Maynard Jackson ushered in an era of Black mayors in the city of Atlanta 44 years ago. This era may come to an end this year should voters elect Mary Norwood as the city’s first white woman mayor. Photo Credits (c) 1997 H. Michael Harvey
For the first time in Atlanta’s 170 year history residents are trying to figure out who is the best woman to lead the city as mayor. After a grueling campaign season, which featured over a dozen candidates, Atlanta is on the brink of electing her second woman mayor in history. Veteran city councilmembers Keisha Lance Bottom and Mary Norwood gathered the lion’s share of votes in the non-partisan General Election held in early November.
This race presents several interesting dichotomies. The obvious one is that in addition to being a woman, Mary Norwood is white. If elected Norwood would be the first white woman elected mayor of Atlanta and the first white mayor of any sex since 1973 when Maynard Jackson defeated Sam Massell to become the first Black person elected mayor of a major Southern city.
When Jackson ran for mayor in ’73, his victory was seen as a defeat of the white power structure that had ruled the city since 1847. The Creative Loafing newspaper said the Jackson-Massell race was “an election characterized by alarmist and often virulently racist appeals to the white citizenry to turn back the black tide.”
Ironically, on the brink of this historic election, there has not surfaced to date a strong push from members of the Black community to turn back the “white tide” so to speak. Quite the contrary, Black community leaders are in a rush to hand the reigns of power back to Sam Massell’s Buckhead Coalition via a Norwood Administration.
Lance Bottom, a Black woman has failed to receive the endorsement from the city’s first woman mayor, Shirley Franklin – Black like Lance Bottom – who on the first day of early voting gave her support to Norwood. Franklin’s endorsement follows that of City Council President, Ceasar Mitchell – Black like Franklin and Lance Bottom. Mitchell finished fifth in the General Election balloting. In addition to citing Norwood’s ability to work with all segments of the community, both have engaged in running verbal battles with current Mayor Kasim Reed, a strong supporter of Lance Bottom.
Franklin cut her teeth with the Maynard Jackson political machine. She knows as well as anyone how to amass the political power necessary to leverage economic growth in the Black business community.
Maynard Jackson often touted as the Black kingpin of Southern Black political bosses, shared a moment with power broker Vernon Jordan, February 20, 1997. Photo Credits: (c) H. Michael Harvey
Eight years ago, Creative Loafing opined that Franklin’s departure from the mayor’s office would be the end of the Black political machine birth by Jackson and that Atlanta would go the way of other major cities, like New York, Cleveland and Newark, who had experimented briefly with Black mayors and concluded that government works best when a white political boss is in charge.
Perhaps, their dire prediction was eight years too soon. Should Franklin succeed in pushing Norwood over the top, it will usher in a new day in the political affairs of the city of Atlanta. A day the city has not seen since Jackson, the Black political kingpin in the South, lived and preached Black political and economic power.
For better or for worse, the die is cast. It will be Lance Bottom or it will be Norwood; the Jackson Black Power base or the Buckhead Coalition. May the best woman win!
Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist. He is a Contributor at The Hill, SCLC National Magazine, Southern Changes Magazine and Black College Nines. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Harold Michael Harvey is a Past President of The Gate City Bar Association and is the recipient of the Association’s R. E. Thomas Civil Rights Award. He is the author of Paper Puzzle and Justice in the Round: Essays on the American Jury System, and a two-time winner of Allvoices’ Political Pundit Prize. His work has appeared in Facing South, The Atlanta Business Journal, The Southern Christian Leadership Conference Magazine, Southern Changes Magazine, Black Colleges Nines, and Medium.
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