A Thanksgiving Day chat with Andrew Young, on the state of the Atlanta mayor’s race

Atlanta mayoral candidates Mary Norwood (right) and Keisha Lance Bottoms at the Atlanta Press Club debate last week. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Chatsworth, Ga. — The turkey had just gone into the oven when word arrived that Andrew Young, the former U.N. ambassador and mayor, was worried about the state of the current race for City Hall and wanted to talk.

And so we had a Thanksgiving Day chat — he in Atlanta, headed for Paschal’s, and me in the north Georgia mountains.

Young had endorsed Ceasar Mitchell, the city council president, in the mayoral contest. In the runoff, Young is backing Keisha Lance Bottoms over her city council colleague, Mary Norwood. (Mitchell went with Norwood.) It is a tight contest, with racial aspersions being cast on both sides.

Young called for two reasons. He wanted to dispel what he considers unfair concerns about Bottoms that have been generated over the last few weeks — specifically that she would be a creature of the current incumbent, Kasim Reed. And we will get to that.

But Young’s larger worry is that Atlanta is on the cusp of destroying the biracial partnership that has kept the city on a solid civic and business footing for the last half-century.

The two are connected, of course.

Andrew Young, former Atlanta mayor and ambassador to the United Nations. AJC/Phil Skinner

“I think it’s important that politics and business remain a cooperative partnership,” Young said. “It’s the difference between, say, Atlanta and St. Louis. Or Atlanta and Cleveland, or Atlanta and Chicago. There is an independent political base that contributes ideas and growth that really enhances business.”

“For the next 10 days, I’d like people to realize that this partnership requires balance between politics and business — and that that’s a very necessary and healthy part of our success,” said Young, 85.

“In Detroit, where the politics took over the business, and drove the business out, that killed the city,” the former mayor said. “In St. Louis, the business ignored the politics, and took over the politics. And that killed St. Louis. Atlanta has found a way to integrate these two phenomena.”

It was a subtle argument, but Atlanta’s politics have always been nuanced. Young was not precisely saying that, if Norwood is elected, because she is white the alliance between Atlanta’s black political structure and white business leadership — which has seen the city through many a crisis since the 1950s — would be at an end.

But the alliance might be threatened if Norwood were elected as the candidate of Atlanta business.

“I don’t want this to get to be a black-and-white thing, because it’s a whole lot more than that. There’s something special here that I don’t want to lose,” Young said.

He’s also worried that Atlanta’s practiced balance is something that might be discarded by new voters who are changing the dynamics of racial politics in Atlanta. “We have 4,000 of our newest residents and smartest residents and some of our best contributors to the economy, who don’t know how they got here,” Young said. “And they came here because of what we had done 60 years ago.”

Young is not denying the racial overtones inherent in the contest. Mary Norwood often mentions the slights that come her way, and they are in large part true. To accuse a candidate of Republican ties, in this climate, is to draw attention to her race.

But Norwood has been guilty of much the same thing. Only in the last few days has a recording surfaced of Norwood, speaking before the Buckhead Young Republicans in June. In that recording, she accused Kasim Reed of stealing the 2009 mayoral election from her through a series of hardball maneuvers that occurred before and after polls closed.

Reed dismissed her accusations, and Norwood has offered no evidence. She says she regrets that the recording was made public because of the damage it would do to the city’s reputation. Nonetheless, Norwood, who describes herself as an independent, has now identified herself with a very popular Republican meme — that African-Americans and other minorities can only win by cheating.

Which brings us to Keisha Lance Bottoms. Her endorsement by Reed has raised concern that hers would merely be a third term for an otherwise term-limited incumbent.

“They said about me, that I didn’t really want to be mayor, that Maynard [Jackson] was going to run the city. I don’t believe I ever called Maynard,” he said, chuckling. “I basically had to separate myself from him. And I think that’s going to have to happen here, too.”

Young said the most influential man in Bottoms’ life is her husband, Derek Bottoms, a Home Depot executive. Young once lived across the street from his grandfather, the Rev. Lawrence Bottoms, the first black moderator — i.e. chairman or top dog — of the Presbyterian Church (USA). In other words, the family has roots in Atlanta.

What has truly gotten under Young’s skin are the reports casting suspicion on the Bottoms’ ownership of a $1.1 million second home on Martha’s Vineyard. Keisha and Derek Bottoms are both lawyers who earned their degrees from Georgia State University law school. Keisha Bottoms has held a series of public jobs, but Derek Bottoms has risen through the ranks of one of Atlanta’s most successful businesses, Young points out.

“He has been with Home Depot for 23 years, and has collected the same kind of stock options that Arthur Blank and Bernie Marcus collected. Not nearly as much, but as the company grew, his wealth grew with the company. And he’s made good investments. He’s a smart businessman,” Young said.

“But she is being criticized, and everybody assumes that because she has a million-dollar house in Martha’s Vineyard — the implication is that she’s stealing something from the city,” Young said. “It’s a combination of race and ignorance. If two white attorneys had a home down at Sea Island, that wouldn’t be a problem.

“They’re making it a problem, but they have been successful. They grew up in Atlanta, they went to public schools, and they really fulfilled the American dream. Instead of celebrating that as a success of the city, there are elements trying to claim that that’s corruption,” Young said.

“I’m just trying to make sure that people understand that Keisha and Derek Bottoms are basically good, solid Christian people who have been giving leadership quietly in this city in many ways,” Young said. “And who will be able to run the city and keep the coalition between business and human rights together.”

