Of ‘thugs’ and ‘coded language’ Atlanta mayoral candidates clash in GPB debate

Atlanta will elect a woman as mayor in 2017. Keisha Lance Bottoms (left) and Mary Norwood will face off in a Dec. 5 runoff. AJC file

Atlanta mayoral contenders Keisha Lance Bottoms and Mary Norwood clashed Tuesday in a debate that highlighted the racial politics that could polarize the race a week ahead of the runoff.

The two candidates, both councilwomen, have both embraced aggressive new ethics overhauls amid the federal corruption probe into City Hall. The two elaborated on their plans to reduce housing inequality. And both pledged to push for new pay and incentives for police officers.

But the sharper exchanges during the Georgia Public Broadcasting debate revolved more around tone and political strategy and less about policy.

Bottoms faced tough questions over the Democratic Party of Georgia’s ads depicting her opponent as a closet Republican. And Norwood was criticized by her rival for “coded language” in an address to Buckhead Young Republicans that was secretly recorded.

They were among the biggest clashes in the debate between Norwood, who would become Atlanta’s first white mayor since 1973, and Bottoms, who enjoys the support from incumbent Mayor Kasim Reed and much of the city’s African-American and Democratic establishment.

TV host Monica Kaufman, a panelist on the debate, opened the debate with a pointed question about ads from the Democratic Party of Georgia depicting Norwood as a member of the “Party of Trump.”

“Can you control the Democratic Party and their message which is becoming very racist?” Kaufman asked.

Bottoms responded by saying Norwood has essentially forced the party’s hand. She said “racial conversations have become injected” into the campaign in part because of Norwood’s answers to questions at previous forums involving racial profiling and Donald Trump.

Norwood said she’s suffered a string of “half truths, slanderous comments and falsehoods that are impacting not only me but this city.”

“Let’s be very clear. I am progressive in every sense of the word,” she said. “And the fact that I’m being maligned with a label that itself is being maligned – I’ve stood firm against any bigotry, any hatred.”

The candidates also turned to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report on Norwood’s allegations that Reed’s campaign engaged in widespread voter fraud to win his 2009 race against her. Bottoms said Norwood littered her comments with “coded language,” including the use of the word “thugs” during that June address, which was recorded in secret by a crowdmember.

“The coded language was related to African-Americans who exercised their lawful right to vote,” said Bottoms. “And my opponent referred to it in a secret tape using coded language.”

When Norwood responded that a case involving 111 people who crossed over jurisdictional lines to vote using an address for a public housing that no longer existed, Bottoms cut in.

“Did you use the word thug? Did you call them thugs?”

Answered Norwood: “Thugs does not mean African Americans, Ms. Bottoms. Thugs mean unethical behavior.”

Kaufman, meanwhile, expressed frustration over the bitter infighting between the candidates. In the windup to a question during the televised debate, she said she once was excited that two women in a runoff could bring a different type of campaign.

Instead, she said, “you two are acting like typical Republican, Democratic and independent men.”

Both candidates, however, made clear they would stick to their labels: Bottoms a Democrat, Norwood an independent. Asked about the potential of an alliance with Gov. Nathan Deal and his successor, both were frank.

Said Norwood: “When we talk in these terms, in Rs and Ds and reds and blues and coding, it becomes so hard for our next mayor to work with the next governor – a Republican, possibly, and a Republican administration.”

In her answer, Bottoms suggested her rival has different messages for different audiences.

“Everyone has to understand where you stand,” said Bottoms. “I’m a Democrat. A lifelong Democrat. And when I walk into the state Capitol, they’ll know that.”

Watch the entire debate here:

Reader Comments 16

24 comments
4xtra
4xtra

To be honest, 

I am black and I do NOT feel a racist intent here.

THUG is being used as the new N word but I do not feel that was the case here.


Ms Bottoms knows that Norwood will win the election and she is reaching.

Ms Bottoms is simply an extension of the REED administration

TRW9
TRW9

Thank you Monica Kaufman for shutting up Ms. Bottoms in this debate, who could not seem to answer a single question without slandering Ms. Norwood. Ms. Kaufman insisted all the backbiting and slandering was not necessary. Ms. Kaufmann said she expected more from the women candidates. Why should we expect more from Ms Bottoms? Isn’t this the characteristics of her number one supporter - Mayor Reed. 

sp60
sp60

We really need Norwood to win this. She's the only one that has at least some honesty and trustworthiness. 



LorenW
LorenW

KLB will do all she can to deflect investigations into City Hall corruption to preserve KR legacy.  He gets all the airport vendors to donate to KLB campaign.  One hand washes the other.

Dick James
Dick James

Keisha Lance Bottoms did not pay her property taxes, and tax liens were placed on her properties.  Yet she recently purchased a million dollar place in Martha's Vineyard.  She is a protege of Kasim Reed who has endorsed her.  Is this someone who will clean up City Hall?


