Atlanta’s Black voters largely undecided on who should lead the city

Anisa Green poses for a photograph in her Atlanta Apartment Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. Anisa Green, who participated in the AJC poll, said she had attended a couple of Kasim Reed events and likes that he’s “aligning himself with the hip-hop community,” but is still unsure who has her vote — Felicia Moore, she said, wasn’t progressive enough.
 STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Caption
Anisa Green poses for a photograph in her Atlanta Apartment Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. Anisa Green, who participated in the AJC poll, said she had attended a couple of Kasim Reed events and likes that he’s “aligning himself with the hip-hop community,” but is still unsure who has her vote — Felicia Moore, she said, wasn’t progressive enough. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

With Atlanta the cradle of the American civil rights movement and a hub of African American culture, race is never far from the conversation when the city’s voters select a new mayor.

So anyone trying to lead the city needs to speak to the issues of Black residents.

But less than two weeks from the election, the Black electorate — which has helped consistently select an African American mayor for the past 50 years — has not coalesced around a preferred candidate, according to a new poll commissioned by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Race took an even brighter spotlight last week, when NAACP President Richard Rose issued an unprecedented statement urging voters to cast their ballots for anyone other than former Mayor Kasim Reed, who is seeking a third term.

ExploreAtlanta Mayor's Race 2021: Full coverage by the AJC, including candidate profiles, a voter guide, list of candidates

Reed has consistently polled ahead of the other candidates among Black voters — a constituency of particular importance to him, given that 65% of white voters viewed him unfavorably in the AJC poll.

The NAACP letter didn’t impress everyone.

“We don’t need to be turning on each other like that,” said B. Jones, a 72-year-old African American Buckhead resident who participated in the poll. “We have enough people who can turn on us.”

Reed is easily the most popular candidate among Black voters, garnering 32% of the vote in the AJC poll. But he is also a polarizing figure in the Black community, with a 32% unfavorability rating among African Americans.

“There’s a love-hate relationship there,” said Tammy Greer, a political science expert at Clark Atlanta University.

City Council President Felicia Moore, who was in a statistical tie with Reed for the overall lead in the race, captured 12% of the Black vote in the AJC poll. None of the other candidates — Andre Dickens (7%), Antonio Brown (3%) and Sharon Gay (2%) — were even close.

ExploreInteractive: Poll of Atlanta voters, October 2021

Gay, an attorney, is trying to become the first white mayor in the city since Sam Massell in 1974. Radio host Frank Ski asked Gay why the city should elect “a white woman” as mayor.

“Well, this white woman — I’m different,” Gay said.

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Mayoral candidate Sharon Gay speaks during City of Atlanta Mayoral Debate at The Gathering Spot in Atlanta on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Mayoral candidate Sharon Gay speaks during City of Atlanta Mayoral Debate at The Gathering Spot in Atlanta on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
Mayoral candidate Sharon Gay speaks during City of Atlanta Mayoral Debate at The Gathering Spot in Atlanta on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The poll suggests Moore has ground to make up among Black voters, especially if she gets to a runoff, which appears likely given that neither Moore (23.8%) nor Reed (20.4%) were close to garnering 50% of the vote.

Moore said in a statement that “as a Black woman who has lived in Atlanta for 40 years, I have always believed it was important to talk to Black families and Black businesses … We’re working hard to reach voters in every neighborhood throughout Atlanta, and that’s why we believe our campaign has been successful.”

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Felicia Moore participate in the Atlanta Regional Mayoral Forum, moderated by Bill Bolling, is centered around Atlanta's housing challenges and takes place in two parts Wednesday, Oct 6, 2021. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Felicia Moore participate in the Atlanta Regional Mayoral Forum, moderated by Bill Bolling, is centered around Atlanta's housing challenges and takes place in two parts Wednesday, Oct 6, 2021.   (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Caption
Felicia Moore participate in the Atlanta Regional Mayoral Forum, moderated by Bill Bolling, is centered around Atlanta's housing challenges and takes place in two parts Wednesday, Oct 6, 2021. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Anisa Green said she had attended a couple Reed events and likes that he’s “aligning himself with the hip-hop community,” but is still unsure who has her vote — Moore, she said, wasn’t progressive enough.

