"Keep Atlanta black," said a recent robocall to my home telephone.
The mysterious message arrived as City Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms, endorsed by Mayor Kasim Reed and top recipient of contributions from city contractors hoping to keep the flush times going, edged out longtime front-runner Mary Norwood in the latest WSB-TV poll. Rewarded for her service as Reed's main city council supporter with an appointment as recreation chief, Bottoms would maintain city hall's "pay to play" culture, as AJC columnist Bill Torpy said in his Monday column.
Bottoms has called for an investigation into the robocall, purportedly backed by a group called "Citizens for Keisha," according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Bottoms called the message "disgusting" and illegal, the newspaper said.
Norwood, the white city councilwoman who lost by 700 votes to Reed eight years ago, has been hurt by accusations that she's a Republican. She's also run a timid, uninspired campaign.
Peter Aman, a white Northside businessman and Reed's former COO, has also cut into Norwood's support. He's been overaggressive in citing his business practicality and in criticizing Norwood and former City Council President Cathy Woolard. During a WSB debate, Aman mentioned that he knows how to buy police cars, which I didn't realize would be a primary responsibility for the mayor. Like Norwood, Aman mainly has cited boilerplate about reducing crime and increasing jobs, without expressing a compelling vision of how Atlanta will flourish in the 21st century.
Bottoms surprisingly emerged as the leading black candidate over City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, torpedoed by Reed attacks. The late entries of Fulton County Commision Chief John Eaves and State Sen.Vincent Fort, a leftist rabble rouser, also hurt Mitchell.
During the WSB debate, Fort and Bottoms descended into a petty argument over financial problems and tax liens, leading to a low moment when Bottoms cited paying her water bills as a qualification.
The New York Times in a recent article saw white and black divisions as the main issue in the election. As the article related, Atlantans thought they'd progressed beyond race to voting for the best candidate whether black or white. But race remains a primary factor, as the article said.
What a dispiriting campaign it's been, more highlighted by personal bickering and shabby accusations than visions about the city's future. A federal investigation into a pattern of contractors paying bribes to receive city work has shadowed the election, but not enough to dent the rise of Bottoms, who had to return contributions from one contractor implicated in the probe. She's particularly been favored by contractors who've locked in concessions at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, the city's jewel, as the AJC reported.
A runoff is expected between Norwood and Bottoms. Norwood likely will get the endorsements of Aman and Woolard. If she can get good turnout from predominantly white Buckhead, Morningside and Virginia-Highland in the runoff, she appears likely to win. Bottoms will garner black support from southside neighborhoods, although Norwood claims some strength there.
In comparison with past Atlanta mayors, heavyweights like William Hartsfield, Ivan Allen, Maynard Jackson, Andrew Jones and Shirley Franklin, Bottoms seems sorely lacking, and Norwood mediocre. The nation's political leadership gap extends to the city that once had major international ambitions. Too busy to hate? Nowadays, Atlanta has plenty of time for rancor.