ANALYSIS: Racial Fears Invoked in Mayoral Race (UPDATE 1)

Matthew Cardinale, News Editor, The Atlanta Progressive News (August 26, 2009)

(APN) ATLANTA -- A group of Black community activists called the Black Leadership Forum in Atlanta has authored a position paper authored by Clark Atlanta University political science professors, raising fears that Atlanta could elect its first White mayor in decades and that Black leaders could lose what they believes to be access to the Mayor's office. A copy of the report was obtained by Atlanta Progressive News from Newsmakers Live. In addition, an incendiary email sent by BLF member Aaron Turpeau to numerous leaders in the Black activist community was forwarded to APN by a source who requested anonymity.

The report and email cited recent mayoral race polls in urging Black voters to rally around Council President Lisa Borders, who is Black, because she has the strongest chance of beating Council Member Mary Norwood, who is White.

Meanwhile, State Rep. Ralph Long III sent a response, also obtained by APN, rebutting the BLF and Turpeau's arguments.

(CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Turpeau authored the position paper. APN has since obtained an original copy of the report circulated by Turpeau, where he states the memo was authored by political science professors.)

(UPDATE: Since we broke this story it has become national news. Please check for more recent developments.)


"The debate over the best strategic option for black leadership and the African American community as we approach the Mayoral election in Atlanta has become critical based on the fact that for the last 25 years Atlanta has represented the breakthrough for black political empowerment in the South," the BLF wrote.

"It is debatable to what extent the objective socio-economic and political position of the African American community has improved. At the same time, most would agree that the Jackson breakthrough represented an unprecedented opportunity for black political representation nationwide," the BLF wrote.

"A passionate argument has been made for us to develop a unity of purpose and position, and for that to be defined immediately, given the short amount of time remaining between now and November 2009 election day (two and 1/2 months from now)," the BLF wrote.

"There is a chance for the first time in 25 years that African Americans could lose the Mayoral seat in Atlanta, Georgia, especially if there is a run-off," the BLF wrote.

"Time is of the essence because in order to defeat a Norwood (white) mayoral candidacy we have to get out now and work in a manner to defeat her without a runoff, and the key is a significant Black turnout in the general election," the BLF wrote.

Black voters typically vote less frequently in run-off elections than White voters do, so Turpeau's notion that a candidate supported by White voters has a better chance in a run-off is supported by historical trends.

"The reasons support should be given to Lisa Borders is: 1) she is the best black candidate in the race who has a chance to win the election because she can attract downtown white support; and 2) based on polling data drawn from a host of sources between May 2009 and July 2009, the numbers suggest Borders is growing stronger as we move closer to the election, while the most recent polling data suggests that the other black candidates are falling further behind over the same period," the BLF wrote.

"By coming out for Borders now would eliminate Reed, Spikes and Thomas as viable candidates. Some would argue that if the polling data is correct then those candidates who are only polling at 8%, 2% and 1% respectfully, are already effectively out of the race; and... It is unlikely that there will be a unified preference among existing black leadership and in the African American community for one candidate prior to the general election," BLF wrote.

Turpeau and the BLF cited a WSB TV poll in May and June 2009 showing Mary Norwood with 37%, Borders with 14%, and Reed with 4%. Two months later, WSB found that Borders had gained but that State Sen. Kasim Reed--a front-runner candidate who is also Black--remained in the single digits. In that August 2009 poll, Norwood still led with 30%, Borders had 28%, and Reed had 8%.

"While some may think that Franklin represents the last link to the Jackson Machine, it is not widely known that both Borders and Reed are directly connected to Franklin; or that Spikes and Thomas are Republicans, as is Norwood," the BLF wrote.

It should be noted that neither Mary Norwood, Jesse Spikes, nor Glenn Thomas is a Republican.

Atlanta's "changing demographics... show a more rapid growth in the city's white population (faster and a higher percentage than anywhere else in the country)," the BLF added.


"Dear Members of the So-Called Black Leadership Forum," State Rep. Ralph Long III wrote in his response. "I know that you’re scared. I know that it must seem that time is running out. I understand that you’re panicking at the prospect of moving backwards along the arc of progress in Atlanta. Regardless of your fears, now is the not the time to lose sight of what’s best for the people and what’s best for our city. Some of you will, and already have, flung accusations in my direction," Long wrote.

"I’m not worried about those accusations and could not be any less concerned about falling out of your favor. The Black Leadership Forum was flawed in its inception, is misguided in its purpose, and will not be a part of the new direction for a new Atlanta. The voters of Atlanta, the same people you claim to lead, will reject your antiquated style of politics in favor of real solutions to the challenges facing all of Atlanta," Long wrote.

"The Black Leadership Forum was flawed in its inception because it mistakenly believed that it had a constituency. You speak for no one. There are no masses of Black voters waiting with bated breath to hear from you who the anointed candidate will be. Our city is made up of sophisticated, concerned, plugged-in voters who know the issues, know what works, and know how to make up their own minds. There is no Black Godfather with the power to deliver the city for any candidate. Black votes must be earned – by innovative policy proposals, tough campaigning, and the ability to connect with the people. There is only one candidate in the Mayor’s race who has earned those votes," Long wrote.

"The Black Leadership Forum is misguided in its purpose because it set out to choose a Mayoral candidate without ever discussing the policy issues at the forefront of this race. You were more concerned with choosing a Black candidate (ANY Black candidate) than examining which candidate had the better platform for solving problems. Your forum never debated which candidate had the better solution to public safety issues, or which candidate would be best to repair the city’s financial problems. Instead, you engaged in identity politics in its worst form, completely disregarding the content of a candidate’s character because of the color of their skin. What would our Brother Martin think?" Long wrote.


The ironic part of this debate is that the neoliberal Black urban regime that has led this city for the past several years--from Mayor Shirley Franklin to Atlanta Housing Authority CEO Renee Glover--has pushed through a policy agenda that has hurt Atlanta's poor and homeless people, a group which--due to historic segregation and wealth inequality--disproportionately consists of Black people.

Franklin's administration pushed through a panhandling ban, making it illegal for homeless people to ask for money downtown; de-funded and apparently set out to sabotage the City's largest homeless shelter, the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless; and approved the displacement of thousands of families from public housing so that land could be acquired by developers. In addition to harming those families, the removal of public housing units from Atlanta's housing stock will create an even tighter affordable housing market for Atlanta's working poor, again, disproportionately harming Atlanta's Black households.

It is also questionable what access progressive Black leaders have really had to the Franklin Administration? When leaders like civil rights movement veteran Joe Beasley, in addition to State Sen. Vincent Fort, former State Rep. "Able" Mable Thomas, former Councilman Derrick Boazman, Councilwoman Felicia Moore, and others raised concerns, along with the public housing resident associations, regarding the demolition of public housing, the Franklin Administration could not have cared less. Franklin argued that she alone, not even with Council input, had the right to sign off on behalf of the City.

The influx of new voters, including many White voters--combined with the mass displacement of many Black voters from Atlanta in part because of the public housing demolitions--does make it possible Atlanta could have its first White mayor in decades.

However, the record shows that having a Black mayor in Atlanta does not necessarily lead to policies benefiting Black people.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at

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