In a dramatically close battle to become Atlanta’s next mayor, Sen. Kasim Reed was the apparent winner as of press time Dec. 1, defeating City Councilwoman Mary Norwood in a runoff by a margin of less than 2 percent.
Reed won 40,994 votes, which was 50.81 percent of the turnout, according to unofficial results from Fulton County with 100 percent of precincts reporting. Norwood trailed inches behind with 39,687 votes or 49.19 percent of the vote.
While other runoff races across the metro Atlanta area wrapped up quickly and decisively, the race between Norwood and Reed became increasingly dramatic and ballots were tallied from across the city and an initial lead by Reed shrunk between about 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. At 11:15, Reed’s lead was razor-thin, and Norwood declined to concede the race.
Fulton County’s elections office was tallying absentee, advanced and early votes at about 11:30 p.m., and the race remained in a near deadlock. Norwood told supporters she was waiting until Dec. 2 and was not ruling out demanding a recount if the vote was close enough.
Turnout in the mayor’s race in DeKalb County improved slightly from the Nov. 3 race: 6,647 votes were cast Dec. 1 compared to 6,379 votes in November. Norwood bested Reed in DeKalb with about 51 percent of the vote. She won about 44 percent here in November.
Pundits and politicos nationwide followed the race closely to see if Atlanta would elect its first White mayor in a majority Black city since 1973. Norwood missed winning the Nov. 3 election outright by just 4 percent. She finished with about 46 percent of the vote, just shy of the 50 percent needed to snag the win. Reed won about 37 percent of the vote, and City Council President Lisa Borders won about 14 percent of the vote. Jesse Spikes, an Atlanta attorney, won about 3 percent.
After the general election, both campaigns worked to win voters who had supported other candidates. Though Reed and Norwood essentially declined to address the issue directly, race became increasingly important as Norwood worked to retain her base support of mostly White voters in the city’s northern neighborhoods while winning over Black voters. Reed needed to keep his support while winning Borders’ voters – a task that may have been made easier when Borders endorsed Reed for mayor once she was no longer in the race. Reed then won other key endorsements, including those from former Gov. Roy Barnes, former state representative Jim Martin and the city’s police union.
“Race remains an element of Atlanta politics, even in 2009,”
said Michael Owens, a political scientist at Emory University who has followed the race (and gave money to Borders). “This explains, for example, why some White voters saw Lisa Borders’ endorsement of Reed after her third-place finish as a racial endorsement – one Black person supporting another Black person to prevent the election of a White person.”
Major issues guiding the race include the reduction of city crime, bolstering city services and repairing city finances, which candidates claimed had been mismanaged. Racial politics also became heated after a memo was issued in late August urging voters to elect a Black mayor.
Those circulating the memo told voters to support Borders, the council’s president, instead of Norwood. Reed and local Democrats and also tried to paint Norwood as a Republican, going so far as to send out a mailer to voters linking the candidate to former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Reed’s No. 1 issue has been public safety. He has vowed to hire hundreds of police officers with tax money – a proposal his critics say the city cannot afford. Norwood has said she will revamp the city’s auditing processes, including hiring outside financial experts to reorganize the city’s financial department.