Atlanta’s Dec. 1 runoff election has attracted unusually high national attention because of the potential for electing a non-African American mayor for the first time since 1973. An article published in last week’s Atlanta Journal Constitution further delved into the sticky “race” issue, surmising that voting trends within the city historically reflect racial demographics.
Nevertheless, Kasim Reed, an African-American man, and Mary Norwood, a White female candidate who finished above Reed in the election but failed to gain an outright majority, have pledged to leave race off the table in the coming weeks.
For several residents of DeKalb County areas within Atlanta, however, race may be just one of several factors that will determine Shirley Franklin’s successor. Experience, finances, security and leadership were all given more importance.
So why is race still considered a make-or-break issue? “Race is always an issue in a city like Atlanta,” said Josh Scott, a 26-year-old who works in finance and intends to vote for Norwood. “Then you have that some people will always vote on bias, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be race. Some people might say they want a man as mayor after having had a woman for eight years.”
Prevailing opinion suggests that if race is key to victory, Reed would win by attracting votes split by other candidates during this month’s election. Though Mary Burgoon, a White woman who said she will vote for Reed, sees it as more beneficial to Norwood. “Some people want the chance to vote White,” said the owner of Park Pet Supply in the East Atlanta Village. “Her demographic will show up more than Kasim Reed’s will.”
However, Tamara Stevens, a White 32-year-old who spent Saturday in the Little Five Points area and did not disclose her vote, feels race is so fuzzy that it’s impossible to gauge its value. “Look, there will always be some people who vote on it, but if you’re the kind of person who will go to the trouble to vote in the first place, chances are that you’re concerned about some of the other issues,” she said. “And lord knows this city has plenty of them.”
One of the reasons both candidates have shied from race could be a growing antipathy or fatigue about the issue. “People want to reduce it to race,” said African-American Randall Vaughn, an East Atlanta resident who started a local business, and a strong Norwood supporter. “Coming off the presidential election, it seems stupid to talk about it.” Vaughn also believes that Atlanta has changed demographically and culturally in the last decade, creating a different value system for voters.
“In southwest Atlanta, I know she [Norwood] has the support of a senior coalition of African-American citizens,” he said. “So if race was the key, then they would just support Reed. There’s a lot more to it these days, even in Atlanta.”
Jill Sutton, a 28-year-old White resident of Kirkwood and mother who did not vote the first time around but said she will poll for Reed in December, feels Atlanta’s finances and crime deeply embed local concerns.
“We live in a mixed neighborhood, and I hear all the time about how bad crime is getting. I mean, we’ve seen home invasions continue rising, violent crime happening, and yet the cops go on furlough because the city’s broke,” she said. “Black, White, green, orange or indigo, anyone who’s going to fix those problems has got my vote and probably the vote of everyone around here.”