Positioned in the shadow of the largest granite rock memorializing the Southern Confederate states’ failed campaign to destroy the US … home to the largest collection of historically Black colleges and universities in the world … the epicenter for the world’s busiest airport … and the host of the 1996 Centennial Olympic games, Atlanta is poised to elect a new mayor in 2017.
Seventeen of Forbes’ Fortune 500 companies call Atlanta their home. Another 100 on the Forbes list have made Metro Atlanta their regional headquarters. In the world of entertainment, Tyler Perry Studios and other billion-dollar Hollywood productions are part of Atlanta’s present-day history.
The history of milestones is not coincidental. They are not singular achievements of one man or one woman but of certain individuals and institutions which have bent the arc of history to create those footprints.
Atlanta’s place in history has been guided in large measure by W.E.B. DuBois, Walter White, Benjamin E. Mays, Leroy Johnson, Grace Towns Hamilton, Clayton Yates, C. A. Scott, J. Lowell Ware, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph D. Abernathy, Hosea Williams, Maynard H. Jackson, Jesse Hill, Andrew J. Young, Shirley C. Franklin, John Lewis, Julian Bond, Johnetta Cole, and others, who worked tirelessly to serve the citizens of Atlanta and shape its history.
Three mayors graced this group.
Then thirty-five-year-old Maynard Holbrook Jackson was elected in 1973 and made history when he became Atlanta’s first African-American mayor. The city’s current vibrancy is perhaps a testament to Jackson’s vision, tenacity and unwavering love for Atlanta.
As a footnote, during the middle of Jackson’s second term, Georgia’s Legislature mandated no mayor of Atlanta could serve more than two consecutive terms. The Legislature feared Maynard Jackson’s monumental changes. Jackson served a third term from 1990-1994.
Andrew Jackson Young served two terms as mayor, continuing on Jackson’s prolific legacy of service. Shirley Clarke Franklin — a Jackson protégé — twice elected mayor, made history as the first woman to hold the office.
Atlanta’s historical footprints are wide and deep. A DuBois produced a Mays. A Mays produced a King. A King produced a Jackson. A Jackson produced a Franklin. All Atlantans share in the legacy of these deep African-American roots. There is no cornerstone of leadership which does not involve Atlanta. Civil rights…education…religion…law…medicine…business.
In 1963, Nobel Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr. shared a dream that found its roots in Atlanta’s public schools and in Morehouse College.
The next mayor of Atlanta is poised to become guardian this city’s storied legacy and partner with the Atlanta School Board to ensure the next King of the 21st century comes from this community.
“Will the next mayor of Atlanta be white?” has become a national media question. “Could the US’s Black Mecca become governed by a white female?” also shares center stage.
These questions are important and resonate because the issue of race is forever present in the 21st Century. We now exist in a nation where a president was elected because Black Barack Obama was President.
A candidate’s “birther” mantra propelled him to the bully pulpit and catapulted him to the commander in chief. Race served as the backdrop for birthers, tea-partiers, anarchists, the disgruntled/displeased, neo-nazis, rabid racists, white supremacists and many Republicans.
Race was the elephant in the room and the boogeyman in the closet. In Atlanta, race in the current mayor’s race is not addressed in most media forums.
The traditional media has seemed to have accepted that Atlanta is “too busy to hate” and race does not matter after 44 years of African American mayors.
Mary Norwood, a white female and former councilwoman, has support in the African American community because of her grassroots campaign. Norwood is not asked how she earned the support of sectors of the African American community nor is she questioned about what legislative or structural changes have improved the African American communities that she’s responsible for.
The question has equal value with other council members who serve those communities, but the race for mayor includes a flood of promises for future improvements. Criminal justice, ethics, corruption, contract transparency, affordable housing and city services response time share the candidate forums.
The questions surface every four years when there is a contested mayoral race: Do you support government transparency? Do you want an ethical government? Do you support affordable housing? Do you support traffic management? Do you support safer streets?
Of course, the answers are self-evident to these obvious questions. Seldom do candidates disagree. The answers and questions don’t assist in properly vetting the next mayor of Atlanta.
A voting population of 250,000 in 177 precincts will select the next mayor where the obvious questions and answers do not serve the voters well. Perhaps a more purposeful question is: Will the next mayor have the courage to make the right decisions in the face of 21st Century crises. How can we get an answer to that question?
An even better question emerges: “What have you done for me lately?”
Thirteen candidates qualified for mayor in August 2017. As of November 2017, 10 remained in the race.
Three women. Seven men. Five former or current city council members. One former Fulton County commissioner. One State Senator.
Two lawyers. One with an MBA in Business Administration. One with a Ph.D. in Educational Administration. Eight Democrats. One Independent. The oldest candidate is 65. The youngest candidate is 24 years old.
Why are these candidates running? One says he can “manage the city’s money better than most.”Another touts his “leadership and integrity.” One wants to “shake up city hall.” One is in the race “for the kids.” One believes his “district efforts should be replicated throughout the city.”
One believes her vision is “fair and prosperous.” One is running to “help the city’s young people meet their dreams.” One is running “so everyone can be included in the city’s promise,’ finally.” One is running “for affordability, transportation, and livability.”
None of the questions and answers will measure how the voters will decide what serves the citizens’ best interests and show value and courage in the face of crisis.
The next mayor of Atlanta must touch all its citizens with a broad appeal and a legacy built on a foundation of hope and equality.