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Atlanta Mayoral Runoff: Will Voters Ignore Corruption?

Image: Atlanta Mayoral Runoff: Will Voters Ignore Corruption?
Atlanta city councilwoman and mayoral candidate Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks at an election night party in Atlanta, early Nov. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

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Monday, 13 Nov 2017 12:26 PM Current | Bio | Archive

A dark cloud hung over the Atlanta primary election for mayor on November 7. A central issue and question was and remains: Will the citizens in the mayoral election take into account corruption in their government?

Corruption in government is a cancer that erodes society. Citizens lose confidence in government, do not believe the government, and it signals dishonesty is acceptable.

Pundits in Georgia believe the corruption in Atlanta has become substantially worse during the last four to five decades. The corruption problems reached Mayor Bill Campbell’s office (1994–2002) with federal investigators charging him with racketeering, bribery, and wire fraud. Much of Campbell’s alleged problems concerned money coming under the table from contractors doing business with the city of Atlanta. Campbell was not found guilty of the federal charges, but eventually went to prison for tax evasion. The same crime that put Al Capone in prison.

For the last eight years Kasim Reed, previously a state legislator, was Mayor of Atlanta, and he has a reputation as being an aggressive, demanding wheeler-dealer with corruption all around him.

The alleged corruption centers on kickbacks and bribery from contractors, and the dishonest behavior is far beyond rumor and mere charges. Contractors have admitted crimes. A federal investigator observed: “corruption in the city of Atlanta is prolific.” The federal investigations were still in-progress as voters went to the polls to vote. And it is unclear if eventually the rot will reach Mayor Reed. Kasim Reed, a hands-on mayor, is asking voters to believe all of this corruption happened under his nose, and he knows nothing.

What does all of this corruption under Reed’s administration have to do with the current election for mayor? For starters, Reed, in his last few months as mayor, is backing one of the candidates, Keisha Lance Bottoms, the only African-American woman on the ballot and a member of the Atlanta City Council.

By itself, Reed’s decision to back a successor is not necessarily a problem, but Bottoms raked in vastly more than her share of the total money candidates spent on the primary election. Reed has been accused of doing additional city contracts this year so contractors will give increased contributions to Bottoms.

The evidence shows that with Reed encouraging the contractors, Bottoms has received more than half of the entire contributions given to all of the candidates. At one gathering of contractors in August, $287,000 was raised and Bottoms received $186,554 of it.

Then there is the case of Citizens for Better Transportation that raised $1.2 million in 2016, and the reporting suggested Reed has some influence over this organization. In October the organization claimed it had $500,000 yet a few weeks later it had zero on the books. Several mayoral candidates suspect this money found its way to Bottoms’ campaign. Ex-Mayor Shirley Franklin (2002-2010) characterized the money as a “slush fund” that is an “example of rampant, systematic corruption that is running through city government and the political process.” There is an implication that if Bottoms wins, she will have benefited from the corruption, and it will continue.

The non-partisan election results found Bottoms receiving 26.2 percent and Mary Norwood receiving 20.8 percent. Because no candidate managed 50 percent, the top two will face each other in a December 5 run-off election.

Mary Norwood is a white woman with her base of support in white northern parts of Atlanta; she has been on the City Council for a number of years, and by all accounts is a responsible official. In 2009 Kasim Reed defeated Mary Norwood by 749 votes, so close she could have demanded a recount but did not. One scholar several decades ago did a random sample of Atlanta voters on a bond issue and found 10 percent of the voters did not live where the voter registration records said they lived. There was a quiet rumor that in 2009 Norwood really had won.

Anyone who follows the elections in Atlanta and reads the newspaper understands that race is a factor to influence voters. In 2009 an inspection of voting at the precinct level suggests white precincts supported Norwood and African-American precincts supported Reed; however, it appeared these tendencies were stronger among the African-American precincts. In other words, African-American voters strongly chose the African-American candidate. Even in this 2017 primary election, there were signs in some precincts that said: “Vote the Black slate.” One pundit observed if there is a racial factor in the election, it is African-American voters basing their decision on race rather than on the issues.

The December 5 run-off mayoral election represents a sincere test of whether Atlanta citizens prefer a likely corrupt African-American administration or a proven white woman. It is a test of how democracy works. One may only hope democracy works better than the famous, caustic, humorist-writer, H.L. Mencken’s appraisal: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and they need to get it good and hard.”

John Havick has a Ph.D. in political science. He was a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology for many years, authored several books and a number of articles, including the widely cited "The Impact of the Internet on a Television-Based Society." His work has appeared in The New York Times, and his recent book, "The Ghosts of NASCAR: The Harlan Boys and the First Daytona 500," is available at ghostsofnascar.com. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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JohnHavick
A dark cloud hung over the Atlanta primary election for mayor on November 7. A central issue and question was and remains: Will the citizens in the mayoral election take into account corruption in their government?
atlanta, mayor, runoff, kasim deed, keisha lance bottoms
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2017-26-13
Monday, 13 Nov 2017 12:26 PM
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