Green, who participated in the AJC poll, said an endorsement from Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms or former gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams would go a long way toward helping solidify her vote. Neither have weighed in on the race.

“We need to focus on everybody and, being that Atlanta is a very Black-dominant city, we need to make sure we are taking care of communities that are not getting the most attention,” she said.

Dickens is a southwest Atlanta native. Endorsements from former Mayor Shirley Franklin along with state Senators Donzella James and Vincent Fort “have leveraged their deep reach into the Black community and their relationships to talk about this campaign,” Dickens said.

“As mayor, I plan to take the steps necessary to rid this city of its income inequality which disproportionately impacts our Black residents,” Dickens said. “I can offer Black voters this: the opportunity to live in an Atlanta which works for everyone.”

Caption
Mayoral candidate Andre Dickens speaks during City of Atlanta Mayoral Debate at The Gathering Spot in Atlanta on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Mayoral candidate Andre Dickens speaks during City of Atlanta Mayoral Debate at The Gathering Spot in Atlanta on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
Mayoral candidate Andre Dickens speaks during City of Atlanta Mayoral Debate at The Gathering Spot in Atlanta on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Deborah Wells, a 53-year-old Adamsville resident who was a respondent in the poll, said she is leaning toward Dickens but knows for sure she won’t vote for Reed.

“He catered to the people of affluence,” she said, adding that lower-income Black residents like her want a mayor who will reform police. “You don’t have to treat them like animals, just put cuffs on them — whether they’re guilty or not.”

Reed has promised to restore the police force to 2,000 sworn officers and has promised to reduce violent crime in his first 100 days in office.

“Until Atlantans feel safe again, nothing else matters,” Reed said in a statement to the AJC. “My message to Black voters — and voters of all ethnicities across our city — is that I am the only candidate with the leadership and experience to make our city safe.”

Caption
Mayoral candidate Kasim Reed speaks during City of Atlanta Mayoral Debate at The Gathering Spot in Atlanta on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Mayoral candidate Kasim Reed speaks during City of Atlanta Mayoral Debate at The Gathering Spot in Atlanta on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
Mayoral candidate Kasim Reed speaks during City of Atlanta Mayoral Debate at The Gathering Spot in Atlanta on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Reed has also cited race as a factor in the years-long federal corruption investigation into his previous administration. That investigation netted bribery convictions against his deputy chief of staff and procurement officer. Reed’s chief financial officer is indicted on fraud and weapons charges. His attorneys earlier this month told the AJC that Reed is not personally under federal investigation.

“The fact of the matter is that every single Black man who has been mayor of Atlanta has been federally investigated,” Reed said when asked about the probe during a recent debate.

About 46% of Black respondents in the AJC poll said the investigation made them less likely to vote for the former mayor. For white respondents, that number was 80%.

This year’s election follows demographic shifts in the city that saw the number of new white residents far outpace Black population growth. Recent Census data showed Black residents are no longer the majority in Atlanta, though they are still the largest racial group, making up 47% of the population.

ExploreAtlanta’s mayoral candidates make their cases at AJC forum

Emory University political science professor Andra Gillespie said the dynamics of the race are different now from 2017, which saw then-councilwoman Bottoms finish first in the general election, followed by three white candidates.

African American residents still make up a majority of Atlanta’s registered voters, though white Atlanta voters in last year’s presidential election narrowly surpassed the number of Black voters.

The shrinking population share of Black residents “certainly alters the level of influence that African-Americans have,” Gillespie said, “but it doesn’t diminish it at all. … They’re likely going to be the decisive vote.”

Credit: WSBTV Videos

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41% of voters still undecided as Moore maintains slight lead in Atlanta mayor’s race, poll shows

Credit: WSBTV Videos


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