Does Atlanta’s mayor have any influence in the Georgia legislature?

It is still early, but the decision of the Georgia General Assembly to make Delta Air Lines an example of what happens when you enter their gun rights cross-hairs has me puzzled about Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottom’s influence at the Capital. A major economic driver for Atlanta and the state of Georgia sits in her back yard and her public response to the general assembly’s actions have been very cautious. Mayor Bottoms recently said the following to the Atlanta Business Chronicle:

“We are grateful for the partnership we have with Delta. So much of what we do in Atlanta is with the corporate community, including Delta. Atlanta will remain a city that is welcoming, inclusive, and diverse.”

“We value our partnerships and relationships with our corporate partners. We have mutual respect for the positions they take on any number of matters. Anytime there are discussions on issues that are divisive, there are concerns not just in Atlanta, but at the state level.”

“I know that Delta has navigated this before. The City of Atlanta remains open for business, and we remain a committed partner with Delta.”

The Mayor did not issue a press statement on her own website. Her comments to the Atlanta Business Chronicle sounded canned; like messaging that a politician would issue during some social strife involving race or sexual orientation discrimination. In addition, there was nothing in her messaging that tells me that she or her staff went up to the Capital to speak with Lt. Governor Cagle, the architect of the campaign against extending a fuel tax exemption for Delta. The usual language like, “We implored the Lt. Governor to blah, blah, blah…” or, “We are working with our Atlanta delegation to the general assembly to yada, yada, yada …” was not uttered in the interview or anywhere else in public. Even if the Mayor tried to work behind the scenes to head off Mr Cagle’s retaliation, Mrs Bottoms blew an opportunity to create the appropriate political optics.

Mrs Bottoms will need to start working more authoritative optics if she is to survive politically the dawn of a new political era in Atlanta. Changes in Atlanta’s demographics will weaken “The Black Slate” that helped Mrs Bottoms defeat fellow Democrat Mary Norwood last November. Mrs Norwood lost, for the second time, her bid to become Atlanta’s first white mayor since 1974. Mrs Bottoms might not find it easier in 2021 as a city, formerly known as “The Black Mecca” becomes increasing white and beige.

Atlanta’s black population made up 57.4% of the city’s populace in 2000. By 2010, according to U.S. Census data, Blacks made up 54% of the city’s population. The proportion of the city’s non-Hispanic white population increased from 31.3% in 2000 to 33.3% in 2010.  Asians saw their share go from 3.9% in 2000 to 5.1% in 2010.

Anyone doubting the increase in the Latino population need only take a jaunt up Buford Highway to see for themselves. Atlanta’s Latino population share has gone from 7.5% in 2000 to 10.2% in 2010.

And speaking further of optics, Mrs Bottoms looks less in tune with the 12.8% of the Atlanta population that describes itself as gay or bisexual. I suspect a married Black American woman with four children and a husband has a personal philosophy out of touch with the LGBTQ community, where her messages about inclusiveness and diversity may become increasingly vacuous.

Lastly, her calls for affordable housing may find themselves falling on deaf ears. When my son and I moved to Atlanta in 2008, you nary saw a white person in the Fourth Ward unless they were visiting the King Memorial or driving down Boulevard to hang a right on Ponce de Leon on their way to Whole Foods. Blacks were in abundance then, much less so now.

The Fourth Ward has been gentrifying for a decade. One of the first signals was the establishment of an elementary grade level charter school off of Pine Street. The school failed but gentrification is succeeding. More whites have moved into the area. Even the Taco Bell on Ponce has gotten a facelift as a result. Even as city development agencies such as Invest Atlanta divert bond financed funding to support the development of “affordable” residential housing, increased demand for city services and creeping yields on bonds will mean selecting potential home buyers that can afford the interest rates. Except for a few bourgeoisie Blacks, I suspect that most of the people taking advantage of “affordable” housing will be white and Asian.

Mrs Bottoms hasn’t come out swinging. She is acting more like a house sitter than the mayor of a growing city with a significant level of poverty among the Black Slate that elected her. To validate the usefulness of government as a provider of “protective services” and to avoid losing political consumers from the political markets, Mrs Bottoms will have to step up.

 

Looks like it’s Keisha and business as usual …

Keisha Lance Bottoms appears to have captured the crown in the Atlanta mayoral race by approximately 759 votes over Mary Norwood. Ms Norwood reportedly has asked for a recount. She lost by 714 votes back in 2009 and likely wants to ensure that she doesn’t spend any more evenings trying to fall asleep and seeing both numbers dance around her head like sheep.

I found Ms Norwood to be engaging as well as tough. She is a seasoned politician, but unfortunately for her she appears to have run up on a buzz saw called the Black Slate. It came out in just enough numbers, apparently, to give Ms Lance Bottoms the win.

