Keisha Lance Bottoms and Mary Norwood

Atlanta mayoral candidates vie for LGBT vote as runoff nears

And then there were two.

After months of campaigning in a crowded field of candidates, Atlanta voted and narrowed its choices down to Keisha Lance Bottoms and Mary Norwood, who will face each other one more time in a runoff election on Dec. 5.

“Both runoff candidates … surely have their sights set on getting [openly lesbian former candidate Cathy Woolard’s] endorsement and the voter support that might come along with it,” political analyst Tharon Johnson wrote for Insider Advantage on Nov. 14. “While the next mayor of Atlanta may not be a member of the LGBTQ community, she will likely not be successful in her bid without making overtures and commitments to this community.”

Norwood and Bottoms both made clear their commitments to the LGBT community, pushing for more progressive ordinances and resolutions while in Atlanta City Council. However, Norwood is a more frequent presence at LGBT events. In interviews with Georgia Voice, both candidates made the case for why the city’s LGBT community should vote for them as Election Day nears.

The top issues

“The LGBTQ community brings so much to Atlanta in terms of contributions across the entire spectrum in business, in arts and culture, in civic life, in pushing for important issues,” Norwood told Georgia Voice.

Some of those important issues include Fulton County’s HIV rates; HIV criminalization; inclusivity and safety of transgender Atlantans; gentrification; and youth homelessness — particularly due to LGBT youth being kicked out of their homes due to their sexual orientations or gender identities. During the original mayoral race, both candidates weighed in on these and other topics in a host of LGBT-led forums, and continue to answer associated questions today.

Leading up to the runoff, both addressed inquiries from voters during events at lesbian bar My Sister’s Room and participated in a candidate conversation led by Woolard.

“I didn’t want the true diversity of this city to … be something [my son] encountered one day. I wanted it to be something that he lived each and every day so he could grow up with a respect for what diversity truly is,” Bottoms said during the MSR event. “I ask that if you see fit to support me as mayor that you see fit to be a true partner with me, meaning correct me when I’m wrong; educate me in the areas I’m ignorant of.”

Bottoms said she wants her commitment to Atlanta’s diversity to be evident by ensuring the LGBT community and other minorities have a seat at the table.

“That’s something I say to you as we talk about our LGBT community, it shouldn’t be something extraordinary. It should be a way of life for the city,” she said.

Norwood said she wants to ensure Atlanta is doing all it can to fight “the AIDS crisis,” including working more closely with Fulton County and ensuring Atlantans have access to pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. Other top issues for her are protecting the LGBT community from so-called “religious freedom” bills and facing the problem of homelessness for LGBT youth head-on. Bottoms also listed those as issues of high priority if she is elected.

“I have said that I am going to have advisory councils for major issues in town,” Norwood said. “I believe the people who are involved every day are the people who can help us craft, either legislatively or through city action, the best solutions. I will be making sure that there is a liaison, an advisory council to address how we deal with homelessness in general and LGBT youth specifically.”

Bottoms told Georgia Voice that City Council was lucky to have out councilman Alex Wan “to keep us legislatively accountable to LGBT issues,” but said she feels Atlanta can do more to anticipate the needs of its LGBT citizens.

“As mayor, I have to consider that the majority of the incidents we’ve faced have been reactions to missteps — recent bar closings at Black Gay Pride come to mind,” she said. “Atlanta has always been on the forefront of progress, and if we are to continue, LGBTQ+ voices must be heard within my administration. I look forward to continuing the series of open conversations I’ve started with the LGBT community over the course of my campaign once I’m elected and appointing an LGBTQ liaison to City Hall to ensure that we maintain our commitment to proactive dialogue, not reactive responses.”

Party politics in a nonpartisan election

Though the Atlanta mayoral race is, in theory, nonpartisan, candidates across the board made no mistake to clear that all were Democrats, except for Norwood, who is running as an Independent. She has straight and LGBT folks on her campaign staff, some of whom vote Republican and are staunch supporters of President Donald Trump, whose record on LGBT issues has been under criticism since Election Day 2016.

That hasn’t sat well with some Democrats, including the Democratic Party of Georgia, which endorsed Bottoms in the race.

“Just looking at her platform and seeing over the last couple of months and dozens of forums, she is obviously the only candidate in this runoff that shares the values and priorities for the city of Atlanta,” said Michael Smith, the out communications director for Georgia Democrats. “[Bottoms] has always been an ally. … She talked about openly having discussions with her sons about LGBTQ issues, about how to treat people with the same respect as you would like to be treated and make sure that they are. It’s just obvious she has the values that definitely line up with ours.”

The party even launched ads against Norwood that point out her heavy Republican ties.

“It being a nonpartisan race is just a technicality with the law,” Smith said. “To be honest with ourselves, every race is a political race, and it does have to do with specific party politics as well. We’ve had a Democratic mayor for Atlanta since 1881 and it is incumbent upon us to make sure that that tradition continues.”

Georgia Stonewall Democrats, a LGBT political group, also endorsed Bottoms in the runoff. Bottoms is also supported by former state Sen. Jason Carter and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Evans. Norwood is also notably backed by former Atlanta City Council President — and former mayoral candidate — Ceasar Mitchell, who is a Democrat.

Norwood told Georgia Voice these claims against her were “patently untrue,” citing her record of consistently showing up for the LGBT community. She was the first of the candidates to come out for marriage equality and the first to walk on the new rainbow crosswalks at 10th and Piedmont earlier this year, and said she aims to be the unifying candidate.

“If you look at my views and my legislative record, it leans Democratic,” she said. “I am pro-choice. I am 100 percent for all rights for every individual regardless of nationality, ethnic background or orientation. And third, I voted for Hillary Clinton.”

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