Atlanta has a long legacy of Black mayors, beginning with the election of Maynard Jackson in 1973. In the most recent runoff election between Keisha Lance Bottoms and Mary Norwood for mayor of Atlanta, Bottoms, who is Black, was declared winner and certified the winner following a recount. Now, she is poised to become the sixth consecutive Black mayor of Atlanta. Norwood, who is white, would break that continuity in what has become America’s Black Mecca and the quintessential “chocolate city,” drawing an influx of Black people and emerging as a center of Black political power.
In a race noted for its racial divisions, with Bottoms winning the predominantly Black neighborhoods in the west, southwest, south, southeast and east, and Norwood winning the predominantly white northern part of Atlanta. Norwood requested a recount after the vote tally showed Bottoms with a margin under 1 percent. The recount changed little, giving Bottoms 50.44 percent (46,661 votes), and Norwood with 49.56 percent (45,840 votes) — a 821-vote margin. The recount in DeKalb County did not change the results. In Fulton County, Norwood gained five votes, while Bottoms lost six votes.
Despite a Recount and Certified Results That Make Keisha Lance Bottoms Atlanta’s Next Mayor, Mary Norwood Refuses to Concede
“The Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections certified the results of the recount during its monthly meeting at 10 am on Saturday 16 December 2017,” Richard L. Barron, Director of Registration and Elections for Fulton County, told Atlanta Black Star. “We followed OCGA 21-2-495 [Georgia state law governing vote recounts] and SEB [Georgia State Election Board] rules to conduct the recount. All absentee by mail, provisional, early voting and Election Day ballots were recounted in accordance with the law.” Norwood criticized Fulton County officials for not recounting paper ballots by hand as she requested, but rather for an electronic recounting and scanning the votes. She has not conceded and has challenged the validity of the results, arguing that recently annexed parts of southwest Atlanta — which Bottoms won — should not have voted in the mayoral election. Although election law allows a candidate to contest an election in the event of error, fraud, irregularities or other issues, a court will throw out the results only if the irregularities were so substantial as to cast doubt on the election. Norwood had asked voters to report instances of voter intimidation and irregularities. There is no indication as to whether the candidate intends to file a lawsuit contesting the election. Norwood’s campaign did not respond to a request from Atlanta Black Star for comment.
This was Norwood’s second attempt at a city hall takeover. In 2009 she lost to Kasim Reed, following a recount that gave the city’s fifth elected Black mayor a margin of victory of 714 votes, less than one percent of total votes cast. In a secretly recorded meeting, Norwood made claims of voter fraud against her opponent. “We had known that people were busing people in, but I always assumed they were legitimate voters,” she told the Buckhead Young Republicans. “You know, I had no idea they were busing people in that weren’t legitimate voters.” Reed denied the claims, accused Norwood of using “coded language” disrespecting Black voters, and said she did not challenge the election results because she had no proof of impropriety.
At stake in this election is Black control of Atlanta, which witnessed a boom for Black business under Maynard Jackson. Jackson was a champion of Black business, breaking down the white old boys’ establishment, substantially increasing the presence of minority contractors and creating more Black millionaires than any other public figure. With the expansion of the Hartsfield Airport, he established an affirmative action program for minority-owned and women contractors, with a goal of 25 percent of workers on city projects coming from minority groups, and 25 percent (later 35 percent) of the money in city contracts awarded to Black-, Latino-, Asian- and women-owned companies. Jackson increased the number of minority-owned firms doing business with the city from 1 percent in 1973 to almost 39 percent five years later, and also championed joint ventures between white and minority firms. This built Black wealth, expanded the Black middle class and turned Atlanta into a magnet for higher-income, educated professionals.
Not all Atlantans have shared in the wealth, as the budget cuts and “trickle-down” economic policies of the Reagan years brought an increase in poverty. White money and Black leadership attracted the Olympics to stem white flight but not necessarily benefit the Black masses. Now many Black folks on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum may feel left out and see opportunities out of reach for them, with chasms between low-income people and the elite, and gentrification pushing working people out. With gentrification came a decline in the city’s Black population, from 67 percent in 1990 to 54 percent in 2010, and possibly below half today.
The Atlanta mayoral race was not the only closely watched election with national implications in which Black voters made the difference, a winner was declared, and the loser has refused to concede the race. In the race for U.S. Senate in Alabama, former federal prosecutor Doug Jones, the Democrat, won against Republican former judge Roy Moore, a contest in which nearly unanimous support among Black voters for Jones was decisive. Moore did not concede and demanded a recount, and Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, a Republican, said it was “highly unlikely” that anyone but Jones would win in the end. An automatic recount is triggered under Alabama law only when the margin is half a percentage point or lower. Given a margin of victory of 1.5 percentage points, and the near impossibility of Moore pulling ahead–not to mention the slim chances a recount is even allowed, in which case he would have to pay $1 million to 1.5 million he does not have and the GOP will not give him–a Moore recount will not happen.
The races in Atlanta and Alabama highlight the need for Black voters to make their voices heard and ensure their demands are loud and clear.