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

Nov. 6, 2017

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Megan McRainey
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The City of Atlanta will vote to choose its next mayor on Nov. 7, and candidate Mary Norwood has consistently been a front runner in the race until recent polls showed her tied or just behind candidate Keisha Lance Bottoms.

While Norwood would likely face a runoff, her sustained lead in the polls means she has a credible chance to become Atlanta’s next mayor.

“I would be surprised if Norwood’s not in the runoff. 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.”

Owens doesn’t think Norwood is a particularly strong candidate due to her lack of legislative accomplishments and reticence to discuss race and class issues.

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 also believes Norwood will move on to a runoff election, she says it’s too close to call who Norwood’s eventual opponent might be or whether Norwood might win.

“While it looks like Keisha Lance Bottoms has momentum, the race for second is anybody’s guess. This is around the time people are really going to start paying attention to the mayor’s race, so we’re going to have some volatility.”

Norwood has done well consolidating the Republican vote but may have a more serious challenger once more Democratic-leaning voters rally around one other candidate, Gillespie says.

"This is similar to the dynamic in the Georgia 6th District race [Jon Ossoff vs Karen Handel]. One side consolidates around one candidate. The other side can't consolidate around such a wide field. It doesn't mean that they won't; it just may happen later."