Atlanta has one more month and one more election to go before it chooses the city’s next mayor: Councilwoman Mary Norwood and former state Sen. Kasim Reed will face each other in a runoff Dec. 1.
With 100 percent of the vote counted, Norwood led the race with 45 percent. She maintained a comfortable margin throughout the vote counting Tuesday night but was unable to muster the 50 percent required to put the race away. Reed finished a strong second, with 37 percent, and City Council President Lisa Borders faded to a distant third with 14 percent in the eight-way race.
“I will hit the ground running,” a smiling Norwood vowed late Tuesday night, addressing a buoyant crowd at the Varsity, the unusual site of her election-night gathering. “I feel wonderful. We are 10 points ahead. I think that’s a great place for anyone to be.” (Norwood wound up seven points ahead, although she was 10 points up when she made that statement.)
Reed emerged to greet supporters at the Hyatt Regency at 11:15 p.m., saying that Norwood had run her best race, and that the trajectory of his campaign showed that he was on the road to be the next mayor.
“I’m not going to turn this into a victory speech,” Reed told the cheering crowd. “I’ve got to save some fire for the next few days. Our best days are ahead of us. Greatness is within our grasp, Atlanta!”
Both Norwood and Reed said they will ask for Borders’ support in the runoff.
When the city council president emerged to address her troops at 11 p.m., her voice was cracking and her eyes filled with tears.
“This has been a tremendous journey,” she said. “We’ve fought the good fight. It’s not over. We still have to take care of this city.”
She said later it was premature to discuss whether whom she might support in the runoff.
The race gained national attention in recent weeks, largely because of the prospect that Norwood, who is white, might win in a predominantly African-American city. If she does win in December, Norwood will be the first white mayor of Atlanta since Sam Massell left office in 1973.
Reed said that he didn’t think the runoff threatened to divide the city on racial lines.
“It is going to be on us to avoid that mess,” he said. “The responsibility for how the campaign is conducted is on the candidates.”
Norwood campaigned on combating crime, cleaning the city’s streets and improving its finances. Norwood, a Buckhead resident, looked to her home turf, which is about 77 percent white and the most politically conservative part of the city, for much of her support.
But she also built an effective coalition with those white voters and African-American community leaders and senior citizens who saw the councilwoman often over the past eight years.
She led the polls throughout and spent about 40 percent of her $1.5 million campaign war chest in October primarily on television and radio ads.
The candidates focused much of their attention on crime as many citizens complained they didn’t safe although police department data showed violent crime was dropping in the city. Finances have been the other big issue. Two-term incumbent Mayor Franklin furloughed city workers, including police officers, last December to help balance the budget. The furloughs ended in June.
Reed had to spend much of the campaign building name recognition. He often joked about how people mispronounced his first name. He spent about $1.5 million on the campaign, more than any candidate.
Reed, who managed both of Franklin’s successful mayoral campaigns, ran on a platform of hiring 750 police officers in his first term, attacking street gangs and reopening 22 recreation centers.
Borders, the City Council president since 2004, had connections across the city. Her grandfather was a prominent pastor who forced the city to integrate its police force. She worked at Cousins Properties, the city’s powerful development firm. Borders focused on appealing to female voters, who make up 54 percent of the city’s electorate, and said she was the only candidate with specific plans to pay for her initiatives.
Borders won the support of several groups, including the coveted endorsement of a union with about 1,100 Atlanta police officers. However, the candidate’s political fortunes seem to falter shortly after a controversial memo by two Clark Atlanta University professors said some black voters believed they should unite behind Borders as the best chance to defeat Norwood.
Until October, the campaign was described by some as a dull affair as the candidates focused on the serious issues facing Atlanta and not on slinging mud at one another.
In recent weeks, however, the race got heated as Reed and Borders labeled Norwood a Republican, although she described herself as a political independent. Borders and Reed bickered over ethical issues, and they attacked Norwood for voting in June against a tax increase, which ended the furloughs. Norwood countered that city officials didn’t give her information she requested to support a tax increase.
Jesse Spikes, a political newcomer who practices law at the firm McKenna, Long & Aldridge, argued the other three front-runners were part of the problem and he was best suited to lead Atlanta’s future. His candidacy, however, never gained momentum, and he finished Tuesday night with 3 percent of the vote.