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Posted by on Sep 1, 2009 in Politics, Society | 10 comments

Atlanta’s Black Democratic Establishment: Backwards And Clueless


The Associated Press writes yesterday that for the first time in 35 years, Atlanta could elect a white mayor:

After 35 years, next Atlanta mayor could be white


ATLANTA — The city that became a post-civil rights movement emblem of the political power held by African-Americans could have a white mayor for the first time in a generation — a possibility that has some in the black community scrambling to hold on to City Hall.

Atlanta Councilwoman 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.

Even though I don’t live in the city of Atlanta, I have heard Mary Norwood speak. She is reasonable, intelligent, and above all (in my book) an Independent. But Atlanta’s Black Democratic Establishment has problems with Mrs. Norwood because she’s… well…. white:

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

“I suspect we will see high levels of racial polarization,” said University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock. “This e-mail may have been used to promote turnout, to get higher levels of participation from the black community. But it could also spark higher levels of participation in the white community. It’s a scare tactic.”

This racially charged e-mail was written by Clark Atlanta University Professors Dr. William Boone and Dr. Keith Jennings (both Political Scientists). For full effect, here is the entire e-mail/memo (via an article at the AJC Political Insider by Jim Galloway on August 27, 2009):


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.

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.

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 ½ months from now).

There are unstated assumptions that need to be examined. Perhaps the most critical factor is the lack of an agenda against which to evaluate candidates. An agenda, beyond just electing a Black Mayor, would allow us to move from the margins of the debate to controlling the expectations associated with gaining our support.

Three basic assertions have been made. They are as follows:

1. 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;

2. 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;

3. 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.

There are also at least three unstated assumptions that should be further explored:

Unstated Assumption

1. 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;

2. 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

3. 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.

The Missing Factors in the Current Approach

There are at least seven real world common knowledge factors that must be taken into consideration as we debate how best to manifest our support in the run-up to the November elections. They are as follows:

1. The impact of current alienation among Black Atlantans from the political establishment;

2. The imperiled state of the Jackson Machine, (in part because of the displacement of close to 100,000 black residents over the past few years) and the effect operation of the NPU system by whites;

3. Shirley Franklin’s perceived poor performance;

4. The changing demographics in the city, the potential role of new city voters and the diminished role of religious and labor leaders in mobilizing the black vote;

5. The importance of the City Council races (which to date seems to have been ignored);

6. The persistent poverty in the city, the educational crisis in the schools; the human security/public safety concerns; the type of economic development policies being pursued; and the city’s awful financial management issues;

7. A Black Agenda that any candidate should be evaluated against.

What’s At Stake?

Determining what’s at stake depends on perspective:

1. The view that the times are too serious to stand on the sidelines is absolutely correct from the perspective of a black mayor at all cost. In fact, if a white candidate were to win the 2009 mayoral race, it would be just as significant in political terms as Maynard Jackson’s victory in 1973.

2. Therefore, the question becomes, if that were the case, how would African American interests be addressed; thus, the need for a comprehensive agenda. At the same time, just having a black mayor doesn’t guarantee that African American issues and concerns would be effectively addressed either (as the current administration’s relationship to the African American community clearly demonstrates). In other words, are we simply providing votes without any expectations of the candidate that would enjoy our support?;

3. 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. Additionally, it should not be overlooked that whoever is Mayor of Atlanta will be in position to play an important role in the upcoming 2010 Georgia Governor’s race;

4. 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;

5. To ignore the alienation that exists among black voters towards the Franklin Administration’s performance is naive at best and dishonest at worse; and finally,

6. We need an overall governance strategy and a definition of who really governs in Atlanta. In other words, in 2009 we have arrived at a place in time where we can no longer afford to just look at race in the Mayor’s race or individual council races.

At the end of the day, “when the morning comes,” a black agenda would better enable us to have our interests respected by and our influence realized in any administration.

There is so much to be said about the Boone/Jennings memo that I just don’t know where to start. Suffice it to say, this is precisely the type of memo that if written by “white group”, many black organizations would be screaming racism from the mountaintops. But I’m going to approach this from another angle: why would a predominately black city consider a white mayor? Could it be that those black voters are tired of the Black Democratic Establishment’s rule of Atlanta? Could it be that Mary Norwood, who is an Atlanta City Councilwoman, has demonstrated a better plan than her black counterparts? But that is lost on the Atlanta’s Black Democratic Establishment. All they care about is the so-called “black agenda” in a city with a 38% white population (hardly a small minority). And what’s so great about this “black agenda”? Nothing. It’s just a continuation of failed social and governing policies that are narrow in focus and broad on “out-of-touchness” (i.e. current Mayor Shirley Franklin’s problems). What the BDC is scared of is that a potential Mayor Norwood would bust up their rule and bring a more politically open environment. An environment that attracts many black, brown, and white professionals (who Norwood is making serious in-roads with). An environment more diverse and accepting of differing opinions, who current Mayor Shirley Franklin is notorious for not accepting.

