- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 1, 2009

ATLANTA (AP) | The city that became a post-civil rights movement emblem of the political power held by blacks could have a white mayor for the first time in more than a generation - a possibility that has some in the black community scrambling to hold on to City Hall.

Atlanta Council member Mary Norwood, who is white, is one of the front-runners for the Nov. 3 election, along with City Council President Lisa Borders and state Sen. Kasim Reed, both of whom are black.

All three have bristled at a racially charged e-mail circulated by a black leadership group calling for Ms. Norwood’s defeat before a possible runoff. If the other two candidates split the black vote, Ms. Norwood may find herself in a runoff, where she could benefit.

“Blacks do not return to the polls in a runoff, historically,” said Clark Atlanta University political science professor William Boone. “It’s going to be very interesting. This is the election that some folks had talked about was coming.”

Atlanta, which has billed itself as “the city too busy to hate,” elected Maynard Jackson as its first black mayor in 1973. Blacks who had won the right to vote less than a decade earlier rallied behind Mr. Jackson, who forced the city’s white business elite to open doors to minorities and adopted strict affirmative-action policies.

His election solidified the voting power of urban blacks, and the city has elected black mayors since. And while blacks have been the majority population and voting bloc in the city for decades, the demographics have changed in recent years.

A large voting bloc - residents in the city’s public housing - was erased as Atlanta’s crumbling projects were demolished over the past decade. And young professionals, black and white, have flocked to opportunity in the city. In 2000, Atlanta was 33 percent white and 61 percent black. In 2007, the numbers were 38 percent white and 57 percent black, according to the U.S. census.

In late August, an incendiary e-mail specifically noting Ms. Norwood’s race began circulating among black Atlantans, encouraging them to back Ms. Borders, whose grandfather desegregated the city’s police force and who was recently endorsed by the city’s black clergy.

“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 message sent by the Black Leadership Forum reads.

All three candidates have denounced the Black Leadership Forum’s e-mail.

David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington said cities with large black populations such as Gary, Ind.; Philadelphia; Baltimore; and St. Louis have all had white mayors in recent years, a sign of growing pragmatism in the black community

“It’s perfectly fine if a white mayor gets elected with black support,” he said.

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