By John Schaffner
Less than a week after losing by 714 votes to Kasim Reed in her bid to become the 59th mayor of the city of Atlanta, Buckhead’s Mary Norwood was “seriously considering starting a citywide community coalition with the wonderful people all across the city who wish to be engaged and involved in important issues in the city.”
In an exclusive interview with the Buckhead Reporter Dec. 14 about her future, Norwood promised, “I have said I will stay involved. I am staying on message. I am staying involved.”
The two-term Post 2 At-Large City Council member explained, “I have eight years as an elected official. Before that I had a dozen years being involved as a community advocate. I think to continue that role as a community advocate is an appropriate one. I don’t think there is anyone at city hall that doesn’t think that I’ll be watching.”
Norwood said her husband, retired pediatrician Felton Norwood, has told her, “You’re just not the kind of lady to sit home and eat bon bons and watch soap operas. That is just not in your DNA.”
Although mayor-elect Reed has publicly stated he would welcome Norwood’s participation in his administration in some role, Norwood said she has not received a phone call from Reed. “My cell phone number has been given to the mayor-elect’s campaign. That was done immediately after the election.
“I called to concede,” she added. “I gave him my cell phone number. I had been given his cell phone number right after the runoff and tried it. I got a non-working phone number,” she said. “I gave him personally my phone number. I did not get his … It was not offered to me.
“So, here is where I am. I wish him well. I want this city to do well.”
Reed has not replied to several attempts by the Buckhead Reporter requesting interviews.
Norwood said political pundits would call the runoff election a virtual tie. “When it is less than a one-percent difference, it is a tie. It is not a mandate.”
When she woke up the morning after the runoff, Norwood said she was very interested in district numbers. “I saw the courage of people to say ‘I’m going back to the polls and I’m going to vote for this lady because I believe she cares about my community.’ It was startling … It was thousands of people.
Norwood, the only white candidate in the general election, drew 46 percent of the general election vote. “We earned thousands of new votes between the general election and the runoff, increasing from 46 percent to 50 percent with 11,000 new voters going to the polls. And, I almost won,” she added.
Norwood said she never anticipated Reed’s gain in votes between the general election and runoff. “It was an amazing tour de force,” she stated.
“Certainly I got a lot of the northside vote and I am so grateful for that. I have lived in the northside for 35 years,” she said. “But I also got a strong percentage of votes from other parts of the city. I think that was in fact post-racial.”
She pointed to her election-night events at the Varsity downtown. “Look at the TV coverage and what you saw was the Atlanta that I love and the Atlanta that we need to be. That Atlanta is judging people by who will represent them the best and the Norwood supporters across the city thought that.”
Norwood said for the past six months, “I have assiduously made certain that I stayed on message and on issue and I am going to continue that. I am not commenting on the motivation of those people who voted for my opponent. I am commenting on the motivation of those people who voted for me and it was the connection. I said all through the campaign that the connections are deep and the connections are strong and those connections stayed,” she said.
She pointed out that districts 7 and 8 sent more people to the runoff than they had to in the general election. “District 8 has always voted in greater numbers for Mary Norwood because it is my home district. District 6 sent more people to the runoff than the general and we won District 6,” she said.
“When I look at the vote across the city, my numbers were saying we got right at 20 percent across the entire crescent of the southside,” she said. “We were 23 percent in the general election and between 20 and 21 percent in the runoff.” She said there was a big get-out-the-vote effort for Reed on the southside, reportedly including 200 buses.
“I think the mayor-elect has tremendous challenges,” she said, referring to the fiscal challenges, both in terms of the bottom line and in providing services “to a city where, essentially, we have let half of it languish without development for 50 years. So we do have an area of the city that picks up a disproportionate amount of the property taxes.
“The way to have the city grow well is to focus on the 50 percent of the city that needs some attention,” she stated. She said she is delighted that Peter Aman (Reed’s appointee as the city’s chief operating officer who previously ran the Atlanta office of Bain & Company) “is going to be helpful, because we do have a mayor-elect who has not been involved with the inner workings of the city. So there is a learning curve and the city doesn’t have much time for learning curves.”
Asked if she is going to start immediately putting together her community coalition, Norwood said, “It has been less than a week since I conceded. I closed down a campaign office. I am closing down a City Council office that has 12 years of information in it. I have about 20 drawers of files that have to be either tossed out or transferred, and I do not intend to lose the institutional knowledge.
“It would be premature of me to talk about a citywide coalition without talking to neighborhood planning unit representatives,” she said, “because there are neighborhood organizations throughout the city and there is already a framework. This in no way diminishes them. I think it functions very differently.”
Norwood said she feels the organization needs to be membership-based with a nominal membership fee. “Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to have a $5 membership fee and have 20,000 people belong to it. Would that be great or what?”