Atlanta Mayor: Who Is Playing the Race Card?

In tomorrow's tossup race for mayor of Atlanta, Mary Norwood has a fascinating final ad. Here it is: You can watch that ad and ...
by | November 30, 2009

In tomorrow's tossup race for mayor of Atlanta, Mary Norwood has a fascinating final ad. Here it is:

You can watch that ad and see it as a predictable, bland, inoffensive call for racial unity. "But whether we are white or black, live on the North side or the South side, we are one city and we need to have one government that actually responds to every neighborhood, delivers services and solves problems." Who could disagree with that?

But, the question is whether by saying that others are playing the race card, Norwood is playing the race card herself. That seems to be the line of thinking of Kasim Reed, Norwood's African-American opponent.

As Jim Galloway of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes, Reed pressed Norwood on the ad in a recent debate, asking her to identify people or groups that were playing the race card. When she didn't go into specifics, here's how Reed responded:

We should share specifics with the citizens of Atlanta. When you make a charge in an ad that you send out over the airwaves and you say some people are attempting to divide our city, I think that you should be courageous enough to say who those individuals are.

And if you don't, you owe the people of Atlanta an apology after the 18 months that we have spent trying to keep a high-minded campaign. In the closing days of the campaign, you have injected an issue without being able to back it up with facts.

This whole debate is giving me flashbacks to last year's presidential campaign. Remember in Missouri when then-Senator Obama made his "dollar bills" remark? And remember how the McCain campaign fired back that, by accusing others of playing the race card, Obama was himself playing the race card? As much as I love politics, I don't miss the mini-controversies of the presidential campaign trail.

In the presidential race, the conventional wisdom was that the topic of race was bad for Obama. Most of the electorate was white, so Obama didn't want to be viewed as focused on racial grievances.

In Atlanta, a narrow majority of the electorate likely will be black. Does that mean that Norwood erred by bringing up race? I'm not sure, but it is clear that accusing others of playing the race card is nearly as politically perilous as playing it yourself.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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