Atlanta and the Powers That Be
In the second installment of a three-part series, The Root takes a look at who's really got the power in this Southern city that's allegedly too busy to hate.
Astute political observers say Reed, 40, won because in the run-off against Norwood, he enlisted the old-political/civil rights coalition--Andrew Young, Joseph Lowery, etc.--and got an even larger turnout of black voters than the first primary. Norwood suffered from reports that she was really a closet Republican; Reed picked up more white votes in the run-off. Reed also benefitted from a huge turnout in the upper-income neighborhoods of South Fulton County that had been recently annexed into the city, suggesting that the loss of low-income black voters so crucial to black candidates in the past, may have been replaced at least in part by an influx of new, better-off black voters. Another indication that Buckhead's ability to control who gets elected in the city is overstated is that the recognized mayoral ''business candidate,'' former City Council President Lisa Holmes Borders, who worked for the developer Tom Cousins, finished third in the race.
''Reed is interesting in that he is new school/old school,'' says the longtime Atlanta political observer. "He is a child of Southwest Atlanta, a Howard Law School grad, and former state senator who seems to cast his lot with a traditional Atlanta black political power base rather than some new biracial coalition, with the exception of gays.
''The same thing could be said of Ceasar C. Mitchell, the 40-ish city council president,'' the observer continues. ''It seems that the return of Buckhead's political clout to match its unparalleled financial power might have been a better story if the white woman had won. When she didn't, nobody seems to have explained why and what it means for the future of the black Mecca.''
While racial politics is still very much alive in Atlanta, it seems like both the city's black and white leaders believe that maintaining good relations between whites, who make up about 38 percent of the population, and blacks, who comprise about 58 percent according to 2007 Census data, is critical to the overall image and success of the city. Consequently, both groups continue to embrace the post-civil rights era, ''city too busy to hate'' mantra.
According to Forbes, Buckhead is home to the ninth-wealthiest zip code (30327) in the nation and the only one in the Southeast to make the magazine's top 10 list; Internet sites such CityData report the area has an average household income of $340,000 in 2008. Its real estate market, which includes the governor's mansion, has an average detached home value of over $1.2 million.
Meanwhile, demographics for the entire city paint another picture. CityData reports Atlanta's 2008 average household income, Buckhead included, is only $48,865 and the average detached home value is $254,600.
Following the tumultuous civil rights movement, Atlanta business, political and development leaders got wise and drew up a blueprint for transitioning Atlanta into the Mecca it is today. Leaders learned the hard way that Dixie racism makes national headlines and hurts tourism, development and property values--in all parts of the city. Thus, Atlantans from all racial backgrounds are ''on the same page'' when it comes to economic prosperity for the city, influential residents say.
The result has been a sometimes uneasy partnership between black political clout and white financial power that has helped Atlanta move closer to its goal of becoming a world-class city. That partnership brought Atlanta the nation's busiest airport when Hartsfield was constructed during Maynard Jackson's tenure. It helped the ATL host the 1988 Democratic National Convention, the 2000 Super Bowl, the 1996 Olympics and many more lucrative business conventions and civic events.
''Atlanta benefited more than any other city in the history of the Olympics,'' A.D. Frazier, the chief operating officer for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, told the Chicago Tribune last year. ''Afterward, we had no debt and we left behind a legacy of privately funded structures the city would not have seen otherwise.''