As mentioned before, for decades, politics in Atlanta has been a multi-faceted and nuanced activity that attempts to bridge race and class, wealth and poverty, prosperity and despair. On Dec. 5, we may very well discover whether it can survive the binary, us-them atmosphere that now dogs the rest of the country.

Reader Comments 1

17 comments
Mike Schinkel
Mike Schinkel

I probably would have voted for KLB over Norwood except that I was shown this video by a friend who pays a lot of attention to local politics.  What I found watching this was a caustic political opportunist who I would expect would be just as divisive as mayor -- and the opposite of what Andrew Young asserts -- so I cannot imagine voting for her after seeing this:


https://www.facebook.com/UndecidedATL2017/videos/1758441924456036/

FWIW.

RonHughes
RonHughes

More of the “Keep Atlanta Black” campaign. But, he’s not racist. BS!

Jamesr1991
Jamesr1991

BS total BS Atlanta's poor have been shipped of the city. Look around there are no more public housing units. All done under black mayors. Think had a white man done that Atlanta would have burned for a second time. Maynard made 25 black millionaires with work at the airport thise folks and/or their families still have their hands stretched out.

Bottoms is part of that group time to change.

honeychile
honeychile

Unknowingly, Ambassador Young has unveiled the truth of Atlanta. That business in Atlanta controls politics. And politics is only beholding to that which finances and controls it.


Alex Barrella
Alex Barrella

Both(mainstream) candidates don't care about their constituents getting a fair vote. they are both sledding down a hill on crooked broken systems and hoping no one notices. Write in Alex Barrella on Dec 5th to show the elites they don't choose the election, the people do.

https://alexb4mayor.blogspot.com

tipstotips
tipstotips

“I don’t want this to get to be a black-and-white thing," But, I am going to make it one.

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

With an anti business legislature......with an anti Atlanta rural Ga.....with Evangelicals hell bent on foolishness......with a GOP controlled by white supremacist.....and the dominant party in GA.


Who can best stand up to their assault ....and protect  our investments in Atlanta ?

justhetruth2017
justhetruth2017

and while Andy is headed to Paschalls he may want to drive by the old Paschalls..its actually a shrine to the civil rights movement and he wont lift a finger to save it. I predict it'll be condemned and torn down like all the other civil rights historic sights. All you have to do is ask and the money to restore these precious monuments would come flowing in. But he doesn't care cause the money wont go into his pocket. Andy Young uses black Atlanta to keep his airport contract. to think this guy cares about the average poor black Atlantan makes me want to throw up. 

justhetruth2017
justhetruth2017

You got the money. We got the power. We want the money.  pretty simple. credit that to Tom Wolfe. 
Andrew Young doesn't give a rats a$$ about the poor and disadvantaged black OR white people in this town. His ONLY concern is that he maintain his airport contract. Andrew Young and his family have sold $6 bottles of water to the millions who come thru the airport every year. His daughter runs the company today. Maynard Jackson family basically runs the other half of the airport. The airport is the cash cow to Andy Young, Valerie Jackson, Kasim Reed and MAINLY Keisha Lance Bottoms. Don't believe it? 75% of her campaign contributions have come from airport vendors.  How much did Mary Norwood get from airport vendors less than 1%. Notice anything here? 
Don't believe a word he says ITS ONLY ABOUT HIS MONEY and he knows if Mary Norwood gets elected she will put those contracts online, make it a fair process and then and only then will the procurement process be fair to ALL Atlanta's people. 
Andrew Young called you because he is afraid of losing HIS money that he collected while the rest of black Atlanta ate scraps. Take a ride down Campbellton Road and see how much civic good Andy Young , Or Keisha have done for their own community. If you think for one minute Mary Norwood is beholden to business you need to take a closer look. Big business HAS NEVER supported her because she stands up for the little guy. Ask peole in your neighborhood who they have seen last Mary or Keisha. Then go vote your heart. Andy Young only wants to use you. 

Destiny Addison
Destiny Addison

Be honest who donates the most monies to someone whom they believe will not win? Mary received donations from some of the same vendors. So is the problem that Mary didn’t get as much donations as Keisha? Mary is a wolf in sheeps clothing that knows she can only win if she gets the African American votes. Also, don’t knock a man for investing in himself. All African American people are not poor so stop with the $6 bottle of water jab it’s a non-factor. I’m pretty sure they are not the only people that sale water. This just sounds like a lot of racial profiling. The stigma that African American people are not suppose to be successful or wealthy. I salute Keisha for her accomplishments and believing in the community she grew up in.

escapeplan
escapeplan

So if the white woman gets elected, it's somehow a racist result, but if the black woman wins, it's all good?

Snyder9662
Snyder9662

My only issue with Mary is that she has ties to Karen Handel, who is the most despicable politician in Georgia. 

justhetruth2017
justhetruth2017

@Snyder9662  what ties does she have to Karen Handle? show us your proof....not just some photoshop picture. Ive seen video of Kasim Reed standing on a stage with Harvey Weinstten saying what a great guy he is but that don't mean he and Harvey run together.  

Goldie Hernandez
Goldie Hernandez

The way money and investment takes the path of least resistance, it would only take a few poor anti-business or divisive political decisions by the mayor and/or city council to see the growth flow outside of Atlanta (which is really a small city limit) or onto other areas...Nashville, NC, Texas.

Alex Barrella
Alex Barrella

Businesses; get out if y'all so ready to do so(they bluffing).

We people got this in any case, with a citizen focused Mayor, the city would get better in many ways for PEOPLE and those people use businesses so it should trickle up...

https://alexb4mayor.blogspot.com

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