Not surprisingly, there has been virtually little attention paid to the Atlanta Mayoral race on this site, most likely because of focus, and rightfully so, on healthcare and other more prominent issues. That said, the Atlanta mayoral runoff election has evolved into a case of where typical labels and perceptions are not necessarily reality, and a case of Georgia Democrats eating their own.
As this heated NON-PARTISAN mayoral runoff race comes near its December 1st conclusion, a firestorm is raging in Atlanta over the issue of marriage equality and the meddlesome insertion of the Democratic Party of Georgia (DPG) into a non-partisan mayoral race. Many progressive Democrats and the GLBT community are outraged at the DPG for funding a mailer falsely accusing independent progressive and pro marriage equality Mayoral candidate Mary Norwood of being a Republican.
More on the flip...
Many persons in the Atlanta GLBT community perceive that the DPG mailer was launched in part to discredit a pro marriage equality candidate. Some public commentary on the DPG mailer can be found here.
Adding fuel to the fire, the campaign of Norwood's opponent, State Senator Kasim Reed, also launched a whisper campaign that became public. The Reed campaign targeted Kyle Bailey, former Georgia Equality Political Director and National Stonewall Democrats executive director, and well-known, highly respected Atlanta GLBT activist, accusing him of accepting a payoff for his support of Norwood (Link)
Many in Atlanta's GLBT community and its leaders are outraged at Reed and the DPG. The following letter from leaders of Atlanta's GLBT community is reproduced below in its entirety and with the permission of its authors:
To: All GLBT Voters in the City of Atlanta
Date: November 24, 2009
From the Following Members of Our Community Concerned About GLBT Families:
Douglas Brooks, Rusty Wolf, Randy New, Russell Tippins,Jeff Cleghorn, Kevin Kirby, Ken Britt, Lawrie Demorest,Lee Kyser,Joe Porter,Sharon Semmens, Dan Bloom, Barry Golivesky, Mike Wright,Bob Glascock, Chris Morter, Jeff Deardorff, Judy Wells, Sally Purvis, Cindy Brazell, KatiePhelps, Jefferson Sargent, Jason Mayberry, Randy Brazee, JonathanHuff, Rebecca Glatzer, Shawn Lanier, Jon Ritt, Michael Aycock,
Why GLBT Voters Should Be Very Careful in Their Choice for Mayor of Atlanta
We are your friends, co-workers, and neighbors in the City of Atlanta, and we ask you to vote for Mary Norwood to be Atlanta’s next Mayor on December 1. Please imagine the following actual encounter: Doug Brooks and Rusty Wolf, a couple together for 11 years who were married in 2005 in Massachusetts, took the opportunity to ask Kasim Reed about his position on marriage equality. On November 8, Doug, Rusty and their two young children were in Morningside’s Sidney Marcus Park. With their
children in arms, Doug and Rusty politely asked Senator Reed why he did not believe their children were entitled to the benefits of having two married parents. Kasim Reed looked this family in the eye and said that his religious views did not allow him to recognize a civil marriage. This was a tough conversation to have in our own neighborhood with someone who might lead our City and its large gay and lesbian population.
Near the beginning of the race, Georgia Equality noted that 1 in 7 Atlanta voters – about 15% - is likely gay or lesbian, and intowners will tell you that estimate is near the mark. Since we comprise 15% of the tax base, and 15% of your neighbors, we deserve a Mayor who believes that we are full citizens, entitled to all benefits of our straight neighbors.
Marriage equality is important to us, and may be the most important issue to the average gay and lesbian voter in 2009, thus placing the issue front and center in this Mayor’s race. Municipal elections are about quality of life, and there are few quality of life issues anyone would consider more important than the right to get married.
We also typically vote for Democrats, and give money to Democratic candidates. This year, we are supporting Mary Norwood as an independent voice for a better Atlanta. Kasim Reed and the Democratic Party have used divisive, partisan politics in Atlanta’s non-partisan election. Senator Reed took the unprecedented and divisive step of interjecting partisan politics into the fray, accusing all opponents of being Republicans.
The Democratic Party then fueled the fire with the unprecedented step of spending Party funds on direct mail pieces to proliferate the lie that Mary Norwood is a Republican. Finally, party line Democrats in droves endorsed Kasim Reed in a lock step effort to make partisan something that never was, and never should be.
Kasim Reed’s anti marriage equality position is not only an insult to the thousands of tax paying gay and lesbian Atlantans, his position represents a step backwards for a City which is currently led by Shirley Franklin, who favors marriage equality. Like many of you, we are disappointed in this year’s race, and not just for Senator Reed’s position, the party’s intervention, and the lock step support from party faithful.
The Democratic Party of Georgia asks gays and lesbians to compromise on marriage equality in voting for Reed this year, while doing nothing elsewhere to improve the discriminatory treatment we feel from state government. No member of the Democratic caucus has introduced legislation to repeal the 2004 anti marriage equality amendment; nor to create a parallel structure of Civil Unions, nor domestic partnerships, nor any other advance. Is it any wonder gays and lesbians are – for the first time in memory – ignoring the party’s candidate endorsement to support the pro marriage equality, Mary Norwood?
A candidate’s capacity for empathy with his or her constituency is an important consideration in any election. Senator Reed is not married, and he has no children. While being unmarried and childless in no way disqualifies someone from serving effectively in office, it does prevent Senator Reed from empathizing with the families affected by his refusal to support equality. Were Senator Reed placed in a situation
where his spouse or, even worse, his children were denied the rights enjoyed by others, and was told it was simply because the religious beliefs of those in power don't allow for an inclusive view of equality, he would be as offended and hurt and angry as we are.
