aunt makes 84 every hour on the internet... she has been out of a job for four months ...look at this.........www.dreamcash4.com


EdGraham
EdGraham

Mary Norwood would make an *excellent* mayor but, as they did in 2009, the black power elite in the city, helped by their black power elite allies in other cities and in Washington, will make sure that neither she nor any other white candidate becomes mayor.

gizeduw
gizeduw

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curt49
curt49

The main things I remember about Woolard is her arrogant self righteousness. Ever wonder why you can't get a drink on after midnight on Sunday in the city of Atlanta? Thank Woolard who, as council president,called bars scofflaws for opening on Sunday and citing that she quit drinking long ago and hasn't been into a bar in years. For months everything was shut down on Sunday.

That's her choice and has nothing to do with me. I don't need someone shoving their "values" down my throat because they fought their own demons and certainly don't want her in a powerful role like mayor.

She didn't help Atlanta's image as a narrow minded backwater and made us the laughing stock of tourists and convention goers as I heard on a trip abroad where I literally heard a bunch of international travelers ask "what happened to Atlanta? It used to be fun"


Physician heal thyself....Woolard. We need a leader, not a an arrogant boss.

Spinoza
Spinoza

Identity politics is getting a bit tiresome.  I have had gay friends and accepted gays for decades but there are many important issues than just talking about identity groups.  Education is and should remain at the top and I hear relatively little about it.

EdGraham
EdGraham

@Spinoza But that's what the democrats thrive on - identity politics!

steveyb
steveyb

Mary Norwood doesn't need any Trump supporters working for her. He has to be the most incompetent Ametican president ever. Mary will bring honesty and transparency to Atlanta government.

zekeI
zekeI

@steveyb

That would be Obama you are referring to, RIGHT?

Richard Plenty
Richard Plenty

Wow a comment section that works. Just let me say the AJC's the most messed up web site ever. How about something simple that is not impossible to navigate. And how about taking down those stories month old. I can't believe I pay for this mess!

jezel-dog / Coach - me
jezel-dog / Coach - me

MAKE AMERICA  WHITE AGAIN.....


THE ALT RIGHT...... Its members reject the American democratic ideal that all should have equality under the law regardless of creed, gender, ethnic origin or race.[2][44]


Either you are for this agenda or you are against it.


It does not matter what... color....religion....sexual orientation....sex....age.....level of education.....you may be.....


Find a candidate willing to talk about this assault on our country.... and vote for them

jezel-dog / Coach - me
jezel-dog / Coach - me

Encourage the media and corporate leaders in Atlanta...to promote debates.....so that we can determine the best candidate to lead Atlanta.


Who will be the best candidate ?.....the one who is.....the most vocal and outspoken.....the one best connected with the... business ...church.....minority communities........the candidate who is MOST COURAGEOUS.

jezel-dog / Coach - me
jezel-dog / Coach - me

@Pelosied @jezel-dog / Coach - me


another Fox news techniqueFox does not like to waste time debating the idea. Instead, they prefer a quicker route to dispensing with their opponents: go after the person's credibility, motives, intelligence, character, or, if necessary, sanity. No category of character assassination is off the table and no offense is beneath them


Some of you argue in such a predictable way.....lol

Spinoza
Spinoza

@jezel-dog / Coach - me Virtually everyone is against it and it is non-issue in this city.  There are plenty of political issues to address instead of spending a lot of times talking about some marginal fools acting out in Virginia.

Goldie Hernandez
Goldie Hernandez

Norwood is a phony, says anything based upon the current trend.

Woolard.....give it up you won't make the runoff.

Aman look to be the least involved with identity/political correct politics and focused on city management.

WonderingAboutAmerica
WonderingAboutAmerica

Why in the name of all that is decent and good does the Urinal-Constipation keep stuffing perversion down people's throats?

Enough already! Decent people are sick and tired of being bombarded with LGBTQ sleaze, filth, and disease.

