Race and gender collide is contentious Atlanta mayoral runoff

Keisha Lance Bottoms and Mary Norwood face off in woman-to-woman political battle

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On Tuesday, Atlanta is choosing its mayor in a runoff election that may end up giving the city its first white woman mayor ever.

The race is between Keisha Lance Bottoms and Mary Norwood. Bottoms, who is Black, has been endorsed by former mayor Andrew Young and current Mayor Kasim Reed. Norwood, who is white, has been endorsed by the last white mayor, Sam Massell, as well as Atlanta’s first female mayor, Shirley Franklin, and former City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, both of whom are Black.

Democrats have held the office of mayor in Atlanta since 1879, and Atlanta has had a Black mayor for the past 44 years. For Black voters, this has always been a source of pride, so backing a white independent, who many see as a low-key Republican, would be a difficult choice, even if the city has been hit hard by a corruption probe.

“Atlanta’s identity has been defined by having a black mayor — and not just any black mayor, but having excellent black mayors who were well-educated, civic-minded and who cared about lifting the race and building collaborations,” said Kelley Bass Jackson, former father-in-law, Maynard Jackson, was elected Atlanta’s first black mayor in 1973.

But while the leadership usually has a hand-picked successor, there has been a lot of infighting in this race, leading to “so much anxiety and division among the citizens.”

It could also be the case that Reed’s endorsement is hurting Bottoms, and the election could be seen as a referendum on his run as mayor.

What’s more, Bottoms and Norwood are running in a city that is growing increasingly diverse, with a population of younger people to whom race is less of an important issue.

“Atlanta is not a city in distress,” said Emory University political scientist Andra Gillespie. “And (black voters) will still be the largest group. Whomever they prefer as candidate is going to be mayor.”