Reed declares victory in skin-tight Atlanta race
December 2, 2009 — If his slim lead withstands a recount, state Sen. Kasim Reed, who earlier this year was mired in the single digits and seemed all but out of the Atlanta mayor’s race, has won a squeaker of a runoff victory over City Council member Mary Norwood Tuesday.
With only 758 votes separating the candidates out of more than 83,000 cast, Norwood was not conceding hours after the polls closed Tuesday night. With roughly that number of provisional votes left to be counted, she could still pull out a win. Because the margin of victory was less than one percent, Norwood can request a recount, which would probably be held Saturday.
She said this morning she will do so.
University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock said that's unlikely to change the outcome.
"If it's simply a matter of looking back at votes on a machine, you're not going to get any difference. If there was any kind of paper ballot, you might find people had counted incorrectly. This may give further impetus for those who want a paper trail," he said.
Reed claimed victory early Wednesday and said in a 6 a.m. interview with WSB-TV his first priority would be to find a new police chief for the city.
Assuming there are no more surprises in a race which has produced several already, Reed, will have pulled off one of the biggest comebacks in Atlanta political history, and kept Norwood from becoming the city’s first white mayor in 36 years.
In the race for City Council president, Caesar Mitchell won an easier victory over his City Council colleague, Clair Muller. That gives City Hall a much younger leadership team: Reed is 40 and Mitchell is 41.
Aaron Watson defeated Amir Farokhi in the race for a citywide council post, and in the hotly contested 6th District council race, Alex Wan defeated Liz Coyle to become the city’s first Asian-American council member, and the first openly gay male.
Before the first-round vote on Nov. 3, Norwood – a fiscal conservative and frequent critic of what she called the “regime” at City Hall – appeared within reach of winning without a runoff. She fell short, and many critics blamed a campaign in the last weekend before that vote in which she disavowed any Republican ties and said she voted for Barack Obama.
That may have kept some Northside Republican voters home in the first round, but on Tuesday Norwood got a more solid vote from the Buckhead precincts.
What changed most dramatically was the revival of the aging but still potent political machine which has elected every mayor in the city since Maynard Jackson in 1973. Reed trailed City Council President Lisa Borders throughout much of the summer and fall, but surged past her in the final weeks of October. In the closing days before the first-round vote he got the open endorsement of Mayor Shirley Franklin, and finished only eight percentage points behind Norwood in the first-round vote – much closer than most had expected.
From then on it was a battle between the enthusiasm which had ignited the Norwood campaign early on and made her the frontrunner, against a solid political organization which raised more money and won more endorsements.
The most important of those was Borders, who gave Reed her support and campaigned with him in the weeks up to the runoff. Reed also gained from the endorsement of former Gov. Roy Barnes and several prominent African-American religious leaders.
The endorsement by Barnes could have even more significance for next year's governor's race. The Democratic 2010 candidate will need strong support in Atlanta if he becomes his party's nominee, and Reed would be an important ally.
But Norwood had an important advantage, in what was thought would be a low-turnout election the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. She openly supported gay marriage, which Reed does not, and seemed to have the advantage among those voters, who turned out heavily in the 6th District to support Wan.
The big surprise on Tuesday was turnout. It was much heavier than expected, with many precincts registering more votes than they did on Nov. 3.
This election will go down as the first of a new era in Atlanta politics, with black and white candidates competing on a more even playing field, and all the candidates competing openly for gay and lesbian votes.
African-American voters are still the solid majority in the city, but Atlanta has seen the fastest growth in its white population of any American city in this decade, from 33 percent in 2000 to 38 percent in 2007, according to the US Census Bureau.
Race was an ever-present factor in the campaign, but there was significant cross-racial voting. And for the first time, two Asian-American candidates, Wan and Amir Farokhi, competed in two separate city council races.
The new mayor will inherit all the problems currently confronting Franklin, without much of the goodwill she has built up over eight years. Franklin generally has received good marks for restoring integrity at City Hall after the disastrous two terms of former Mayor Bill Campbell, who ended up in federal prison on tax evasion charges after leaving office. But rising budget problems and several high-profile public safety controversies clouded Franklin’s last years in the office.
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