By John Schaffner

Atlanta City Council President Lisa Borders, considered the likely front-runner in the 2009 mayor’s race, has withdrawn from the race, citing increasing health concerns involving her parents. Her withdrawal opened speculation about the new front-runner and the possibility others will decide to run.

The still-large field of prospective candidates includes Councilman Ceasar Mitchell, Councilwoman Mary Norwood and state Sen. Kasim Reed. The speculation is that Fulton Commissioner Robb Pitts and veteran Atlanta politician Marvin Arrington also might become strong contenders.

Mayor Shirley Franklin is nearing the end of her second term as mayor and cannot run again.

Borders, who enjoyed strong backing from the business community, said increasing health concerns faced by her aging parents are putting too many demands on her time to allow her to run for mayor.

“Taking care of my family has always been my priority,” Borders said in a written statement released by her mayoral campaign office. “Deferring my candidacy for mayor will allow me to be with my family at this critical time.”

Borders added that continuing as council president will allow her to concentrate on leading the council during “turbulent times” for the city.

The council adopted a 2009 budget in June that slashed hundreds of city jobs to help offset a projected $140 million shortfall. Council members rejected a $40 million property increase recommended by Franklin, keeping alive a dispute with the mayor that raged throughout the budget review process.

Borders entered the summer with more cash on hand than any other candidate.

Shortly after Borders’ announcement, at-large council member Norwood released a calendar of neighborhood “meet the candidate” get-togethers already planned across the city and solicited additional opportunities to meet with residents and discuss city issues.