Atlanta’s mayoral runoff as a mirror image of Trumpian politics

Ceasar Mitchell (from left), Mary Norwood, Shirley Franklin, and Peter Aman arrive for a press conference in front of City Hall on Nov. 28. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

The photo, taken the week before Atlanta’s mayoral runoff ended, was as demographically balanced as a fighting platoon in one of those old World War II movies.

Ceasar Mitchell, Mary Norwood, Shirley Franklin and Peter Aman strode abreast down a sidewalk near City Hall, the visual promise of a new brand of politics.

One that was less insular, and unsullied by airport vending cash, which has long served as the mother’s milk of Atlanta campaigns. A system in which character mattered first and race afterward, as Franklin, the former mayor, had phrased it. And most importantly, a City Hall in which power could be shared with a white mayor — a creature that most residents of Atlanta have only read about in history books.

The photograph, like Norwood’s mayoral campaign, was a call for revolution. And on Tuesday, Atlanta wasn’t in the mood.

Thus, Keisha Lance Bottoms, the daughter of a 1960s soul singer and protégé of incumbent Mayor Kasim Reed, will become the 60th mayor of Georgia’s capital city. (Norwood’s hope that yet-to-be-tallied provisional and overseas ballots will change the outcome is an exceedingly thin thread.)

Atlanta mayoral candidate Keisha Lance Bottoms delivers her victory speech to supporters during a runoff election night party at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL

We live in a volatile political climate, courtesy of President Donald Trump. North Korea warns of nuclear war. Jerusalem may soon detonate. Never mind the soap opera in Alabama.

In times of uncertainty, the urge to gamble is suppressed. One tends to hold on more tightly to one’s possessions.

Ownership isn’t necessarily material. It can be aspirational, too. As Bottoms claimed victory in the wee hours on Wednesday, she told of a last campaign stop at Ralph Bunch Middle School in southwest Atlanta, where she once had a desk.

“For all the little girls out there that need to believe that you’re better than your circumstances, I want you all to remember that black girl magic is real,” the mayor-elect said.

Nearly two weeks ago, on Thanksgiving Day, I was on the phone with Andrew Young, the former mayor and ambassador to the United Nations. He was supporting Bottoms in the runoff, but he was more concerned with the threat that he thought Norwood’s candidacy posed to the status quo that Atlanta had created for itself over the last half-century.

“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.”

Young and others like him thought they had something to lose on Tuesday, too.

My point is that, in a highly polarized political climate, a candidate such as Norwood, who was neither fish nor fowl, neither Democrat nor Republican, was as vulnerable and exposed as Mitt Romney at a Trump rally.

For in the end, the runoff for mayor of Atlanta became the mirror image of what we have seen occur among Republicans, in Georgia and D.C.

Very few issues separated Norwood and Bottoms. Both are strong on gay rights. Both support abortion rights. Lock them in a room together, and they could find common ground on gentrification and transportation. But the Democratic Party of Georgia spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to make it very clear that Bottoms was a Democrat and Norwood, as an independent, was something else.

Mailers pointedly pictured Norwood and Trump. For some, the fact that the councilwoman from Buckhead couldn’t bring herself to personally condemn the current resident of the White House was proof enough of her unfitness for office.

In Kasim Reed, Bottoms even had someone Trump-like watching her back — in that the current mayor was entirely willing to condemn her opponents in sharp, undiplomatic and widely publicized terms. Sometimes on Twitter.

After a first round of voting pushed him out of the race for mayor, Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell endorsed Norwood. Reed’s reaction was concise. “One man, one woman, two losers,” the mayor said.

Norwood replied with indignation. “This type of disparaging remark has no place in our civic discourse. He should be ashamed of himself,” she said — sounding like every Democrat in Washington after a 140-character storm from the White House.

Much of this is caricature, of course. The most extreme forms of political argument always sacrifice subtlety.

A leaked recording of an address Norwood made before the Buckhead Young Republicans, in which she claimed Reed had stolen the mayoral runoff from her in 2009 by importing “thugs” from outside Atlanta to vote, provoked genuine concern among many African-Americans.

Likewise, Bottoms’ pursuit of Democratic purity — oddly enough — didn’t require her to return campaign contributions from top aides to Gov. Nathan Deal, a genuine Republican.

