In the wake of the November 3 elections, conventional commentators haven't been able to stop themselves urging the GOP toward the fatal "Moderation Mirage". Neither can they give up the myth that Obama has transcended race:
"Amid all the parsing of ideological and partisan trends in last night's races, it seems worth noting (as I started to, in a sleepy way, early this morning) another: In big city mayor's races, voters chose candidates not like them. African-American Atlanta gave a plurality to a King-quoting white woman… In any case, a data point for the Obama era." [Another loser: Identity politics?, by Ben Smith, Politico, November 4, 2009]
Bunk. Contra Smith, the race in Atlanta, which will be decided by a December 1 run-off between a white and black candidate, is just another example of Peter Brimelow's notorious adage that "Demography is destiny in American politics".
Recent mayoral politics in majority African American cities can be summed up in one simple phrase: "Once you go black you never go back." As whites fled the cities to avoid urban crime and bad schools, blacks became majorities in many major cities and then dominated their politics. Blacks vote on racial lines, and once they get power in a city, they will not let go. After the first black mayor got elected in Atlanta, Detroit, Memphis, The District of Columbia, New Orleans, and Birmingham, every subsequent mayor has been African American.
As it happens, the last few weeks have been tough for black mayors. On October 14th and October 22, The IRS put a lien on Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums's two homes for 239,000 dollars in unpaid taxes. On October 28, a jury convicted then Birmingham mayor Larry Langford on 60 counts of conspiracy, bribery, fraud, money laundering, and filing false tax returns. The next day, a federal grand jury convened to decide whether to indict former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton on ethics charges. And on November 9, Monday, Baltimore Mayor Shelia Dixon went on trial for embezzlement.
But while black mayors' legal and ethical woes are nothing new, the biggest blow against them came on November 3 in Atlanta. Voters gave white candidate Mary Norwood a 46% plurality over black candidates Kassim Reed and Lisa Borders, who received 36% and 14% respectively. Norwood will face Reed in the December 1 runoff.
In 1973, Atlantans elected Maynard Jackson who became the first African American mayor of a large Southern City. He was followed by Andrew Young, himself, Bill Campbell, and Shirley Franklin—all African Americans. But Norwood is in a good position to end this run.
But while what Politico's Smith calls "African American Atlanta" gave Norwood the plurality of votes, African Americans in Atlanta did not. No exit polls were taken, but a Survey USA poll taken prior to the race, which correctly gave Norwood 46% of the vote, also showed her receiving 70% of the white vote, but only 31% of the black vote.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution broke down the vote by precinct. Among its findings:
"There is really only one way to put it: Atlanta is becoming whiter, and at a pace that outstrips the rest of the nation. The white share of the city's population, says Brookings Institution demographer William Frey, grew faster between 2000 and 2006 than that of any other U.S. city. It increased from 31 percent in 2000 to 35 percent in 2006, a numeric gain of 26,000, more than double the increase between 1990 and 2000" [Atlanta and the Urban Future, by Rob Gurwitt, Governing, July 1, 2008]
Of course, Hispanics and Asians are flooding into Atlanta as well. Overall, the city's black population has decreased from 68% in 1990 to just 54% today.
But even with this growth, a white candidate would have no chance if Atlanta had a normal partisan election system.
Blacks vote en bloc for black candidates and Democratic candidates, but (as demonstrated by repeated failed attempts by the GOP to win with the Alan Keyeses and Michael Steeles of the world) their strongest loyalty lies with the Democrats. Blacks make up much more than 54% of the Democratic voters in Atlanta. So the black would easily win the Democratic primary. Thereafter, between blacks, Hispanics, and liberal whites, the Democrat would be a sure pick in the general election.
But the mayor of Atlanta is elected in a run-off system, where all candidates run against each other without listing party affiliation. If no one receives the majority of the votes, then the top two candidates will go in a runoff election.
Norwood appears to be somewhat of an independent. She attended the 1999 Republican convention and had described herself as purple. But in the run-up to the campaign, she tried to solidify her Democratic credentials and emphasized her support for Obama.
Of course, this did not keep her opponents from attempting to smear her as a Republican. The Democratic Party of Georgia sent out mailers claiming "Norwood's campaign is financed by the same Republican money men who funded John McCain's hate-filled campaign against Barack Obama" and urged voters to support either of her black opponents. [Norwood Defends Personal Voting Record after Democratic Attack Mailer, Matthew Cardinale, Atlanta Progressive News, November 2, 2009"]
Some major black figures recognize that the multiple candidate system would split the black vote. Aaron Turpeau, a city hall fixture in Atlanta who served as Maynard Jackson's chief of staff, distributed a memo written by two black Clark University professors on behalf of a group called the Black Leadership Forum.
According to the memo,
"the changing demographics which show a more rapid growth in the city's white population (faster and a higher percentage than anywhere else in the country) requires that we critically evaluate all candidates;"…
"With the 'Black Mayor first' approach there is an unstated assumption that having a black mayor in Atlanta is equal to having a black social, economic and political agenda or at least someone in office who would be sensitive to that agenda if not a full promoter of that agenda" [The memo that's about to shake the Atlanta mayor's race, Jim Galloway, Atlanta Journal Constitution, August 27, 2009]
The Black Leadership Forum suggested that all blacks rally around candidate Lisa Borders to unify blacks against the white Norwood. But when it became public, their memo actually backfired by waking many white Atlantans how many blacks really view them in the so-called "City Too Busy to Hate."
Kasim Reed unsurprisingly denounced the memo. But it will be interesting to see whether he opposes playing black racial politics when it's not used to rally blacks against him.
Politico's Smith may see Norwood as a Martin Luther King-quoting post-racialist. But when you're up against such obvious anti-white animus, just a few nudges can help motivate the white electorate in your direction.
One of Norwood's most effective ads began with her standing at the location of a few murders and in a parking lot where 38 cars were broken into in a single night. Norwood commented:
"We have 500 repeat offenders, but city hall lost track of 100 million dollars and had to furlough police. I'm Mary Norwood as a mayor, I'll bring back basic accounting skills and hold people accountable so we can hire more police. In a great city, everyone should feel safe." "Right Here", Mary Norwood for Mayor, Youtube, October 15, 2009]
One black leftist blog attacked Norwood's ads stating; "The operative phrases are crime, accountability and public safety. That's nigger, 2009 style." ["Mary Norwood's Racial Politics, Can't Hold my Tongue, October 21, 2009"]
Following the election, a young blonde Atlantan told the local ABC affiliate her hopes of how Norwood would change the city,
"Atlanta won't be known as A-T-L [Hip Hop Slang for Atlanta] anymore. Won't be known as the place where rappers are. We'll have a clean safe city where white people can relate to." [Atlanta Mayor Election 2009 Voter reaction: Its always about race, Youtube, November 3, 2009]
Hate speech! This young lady is no doubt headed for sensitivity training. But with Kassim Reed campaigning with the explicitly anti-white rapper Ludacris—known for his lyrics "Paint the White House black and I'm sure that's got 'em terrified/McCain don't belong in any chair unless he's paralyzed"—her concerns about image are perfectly sensible.
Thus far, both Reed and Norwood are desperately trying to avoid the topic of race to prevent any backlash. But it's hard to imagine it not coming up in the coming weeks—particularly if Reed really wants to win.
While we shouldn't expect Mary Norwood to lobby for putting the Confederate Navy Jack back in the Georgia Flag, whites should still be heartened her success. By moving back into the city they were displaced from, and by voting in a bloc, whites are slowly taking back Atlanta.
Don't expect Republicans to pay attention.
Ellison Lodge (email him) works on Capitol Hill.