Jeff Cleghorn

Jeff Cleghorn: Why I’m voting Mary Norwood for Atlanta mayor

We are living a moment in history as LGBTQ Atlanta wields enormous influence over who becomes our city’s next mayor. Estimates are that between 10-12 percent of registered Atlanta voters are gay, which commands the respect of any politician seeking elective office in our city.

The Dec. 5 runoff will be between City Councilmember Mary Norwood and City Councilmember Keisha Lance Bottoms.

The recent primary included the historic candidacy of former City Council President Cathy Woodard, who ran as an out lesbian with widespread and enthusiastic LGBTQ support. We also saw every other major candidate aggressively courting LGBTQ voters. As a result, each candidate had gay supporters and voters. This mayoral campaign season has been the most pro-LGBTQ ever in the state of Georgia. That is a really big deal. How sweet it is to live in a city where we are seen and heard and respected.

Mary Norwood is widely known within our community. I used to think I was somebody fancy when Mary first remembered my name, but then realized Mary knows more gay people by name than I do. Many of us enthusiastically voted Mary for mayor in 2009 because of her early support for marriage equality.

Mary Norwood has run the best pro-LGBTQ mayoral campaign (for a heterosexual candidate) in our city’s history. She has crisscrossed gay Atlanta holding campaign events with her many LGBTQ supporters, including several recent meet-and-greets at different gay bars (with drag queen selfies to prove it!).

This year, however, Trump is president. Things feel different. Very different. Every decent Georgian must be concerned for the health of our American democracy, and what that means for the lives of LGBTQ people and our families.

The Republican Party’s current platform is viciously anti-gay. Trump has appointed a host of powerful government officials — including federal judges with lifetime tenure — who loath our lives and want us to go back into the closet of silence and shame. We are not going back, not one single step. LGBTQ voters are understandably angry and anxious about our future under Trumpism.

As a result, Atlanta LGBTQ voters are making a more careful assessment of the candidate who calls herself a “progressive independent.” I have had good discussions with some friends about why Mary is an Independent and whether she is really a “closet Republican.” Mary has the support of some Republicans, including some working with her campaign. I have friends who are concerned about whether Mary will always put progressive interests first, even ahead of those of her Republican supporters. A fair question to ask, in my view.

I have been asking my friends to look at Mary’s policy positions and tell me what, if anything, they disagree with. Her views on affordable housing, green space, sustainability, transportation and global leadership are well defined. Mary’s positions are progressive and inclusive.

Mary has repeatedly told us she voted for Hillary. Read for yourself Mary’s plan to help homeless queer youth, fight HIV criminalization laws, improve relations between the police department and LGBTQ people, and to make public schools more inclusive.

Mary recently provided key leadership in ensuring Atlanta’s voice was loudly heard in opposition to the repressive “religious liberty” law pushed by anti-gay Republicans in the state legislature. Mary’s step-daughter, Dr. Dorsey Norwood, is an out lesbian pediatrician helping keep kids healthy in the East Point area.

By contrast, I took a look at the campaign website of mayoral candidate Keisha Lance Bottoms. I did not see one word about LGBTQ people or people living with HIV, nor any mention of an LGBTQ-specific policy position. Nothing. I have had difficulty finding anyone who remembers Keisha Lance Bottoms participating in a Pride parade before this year. As between Mary Norwood and Keisha Lance Bottoms, the LGBTQ answer could not be clearer.

The good news here is that we know Mary, so we do not have to guess about who she really is or what she stands for. During her years on the City Council, Mary has: sponsored legislation to improve city services and better employee relations; advocated for programs to help seniors and low income home owners; worked with Watershed Management to stop sewer overflows damaging our environment; pressed to make sidewalk construction a priority for the Department of Public Works; demanded more fiscal transparency and accountability; and advocated for better pay and benefits for our City’s first responders, firefighters and police.

On a personal note, when my law firm needed help with a city building permitting issue around ten years ago, Mary took the call and scheduled us an in-person meeting with the appropriate city official — which Mary then also attended, helping to resolve our issue. Mary’s constituent services are second to none. This is how she will govern as mayor.

One thing I share in common with all of Mary’s supporters is a belief that Mary Norwood is the best candidate to work inclusively with all of our city’s neighborhoods and communities. And, if the Republicans who control our state government will also work with Mary, then all the better. Atlanta and LGBTQ Atlantans will be the beneficiaries.

As we together share this moment in history, with LGBTQ Georgians’ voices carrying more political weight than ever before, I am confident that Mary Norwood is our best choice on Dec. 5. Mary will be our progressive and independent voice who is only beholden to those of us who live and work and love in our great city.

Mary loves Atlanta and Mary loves Atlanta people. Every one of us.

This is why I support Mary Norwood for Mayor.

Jeff Cleghorn, an attorney, is a past president of the Stonewall Bar Association who has also served on the Boards of Lambda Legal, Georgia Equality and AID Atlanta. Jeff lives in Atlanta’s Midtown neighborhood with his husband, David, and their three dogs.