But there might be a lesson in Tuesday’s mayoral runoff for Democrats in the 2018 race for governor.

Former state lawmaker Stacey Evans of Smyrna endorsed Bottoms, and that might help her next year. Yet that’s neither here nor there.

Stacey Abrams, the former House minority leader intent on becoming the first African-American governor of Georgia, has embarked on an aggressive strategy of motivating African-Americans, other minorities and liberal white voters.

Unlike Evans, Abrams would de-emphasize outreach to independents and moderate Republicans.

Bottoms employed the same strategy to become Atlanta’s next mayor. But despite 95,000 votes cast, she won that crown with only 759 votes to spare — in a city where 8 of 10 votes were cast for Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Polarized tactics might have worked for Democrats in Atlanta on Tuesday. But just barely. Whether the strategy is a viable one for a statewide campaign in 2018 may be another matter.

Reader Comments 2


I’d say “God help us all,” but I’m too busy trying to restart the Buckhead secession movement..


\First and for most this is the wrong title, This mayors election was far from nor anything near this past presidential election. There was  a know holds bar twelve round heavy weight cage fight to the end in the presidential election. What I Admire was how newly elect Mayor Keisha L. Bottoms stood on Issues that governed all of Atlanta, while fighting off a barrage of Accusation of wrong doing, not paying her water bill on time, the last time I checked not paying your bills on time is not a crime nor Immoral, She hit back when Ms. Norwood tried to run ugly aids depicting Mayor Bottoms as part of covert criminal sinister who was and is apart of the out going Mayor Kasim Reed who has not been indicted for anything, Villainous Mary Norwood in her band of henchmen tried a two fold move by Insinuating that for one Kasim Reed had some shady contract dealing and Keshia Bottoms had some involvement and her role as Mayor she would continue with the shadow of contract crimes would go unnoted, Ms. Norwood tried to run a smear Campaign, Only to find out there was nothing to smear on Keshia squeaky clean record, they then went after the black voters, by depicting black people as being to black and voting only for blacks, who have held the Mayors seat for many years. the butt kicker is when they insult black people with we have know clue with voting for someone on issues, and not skin color. And this make black people in Atlanta clueless on how to vote, Another failed attempt to persuade the minds of black voter, again these acts by Mary Norwood, the Media 100% of the way supported Ms. Norwood by dispelling Mayor Elect Keisha L. Bottoms as unfit to be the Mayor of Atlanta. One thing is for sure And what I know about Atlanta black voters, We saw through the B.S aids and rhetoric and foil Mary Norwood Campaign Scheme, Now tally and RE-tally that.


Ms. Norwood lied about her payments from her City Council budget to her own company. She initially said that payments were not made to her company, but rather to a company with a similar name. She did not admit that she had made the unethical payments until the day before the election on channel 2 news. 

In contrast, when my organization , the Atlanta Urban Professionals Group invited Mayor elect Bottoms and Ms. Norwood to address our group, Ms. Norwood declined and Mayor elect Bottoms accepted.  The Mayor elect  came, spoke,  and then stood and took about a hours worth of questions.  The Mayor elect answered all of the questions put to her with candor and honesty.  I know for a fact that she won over a few skeptical members of our group that night just by being genuine.  We had about 100 members at our event.  The Mayor elects willingness to engage Earned her 100 votes that evening.


I have met Norwood and think she is nice. Unfortunately I do not understand why I am hearing about illegal voting from 2009. Talk about it then to everyone. That is Trump like but he won. I also don't understand how you can't disavow Trump. I also don't get how you don't see racial profiling as an issue. Those 3 issues from someone I liked and voted for in 2009 sealed her fate with me. I also I'm upset with Democrats supporting Norwood. I would be fine if they stated neutral but don't come out against Keisha - Woolard, Franklin, Mitchell and others. I will thank them all if they run for any office again with a abstaining vote or vote for another Democrat.


Jim - A major contributing factor also was that all Council runoffs were in south precincts where Bottoms had the advantage.  The north part of the city had none (single BoE runoff on the east side of the city).  Runoff in District 6 and 7 helped Woolard win Council President race 16 years with larger turnout in the north.  Runoffs this time were probably the difference for both Bottoms and Moore (Council President).