What do I expect from Ms Lance Bottoms? She will likely continue Mayor Reed’s gentrification policies i.e. a strong police presence in the West End designed to keep the current Black population quiet while more whites move in and buy up shuttered properties. Meanwhile, development will continue in the northern part of the city with increases in transportation capacity to meet increased residential demand on that side of town. The Atlanta metropolitan area expects 2.5 million more inhabitants over the next two decades and will have to act now to provide adequate infrastructure to accommodate them.

Black elites will hold on to ceremonial power. I refer to it as ceremonial power versus political power because valid political power means the ability to direct capital to whomever the holder of political power chooses. If blacks did indeed have political power, gentrification and poverty would not be an issue. Whites and other non-blacks that control capital in Atlanta should, as usual, have nothing to worry about.

So far, so gloomy in Atlanta

Prior to today’s election, Mary Norwood was nursing a six percentage point lead over mayoral rival Keisha Lance Bottoms. That lead is compounded by the gloomy looking weather outside, although supporters holding campaign signs on the corner of Tenth Street and Peachtree this morning offset the cloudy day with their enthusiasms.

What kind of signal would a Mary Norwood win send to Atlanta? It would an indication that the city has changed demographically. As I was telling my Uber driver this morning while we sat at the corner of Tenth and Peachtree, Atlanta in 1985 was just black and white. Blacks didn’t live in Buckhead. We just visited Lenox Square Mall every now and then. We saw white people at work and that was about it. The phrase, “the city too busy to hate” really meant “Everyone has other things to do so we aren’t interested in hanging out together.” That phrase has fooled a lot of people looking at the city from the outside thinking that Atlanta was becoming a mecca for racial harmony.

Quite the opposite. “Too busy to hate” was merely a blueprint for a new kind of segregation, a blueprint that also served as a marketing scheme to attract more Yuppies and Buppies to the capital city of Georgia. It included a truce, that Blacks would enjoy the political privileges stemming from having a majority of the city’s voters while kept what was really most important: economic power.

The thing with political power based on the number of people with black skin is that even if that power can be passed down the nepotism chain to other people with black skin, it is only a matter of time before that power becomes diluted. As the demographics changes and the city became more diverse, the power base naturally became diluted by other groups that did not share either skin color or the struggle narrative as promoted by Atlanta’s political elite.

Not only did economic power stay with whites (and it is only reasonable to expect this), whites also distributed opportunities stemming from economic power to non-black groups typically under the argument that these groups brought more value because they had the high-tech skills a diversifying Atlanta economy needed.

If anything, this is where Atlanta’s black elite screwed up. The establishment types, led by old heads like John Lewis, never expressed any sophisticated knowledge about capital, finance, and technology. So immersed were they in continuing the 1950s and 1960s legacy of Martin Luther King and Ralph David Abernathy, that they didn’t appreciate changes in the domestic or global economy. So alluring was their Pied Piper flute playing, that the masses followed them over the cliff of complacency.

Now tonight, after a day of gloomy clouds, Black Atlanta faces a new uncertainty …

The Atlanta “Black Slate” seeks to capture the Atlanta mayor’s office today

Mary Norwood and Keisha Lance Bottoms are heading for a run-off on 2 December if the polls hold out going in to today’s elections. Ms Norwood held the lead in the polls well into the late summer and early fall, but fortune has changed in favor of Ms Bottoms who has amassed a two percentage point lead over the woman who could potentially be Atlanta’s first white mayor since 1974.

Ms Bottoms’ change in fortune may be due in part to a surge in campaign donations. According to the Atlanta Business ChronicleMs Bottoms led all candidates in fund raising in October.

How much the “Vote the Black Slate” movement has contributed to Ms Bottoms’ surge is debatable. The desire on the part of Atlanta blacks, especially those living in the southwest sector of the city, is real to the point of palpable. While Ms Norwood’s amicable personality is pleasing to a lot of blacks (Full disclosure. I voted for her in 2009 partly for that reason), increase in support for Ms Bottoms is visible. Campaign signs supporting Ms Bottoms have sprouted up in many southwest Atlanta yards like grass after a solid rain.

If Ms Bottoms does come out the victor and continues current mayor Kasim Reed’s economic policies, her voters may find themselves experiencing further disappointment. I have lived in the southwest sector of Atlanta for over nine years. The wielding of political power via the vote has not brought poor blacks in the sector any more real capital or employment opportunities. Gentrification has brought young white couples into the neighborhood, but their capital may be spent elsewhere in the city as they head out to work in the morning and return in the evening. Their capital sees no value in the southwest.

The “Vote the Black Slate” movement may help boost the self esteem of Atlanta’s black elite. Another black mayor gives them something to talk about during homecoming games and cocktail parties. What it does for blacks with no capital is another issue.