Spinoza
Spinoza

@WonderingAboutAmerica "Decent people" that is rich.  Friedrich Nietzsche was right when he said "Christians spend too much time judging."

JaperJones1918
JaperJones1918

Mary Norwood wants to protect our trees from short-sighted, selfish, arrogant developers. She's got my vote. Our City's identity is our trees and we all benefit from them. I'm sure she'll handle the other stuff fine. We should also decriminalize all drugs. Putting people in jail for being a drug user is a backwards waste of resources. 

Enoch19
Enoch19

Identity politics is not good for America or for Atlanta.  

jezel-dog / Coach - me
jezel-dog / Coach - me

@Enoch19 Fox and like-minded media figures also use ad hominem attacks not just against individuals, but entire categories of people in an effort to discredit the ideas of every person who is seen to fall into that category, e.g. "liberals," "hippies," "progressives" etc. This form of argument - if it can be called that - leaves no room for genuine debate over ideas, so by definition, it is undemocratic. Not to mention just plain crass.

Spinoza
Spinoza

@jezel-dog / Coach - me @Enoch19 Really?  Global warming, education funding, health care, the public infrastructure, international relations all identity politics?  I don't think so.  Few countries pay so much attention to this narrow minded and divisive approach to politics and for good reason.

OldEngineer
OldEngineer

Almost anyone but Buckhead Barbie Norwood would be fine. 

BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

You don't seem a very discerning voter. Exactly what do you mean by "almost"?

LookCloser
LookCloser

First we have the "got to be black" to be elected Mayor in Atlanta, now "got to be gay" coming.....we are living in one screwed up world.  Might as well bend over and kiss your ashes goodbye people.

BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

Carried to its logical extreme, the AJC's ideal candidate would be a black lesbian with a Hispanic surname, Muslim by religion, and physically disabled.

No2Decatur
No2Decatur

Still mad about not getting that promotion from the "unqualified" African American who had more experience and education, huh?

Monicanudo
Monicanudo

Homosexuals are less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, according to more reliable estimates. But the AJC thinks 10-12 percent of Atlanta voters are?

And that homosexual issues are all they care about? Not public safety, schools, transportation or taxes?


LookCloser
LookCloser

@Monicanudo That's cause "wait for it..........."   


AJC has an Agenda!   God help them all when they stand before God.  It ain't gonna be a pretty sight. 

chill30313
chill30313

Atlanta has a huge gay population. Many move here to escape the sort of bigotry they face from people like you in small towns all of ver this region.

justhetruth2017
justhetruth2017

@Monicanudo why do you think gay people dont care about public safety? taxes? do you even realize what you are saying? 

I just cant see how Cathy Woolard justifies staying in. She doesnt even have the gay community support. She has a sexual harassment suit filed against her....she screwed up a $10 mill HIV grant we lost when she was in office......she couldn't run a lemonade stand much less the city. She is a mess and definitley not qualified to be Mayor. She is GETTING A PASS because she is out. But we DONT SUPPORT HER because she doesnt support us

creative
creative

All I care about is statues and bathrooms in middle schools. What's all this taxes, traffic, and public safety nonsense??

JaperJones1918
JaperJones1918

@LookCloser @Monicanudo  there is no being in the sky that gives a rat's behind about who you love. The only reason you care is because the Romans forced Christianity on the majority of Europe that they forcefully invaded like 2000 years ago and it stuck. 

Trackbacks

  1. […] out Sunday’s column on why Mary Norwood, the current frontrunner in the Atlanta mayoral race, may be in a weaker position than she was in 2009, when she lost a runoff to Kasim […]

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  2. […] That Mary Norwood got a nod is no surprise. Her campaign treasurer, Jamie Ensley, is also president of the GLCR. […]

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  3. […] City Councilwoman Mary Norwood: As the only independent in the race, I believe I’ll have the unique ability to transcend both sides of the aisle and work with everyone. It will be very important for the next mayor to leverage the dollars we get for transportation improvements. […]

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