Cathy Woolard on healing following divisive mayoral race and what’s next

When we reached Cathy Woolard the other day for an interview, we just barely reached her. Woolard has spent the last two-and-a-half years in the public eye campaigning for Atlanta mayor — a race she came in a close third in, later putting her considerable weight behind Mary Norwood in the runoff — and now that the race is over, she wants a recharge (and maybe a long break from reporters like us). But the former Atlanta City Council president agreed to a chat.

We covered everything from her thoughts on the large number of out LGBT candidates that ran for office this year, what seats the community should focus on next, why she’s learned to stop having expectations about elections and what’s next for her.

There were 16 out LGBT candidates that ran across the state this year, but only three won. You’re a political veteran — you’ve won campaigns, lost campaigns. What advice do you have for those who didn’t make the cut this time?

For the 13 of us, good for you for running. You can’t win if you don’t run. People have to try and gain the experience of running to be able to be successful, and also to build a bench of people who actually know how to work on campaigns. That’s a real challenge here in Georgia is to find people who have any campaign experience. That’s not just gay people or gay candidates; that’s everywhere.

Did the number of out LGBT candidates surprise you?

I thought it was pretty great. I think the fact that we continue to see people offering themselves for office — especially people who maybe haven’t been as connected in to the organized political gay community — is pretty exciting.

We seem to have a lot more success in electing people in smaller jurisdictions than we do in some of the more high profile races [two of this year’s wins were in Doraville and the other was in Hiawassee]. That’s something we ought to really look at. We’ve seen it when Keisha Waites got elected in Clayton County. We’ve seen a bunch of elected officials in Pine Lake over the years. We’ve seen gay elected officials in Decatur.

In communities that are smaller where people have more civic visibility in a concentrated way, there’s a lot of opportunity for people to get a step in. It doesn’t mean the race is any easier — the sum total of votes is smaller, the budget is a little more attainable and people’s civic engagement tends to be a little more prominent in those races because if you work on one committee, you’ve probably touched a good portion of the city that influences people.

Any areas you’ve heard about to keep an eye on?

Right now I don’t know. I think the community ought to have a pretty strong conversation that we don’t have someone gay on the Atlanta City Council for the first time in 20 years. I think that’s going to be something that needs to be addressed in a strategic way. I think we have opportunities in this upcoming election to elect people to the General Assembly. Everything will be up next time around and we ought to be looking at those opportunities.

We’re speaking two days after the election in Alabama [Democrat Doug Jones beat anti-LGBT Republican former judge Roy Moore for a U.S. Senate seat]. I’m curious, what did you expect going in and what was your reaction to the results?

You know, I have totally stopped having expectations. I really have. I’ve just stopped trying to predict what’s going on because I’ve realized that I exist in my own bubble and it’s not a very accurate read of what’s really happening in this country or even in this state or in this city. So I’m not going to make any assumptions anymore.

So you’re recharging. You’ve been in the spotlight for a good while on the campaign. What’s next?

Right now I’m just trying to figure out what I’m going to do for work. I kind of put my business to bed, at least temporarily, so I could put all my attention into the election. Now I’ve got to get back to work and contribute to [Woolard’s wife] Karen [Geney] and I’s household in a little bit better way. She’s pretty much been carrying every aspect of it. That’s really what I’m focused on right now is to try and put my life back in order. I’m excited about having a fresh start and looking at things again, so that’s really what I’m putting my time into.

People are talking a lot about division in the wake of the mayoral runoff results. You had a lot of people — particularly in the LGBT community — that lined up behind Mary Norwood, especially after you and Georgia Equality endorsed her. What thoughts do you have on what the LGBT community and the city can do, considering a number of people feel a little burnt that their candidate didn’t win.

The election is over. I think people should rally around Keisha and do everything possible to make her successful. She still needs to have help in formulating her vision on how she can play a role advancing equality for the LGBT community, and I think she’s willing to learn. It’s not a place where she’s had a tremendous amount of experience. I think she’s completely open to gaining an understanding and taking suggestions on how she can be helpful. She’s a really nice person. I like her a lot. Again, it’s now time for us to all figure out how we can help her be the best mayor she can be. That’s what I intend to do.