Shirley Franklin and Ceasare Mitchell have endorsed Mary Norwood.  I think she is a better choice.

Ficklefan
Ficklefan

Corruption and the tremendous need for change in a fast changing Atlanta (moving slowly but surely toward a white majority again) is a very valid and supportable campaign issue. 


But, the election is very close, and Bottoms has her white supporters and Norwood has her black supporters. But one question is paramount. Will race once again decide a very close election, as it did when Reed defeated Norwood using political ads referencing the resurrection of Bull Connor, and the use of fire hoses, and German Shepherds against black citizens? 


The word "thug" actually was, once upon a time, a non-racial term that described unethical and criminal males of any race who were prone to violent behavior. It was not until the rise of hip hop music that it became more applicable to the black males - not because they were labeled by whites, but by black male hip hop artists who liked the term and all of its implications and how it helped to paint a "bad" picture of them, which they wanted - just as they adopted the "n" word to describe themselves (exclusively for use by blacks only, of course). 


So, it is definitely not cricket now to just assume Norwood was using it as some kind of a racist slur.  And of course, if you want to play that game . .  . ask any average black citizen what is most likely the race of any Republican.  That's an easy one . . . white.  Uh-oh. So is "Republican" a dog whistle, a code word?  (i.e. equivalent to "thug?").


Is it unreasonable to argue that constantly referring to  Mary Norwood a Republican (which she is not and never has been) is a racist dog whistle?  No, it would not be unreasonable at all based upon the "thug" argument presented by Bottoms. Especially if you note that the term was adopted, and not forced upon those thus described. 


Times are changing, diversity has arrived, and the day is coming when black candidates will no longer be able to openly tell people to vote for them just because they are black, and to vote against their opponents just because they are white. That worked for a long time and without critique, and it is going to be a difficult adjustment, but it is coming. And it is coming head on in Atlanta right now. 


As the election tightens and December 5 approaches, will there be a backsliding into the old ways of "I am black and she is white, and that is all you need to know when you walk into the voting booth"?  I like to think not, but I would not bet my ranch. 



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

@Ficklefan Uh-oh. So is "Republican" a dog whistle, a code word? 


YES.....white supremacy...white separatist.....Evangelicals.....American exceptionalism....Christianity is the favored religion.....fear of Muslims....


and promoters of kleptocracy


Yes...equivalent to thug.

CharlieATL
CharlieATL

@Ficklefan This is one of the most well thought out and well written comments I have read in AJC online articles.  

RickT
RickT

Wow! You need to look up the definition of the word Progressive. While your at it look up KL Bottoms record. She has done more for the City during her tenure of public service to advance a Progressive agenda than Mary the Republican!

Darid220
Darid220

I need to see Bottoms' tax returns!  She tries to play at being a progressive with her children at private school and a house in Martha's Vineyard.  If APS isn't good enough for her kids how can she be Mayor?

SaveAmericaFromItself
SaveAmericaFromItself

@Darid220 

Liberals know what is best for you and your family, but reside in gated communities with lots of security and send their kids to private schools.

Derrick Smith
Derrick Smith

Atlanta needs a change.  As a black man, i'm all for progressive opportunities available for black people in a society that gives all the perks to white males.  Maynard Jackson changed the whole

UGAGuy
UGAGuy

As a voter, here's what I know for sure....  The candidates that vote strictly along party lines are *NOT* what the city, state or country need.  Partisan politics are tearing our country apart.  I believe they now make decisions just to spite/agitate the other party.  I can't vote in this election but any candidate that is proud of one of the establishment political parties would not get my vote. 

weetamoe
weetamoe

"Coded language"? "Thug"?  Someone buy Ms. Bottoms a tinfoil hat.

Babycat
Babycat

Bottoms is just a puppet for Reed.

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

Speaking to the Buckhead Young Republicans.......about voter fraud ?


Well is she for it or against it ? The GOP sure seems to have no problem with it....nationally or in the state of Ga. Just ask Kemp about that one.


No...the message to the young GOP folks should be......abandon ship....help us save this country.....and let's start with local elections.


There can be no doubt about where the next mayor of Atlanta stands on....race relations....trump....the GOP....and Atlanta's role in addressing these issues.

UGAGuy
UGAGuy

@jezel-dog / Coach - me Deliver the same message to the young Democrats as well.  The two main political parties are destroying this country. 

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

@UGAGuy @jezel-dog / Coach - me ok...how about....corporate profits must be shared....15 and a union....criminal justice reform...


either provide health care for all or introduce competition in the medical...pharmaceutical ....insurance...hospital....industries....


end gerrymandering.....enforce the Open Records Act....guarantee transparency at all levels of gov.....give Frank Dodd teeth....


go on record....Russia is our enemy.....we refuse to become a kleptocracy

anothercomment
anothercomment

We need a change from the corruption vote for Mary Norwood!

Chad Wells
Chad Wells

After what she said my mixed famliy can't vote for her. The civil rights wounds are to deep

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