News Release: Politics

Oct. 30,  2009

Urban Politics Expert Analyzes Atlanta Mayor's Race

When Atlanta voters head to the polls Nov. 3 to elect a new mayor, their choice will either extend and endorse the tradition of African American mayors in the city, or it will establish a new era of racial politics in the city, says Emory political scientist Michael Leo Owens, an expert on urban and municipal politics.

If a woman is returned to the mayor’s office, voters will recommit the city to a belief that women can govern the city well, perhaps better than men, Owens says.
 
“Unfortunately, race has been and remains central to politics in Atlanta. The race for mayor is no different. This is true whether or not the electorate wants to acknowledge it, whether or not people wish for a ‘post-racial Atlanta,’ and whether or not the candidates see ‘one Atlanta,’ not two,” Owens says.  

“It’s odd to me that one can think that 70 percent of whites supporting the white candidate and 61 percent of blacks supporting one of three black candidates isn’t a reflection of racial considerations to some degree,” Owens says. “I expect, but do not welcome, racial bloc voting. But such voting will only reflect race to a degree, for a set of social, economic and ideological positions will also matter on Election Day.”

What’s ahead for the next Atlanta mayor

“I see at least three challenges for the next mayor,” Owens says. “One, if racial bloc voting is extreme during the election, the next mayor will have the challenge of soothing hurt feelings among constituencies that didn’t vote for them, more so than in a typical Atlanta election.

“Two, the next mayor will have the challenge of governing a city whose residents are in the throes of economic fear and resentment, and who possess a strong distrust of and displeasure with City Hall to serve all of its citizens. And three, the new mayor will face the enduring challenge of convincing the state Legislature and governor to demonstrate more public and fiscal regard for the economic engine of the state.”
 
Owens is an associate professor of political science at Emory.
He is the author of “God and Government in the Ghetto: The Politics of Church-State Collaboration in Black America” (University of Chicago Press, 2007). His current book project is “Prisoners of Democracy,” a study of the politics, policies and attitudes that diminish the citizenship of felons in the U.S.

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