This year, LGBT Atlantans have a rare opportunity: to (1) get a marriage equality candidate elected; (2) defeat, and perhaps end the career of, a political climber who is against marriage equality; (3) send a message to ALL candidates (particularly Democrats) that they need to support us on this issue to get our votes; (4) all while doing no damage to the Democratic party in the General Assembly, Congress, the Governor's mansion, or the White House. We will not get another chance to send this message again. Please vote for Mary Norwood on December 1.
A SHOT ACROSS THE BOW FOR DEMOCRATS?
Atlanta has the third largest GLBT population in the nation and as such GLBT voters represent a substantial voting bloc (about 15% of registered voters with a history of very high turnout), with Norwood likely garnering an estimated 70-80% of their votes. Recent polls show the race to be a dead heat, with both Reed and Norwood at 46% each with 8% undecided.
If Mary Norwood wins this election, it will likely be because of the GLBT swing vote. (Link). This election could be a strong warning message to "status quo" Democrats that opposition to full marriage equality is no longer acceptable.
OTHER FACTORS IN THE RACE
While the marriage equality issue is important in this race to many, there are other factors to consider when comparing both candidates....
Norwood, who is listed in the DNC's Votebuilder database as "leans Democratic", is the parent of a gay child and vocal advocate for gay marriage as well as being strongly pro-choice. She is focused on a platform of fiscal responsibility and improving Atlanta's broken public safety operations. Norwood is an Emory University graduate whose background as an entrepreneur, communications executive, community organizer, and city councilwoman make her well-prepared to be Mayor of Atlanta.
Her opponent, State Sen. Kasim Reed, is an attorney and career politician who has the backing of many local "establishment" Democrats. He is a Howard University grad and served in the state House prior to being elected to the 35th District State Senate seat in 2002. As an attorney, he has represented primarily corporate clients.
Reed was campaign manager for Shirley Franklin, the current mayor who began her first term as a highly promising leader but now is perceived by many Atlantans as an epic failure. She has presided over an administration that has wrecked Atlanta's finances, a city hall personnel roster bloated with nepotistic appointments, a Police Department in shambles due to poor leadership, out-of-control crime, and a water/sewer department that is a massive customer-service and financial disaster. Reed led Franklin's transition team and helped hand pick many of the city's managers and leaders who led the city into it's current morass, including Police Chief Richard Pennington. The APD and Pennington are now being sued by Lambda Legal for major civil rights violations that occured during the recent raid of a gay bar. (Story is here.)
The entire non-partisan race has evolved into a highly convoluted situation which defies typical labels.
Norwood, the Independent (falsely accused of being a Republican) is the progressive candidate. Reed is the Democrat, but with policies, background and beliefs that could leave one to believe he is a Republican.
Norwood is the neighborhood activist and community organizer who as an at-large city councilwoman is well known for focusing upon the needs of Atlanta's poorest neighborhoods. As a result of her work, she recieved a strong 22% of the African American vote in a six-person Mayoral race. She is an advocate for gay marriage and is pro choice. She was one of Georgia's largest donors to the campaign to defeat Proposition 8 in California. She is squeaky clean in terms of ethics issues, is no friend of real estate developers for her work to keep "McMansions" out of Atlanta's historic intown neighborhoods, and her campaign contribution base is made up primarily of smaller, local donations from individuals. Her campaign contribution link is here.
Reed, on the other hand, is a corporate attorney who has little experience working in Atlanta neighborhoods. He has publicly stated his opposition to gay marriage, citing his "personal religious beliefs".
Reed's campaign is being funded extensively by corporate interests and out of state donors. Especially troubling is the fact that 20% of Kasim Reed’s campaign contributions have come from businesses or individuals with a financial stake in the airport (Link). Such donors — concessionaires, engineering firms, parking companies and limousine companies — were a significant source of cash for Franklin’s campaigns. Liz Flowers, spokeswoman for Council President Lisa Borders warned in a press release that this “should be a red flag for voters.” Airport concessionaires and contractors have long been considered corrupt by most Atlantans (Link). Reed's latest campaign contribution filing is here.
While it may not be relevant to judge an attorney based upon his or her clients, it is a fact nevertheless that Reed has previously represented the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain, a firm with a sordid history of discrimination against both African Americans and GLBT persons.
Additionally, Reed evidently has problems paying his taxes, as shown here. How will a politician who had a $60,000 tab for unpaid property taxes manage the crumbling finances of the city of Atlanta?
Reed has also run a gutter campaign while Norwood has taken the high road. Reed's campaign even had campaign workers steal Norwood lawn signs, as shown in this story here.
Most offensive to many Atlanta Democrats, however, Reed has produced a flagrantly misleading campaign flyer this past week which implies President Obama's endorsement. The document includes a photo of President Obama photoshopped next to Reed. The President has not endorsed Reed or anyone else in this race, and brochure was purportedly created without the approval of the White House or the DNC. This is the same failed tactic that former DeKalb County executive Vernon Jones used in last year's Democratic Senate primary against Jim Martin. It backfired then and now it's backfiring against Reed.
If you live in Atlanta please vote for the candidate who acts like a real Democrat, Mary Norwood. If you have friends who live in Atlanta, please forward this diary to them and ask them to support Mary Norwood too.