mary_norwood&kasin_reed(2009-med-wide)

Mary Norwood & Kasim Reed

*When the final votes are counted, it’s likely the black political machine that integrated Atlanta’s City Hall – and kept it that way for four decades – will have pulled through one more time to deliver a fifth consecutive black mayor.

Barely.

Unofficial results in this week’s mayoral runoff show voters elected former state Sen. Kasim Reed over white councilwoman Mary Norwood by a mere 715 votes, with a recount inevitable.

No matter what those final numbers say, the fissures in the machine were exposed, its future viability cast in doubt.

Atlanta’s black population has shrunk and its white population grown since its current mayor, Shirley Franklin, was elected in 2001. Its voting rolls are filled with newcomers unfamiliar with Atlanta’s habit of assigning its business interests to whites and its political interests to blacks. The reality is sinking in that black political power here is not as strong or united as it once was, and is destined to weaken as more whites seek office and more blacks shed their civil rights-era sentimentality.

“The racial issue has always been there,” said former state Rep. Bob Holmes, who has studied Atlanta politics for more than a decade. “It was higher and closer to the surface in large part because this was the first election in 20 years where there was a significant white candidate. But there appeared to really be unity in the black community.”

Atlanta’s allure as the black mecca focused national attention on the race, as blacks across the country watched to see whether the city would remain a beacon of black leadership. To wit, Reed raised a million dollars during the runoff campaign – a quarter of it from out of state.

Both black and white voters demonstrated a willingness to stick to their own. Of the city’s 537,958 residents, about 237,000 are registered voters. According to the latest data from the U.S. Census, Atlanta’s black population is 56 percent, compared to 38 percent white.

The city’s population has swelled by more than 76,000 since 2000, when the black population was 61 percent and whites made up 33 percent of the city’s residents.

More than 84,000 ballots were cast in the runoff, about 5,700 more than in the general election, and the outcome itself hung on the votes from Atlanta’s most staunchly segregated enclaves. The Associated Press has not called the race because Georgia law automatically grants a recount request when the margin is less than 1 percent, and Norwood plans to make that request.

The highest turnout was in Buckhead – the city’s whitest, most affluent area and Norwood’s home turf – where more than 53 percent of registered voters cast ballots. On the city’s heavily black southside, Reed’s base of support, better than 41 percent of registered voters showed up there.

Read MORE of this AP report by Errin Haines, HERE.