Race Enters Atlanta Mayoral Vote

Valerie Bauerlein, Wall Street Journal, August 28, 2009

The campaign for mayor of this city, which has long promoted its racial tolerance, veered into controversy Thursday with the release of a memo urging black voters to unite around an African-American candidate and block the election of a white mayor.

A local group known as the Black Leadership Forum called for African-Americans to consolidate their support around Lisa Borders, president of the Atlanta City Council and one of several African-American candidates, according to a memo circulated on the Web and to local media.

The group said Ms. Borders had the best chance of winning support from white business leaders and defeating Mary Norwood, a white city councilwoman and a leading candidate for the Nov. 3 election, according to polls.

“For the last 25 years Atlanta has represented the breakthrough for black political empowerment in the South,” read the memo. “In order to defeat a Norwood (white) mayoral candidacy we have to get out now and work in a manner to defeat her without a runoff, and the key is a significant Black turnout.”

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But Atlanta’s demographics have shifted drastically in the past decade. The city of about 440,000 people remains a majority African-American city. But the proportion of voting-age residents who are white or Hispanic has grown.

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The call for black unity drew sharp criticism from Ms. Borders and her closest African-American competitor, Mr. Reed, who both insisted in separate news conferences Thursday that Atlanta must not choose its next mayor based on his or her race.

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Mr. Reed called the memo “racially charged and vitriolic” and said it “dishonors the legacies” of the black and white mayors who led Atlanta through the civil-rights movement and beyond. {snip}

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The Black Leadership Forum is an ad-hoc group of African-American leaders who include Aaron Turpeau, a well-known entrepreneur who worked in the administrations of Mayors Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young. Messrs. Jackson and Young had held the office in various terms for 20 years since 1973.

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[Editor’s Note: A more detailed story on the demographics of Atlanta can be read here.]

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