Atlanta didn’t end its high drama last night. Instead, election night proved to be one, juicy cliffhanger. Mary Norwood still has an opportunity to become Atlanta’s first ever white female mayor and the first white mayor since Maynard Jackson broke the Southern city’s racial ceiling in the 1973 election.
The momentum, though, is not in her favor. With contender Kasim Reed snagging an “unexpected” 38 percent of the vote to Norwood’s overall 45 percent, the December 1 run-off will be tight if the 14 percent garnered by Lisa Borders, the race’s other top contender, is split between the two.
Conventional wisdom, based on race alone, says that Reed will gain almost all of Borders’ votes and will move past Norwood easily on December 1. But despite the media’s focus on race, it is not the big issue. Yes, Norwood is white and Reed is black. Peel back that fact and a generational divide emerges. Norwood’s significant black support is largely older and female. Reed, on the other hand, is more Obama-esque in his appeal to young voters, especially African Americans.
Born in 1969, Reed has become the choice of Atlanta’s influential entertainment community. A week before the election, rapper Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, along with others hosted a fundraiser at Bridges’ Asian restaurant Straits. Basketball player Shaquille O’Neal didn’t show up but contributed $2500 to Reed’s campaign while Sean “Diddy” Combs, who attended Howard University when Reed was also a student there, sent tweets urging his Atlanta base to head to the polls. With just a 24 percent turn-out, voter participation was very low but enough for Reed to force a draw.
At stake is the direction that Atlanta wants to go in. The city is at a crossroads – there are more new, chic restaurants and other “big city” businesses than ever but the booming nightlife Atlanta was once known for is in serious jeopardy. Norwood voted to curtail those hours from 3:30 a.m. for last call to the current 2:30 a.m. and some argue that the city’s economy has suffered as a result. Atlanta’s escalating crime may play out with most voters but nightlife is at the heart of the appeal for many younger voters who support Reed.
Dubbed the Motown of the South by many, Atlanta’s music industry has kept it constantly in the spotlight. With platinum and Grammy-winning artists such as Usher and India.Arie as well as emerging newcomers like Keri Hilson claiming Atlanta as their home base, Atlanta attracts many aspiring entertainers, not to mention awards shows like the recently revamped Soul Train Awards.
With an older mayor, will Atlanta be a less attractive site for such modern day dreams? Or will Atlanta be better served with a young man with ties to Washington DC? These are the questions being overshadowed by the media’s attention to race.
Atlanta’s mayoral race is about a generational tug-of-war between what Atlanta is and what some would like it to become. That direction will hopefully be decided on December 1.