Atlanta mayor's race could signal historic change for city, Emory experts say

Dec. 4, 2017

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Megan McRainey
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The City of Atlanta will vote to choose its next mayor on Dec. 5, and candidates Mary Norwood and Keisha Lance Bottoms are polling very closely ahead of the race.

Norwood's sustained lead in the polls before the runoff means she has a credible chance to become Atlanta’s next mayor.

“I would be surprised if she’s not elected mayor,” says Emory political scientist Michael Leo Owens.

If elected, Norwood would be Atlanta’s first white mayor in more than 40 years. That possibility signals a historic shift, says Owens.

“Symbolically, it would be earth shattering for Atlanta.”

Several candidates have mentioned being a mayor for all Atlantans regardless of race and class but Owens says he doesn’t believe that’s realistic.

“I don’t know if mayors can really be the mayors of all communities. They have to make choices among places and spaces. At the end of the day, there will be winners and there will be losers.”

While Emory political scientist Andra Gillespie believes Bottoms has a slight edge, she says the race is too close to call.

“The fundamentals still favor Bottoms but a superior get-out-the-vote operation from Norwood could win this race. It’s really going to come down to voter turnout and which candidate has kept her get-out-the-vote operation in effect in the runoff.”

“This race has gotten interesting since black elites are not necessarily adhering to racial boundaries (Shirley Franklin, Ceasar Mitchell endorsements). Shirley Franklin’s endorsement of Norwood was somewhat surprising and shows she is worried about possible ethics concerns,” she adds.

“While we are seeing racial polarization in this race, we’ve got something more complex here.”