Even though I have no stake in Atlanta’s mayoral race, I’m hoping that Mary Norwood wins. Sometimes you need to bust up the political old guard in order to make a more honest attempt at governing (especially at a local level). The Black Democratic Establishment is backwards and clueless. They are a disservice to Atlanta’s black community by polarizing the city even more. If one of Norwood’s competitors, City Council President Lisa Borders or State Sen. Kasim Reed win, the win will be tainted by such a ludicrous and racially charged e-mail/memo. And the old battle lines between the Black Democratic Establishment and everyone else will be redrawn in bold colors.


On a side note, what’s up with some of America’s esteemed college/university professors? Some of their analysis/research/screeds are woefully out-of-touch with what’s on the ground. With the case of Dr. William Boone and Dr. Keith Jennings, they just assume black folks are monolithic. And they assume that a white city councilwoman, who works with black folks everyday, can’t govern a predominately black city effectively. Like we black folks are some sort of unique species that can only be steered/handled by other black folks. Utter nonsense. I will say this till the cows come home, many black folks are much more pragmatic than given credit for regarding politics. But when you have the overbearing Black Democratic Establishment entrenched in many black communities, it’s hard to see that pragmatism many times. Yes I’m picking on Democrats here but the facts don’t lie; black folks are overwhelmingly Democratic. And the Black Democratic Establishment is a rusty machine that needs to be put out to pasture to make way for a shiny new way, whether Democratic, Republican, and/or Independent.


And another side note, for those that want to call me a “self-hating black man” for writing this, all I can say is: WEAK! I’ve been called that so much in my journey from the Far, Far Left to the Center Left that I’ve ran out of yawns. Wait a second! No I haven’t.


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  • jeainnj

    Black prejudice – sounds exactly like white prejudice…

  • Your right jeainnj. No difference. Atlanta’s political power base is black. So SOME black folks are using their power to impose their wrong-headed will on the city. Atlanta is 38% white. You can’t just gloss over them. Policies have to be inclusive, not exclusive.

  • DLS

    Your freedom from the antics in Detroit is relative, not absolute, T-Steel.

    (In fact, you’d be encountering the same kind of thing in any central city that’s heavily black going back at least to the 1970s. Much of it is black cultural development post-Great Society, some of it is merely coincidental, and whatever other group was in charge in the cities instead would be doing the same thing. “She’s not Italian!” or “She’s Anglo!” etc.)

  • HemmD

    I thought the most telling section of the memo was these profs apparent cluelessness in the analysis of reasons why the current establishment is in trouble:”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.”It sounds to me that the opportunity provided by Jackson’s win had been wasted. If in 35 years of rule, the establishment had not extended the socio-economic and political position of the black majority, then it’s time that voters look to new leadership. That basic failure is somehow missed by these guys. It may be that the lesson here in a “post-racial” environment, results matter more than the 1970s ethnocentric movement. The Dixiecrats were diminished by Jackson’s election, but without produced results, choosing by skin color by either side is just archaic.

    • jeainnj

      I can tell you what’s happened here in Camden, NJ. We’ve had 3 black mayors since I moved here. Two were sent to prison for corruption. Seems to me that most pols here are interested more in feathering their own beds than helping the people of the city. My guess – and it’s only a guess – is that isn’t a phenomenon unique to us.

  • DLS

    “… I remember when Andy Young used to claim that black elected mayors were the vanguard of the continuing civil rights movement. Young’s utter BS should have been seen for the self-serving nonsense that it was. A black mayor of a city today is no more insurgent than I am as a bourgeois black academic in a predominantly white academic setting. …”

  • shannonlee

    Corruption and racism can be found anywhere. The “us against them” attitude is bad for all Americans. Sadly, the people in power in Atlanta fail to understand, or care, how the election of a white minority mayor in their city would be another milestone in the fight against racism in the south.How great would it be to finally get past the desire to have a black mayor, just for the sake of having one, after centuries of slavery and oppression…and just electing the right person?That would be true reconcilation.

    • jeainnj

      I was referring to ‘us’ the people as opposed to ‘them ‘ the politicians

  • superdestroyer

    For those who claim that conservatives or Republicans can ever appeal to blacks need to read stories like this. If a liberal white Democrat cannot appeal to blacks is there are blacks on the ballot,

    IN the coming one party state, black voters will act as a subparty within the Democratic Party where black politicians look out for blacks first.

  • jameshshewmaker

    “My Fellow Americans,”

    Without taking into consideration their political ideology, Ray Lahood is of Lebanese descent and Bobby Jindahl’s parents are from India. Lahood was not elected by a Lebanese majority nor was Jindahl elected by a Southeast Asia majority.

    When, my fellow Americans, will it be time for us all to say: “I am not my Ancestors. I will not take credit for the things they did right. Please don’t blame me for the things they did wrong.” ?

    James H. Shewmaker

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