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Atlanta Mayor's Race: Look back on the history of city leaders

With a dozen candidates vying to be Atlanta’s next mayor, anything could happen once the votes are counted on Nov. 7. 

The city’s last five mayors have been African-American, and the last 27 have been Democrats. Councilwoman Mary Norwood, a white independent, came close to ending both those streaks in 2008, finishing second to Mayor Kasim Reed in a runoff. This year, the Buckhead resident has the potential to do so again, performing strongly in recent polls. 

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Norwood, Reed-endorsed Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms or former City Council President Cathy Woolard could become the city’s second female mayor, a milestone first achieved by Mayor Shirley Franklin in 2002.

The city’s next mayor will lead Atlanta through its next chapter. Before the ballots are cast, take a look back at the city’s last 48 leaders:

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• There have been 39 Democratic mayors in Atlanta’s history, including 27 consecutive Democrats starting with William Loundes Calhoun in 1879 and continuing through current Mayor Kasim Reed.

• There have been only two Republican mayors of Atlanta: Dennis Hammond from 1871 to 1872 and Nedom L. Angier from 1877 to 1879. There has not been a Republican mayor since Reconstruction.

• There have been 47 male mayors and one female mayor, Shirley Franklin, who served from 2002 to 2010. 

•  Seven former Atlanta mayors have attended the University of Georgia. Only one, Ivan Allen, Jr., attended Georgia Tech. Maynard Jackson, Jr., a Morehouse College graduate, is the only mayor to have attended any of Atlanta’s four historically black colleges and universities. The two most recent Atlanta mayors, Reed and Shirley Franklin, are both alumni of Howard University in Washington, D.C.

• Of the 48 people who have served as Atlanta’s mayor, only four were born in Atlanta. Twenty-five others were born in other parts of the state, including Courtland Winn, who was born in Lawrenceville, and Isaac Newton Ragsdale, born in Dallas, Georgia. The ninth mayor of Atlanta, Allison Nelson, was the first to be born in Fulton County. While Mayor Kasim Reed was born in New Jersey, his family moved to Fulton County when he was still an infant.

Born March 15, 1911, Ivan Allen Jr. was the son of successful Atlanta businessman Ivan Allen, whose office supply and furniture store became one of the city's best-known companies.  (ROBERT CONNELL / AJC FILE)

• Fifteen of Atlanta’s mayors served in the Confederate army during the Civil War. Two mayors fled the South during the war: Nedom L. Angier, who fled to New York via Cuba, and John H. James, who spent wartime in Canada and the Bahamas. 

• The longest-serving mayor was William B. Hartsfield, who served for 24 years over two separate spans. The second-longest-serving mayor was Maynard Jackson, Jr., who served 12 years over two separate spans. Both mayors contributed significantly to the growth and development of Atlanta’s airport, now bearing both of their names: Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Former Atlanta mayors Ivan Allen, Sam Massell, Maynard Jackson, Bill Campbell, Maynard Jackson and Andy Young pose at a function in Piedmont Park in 1997.  (RICH ADDICKS/AJC staff)

• Mayor Walter Sims signed the initial lease for the airport’s land and named it Candler Field, after former mayor and Coca-Cola co-founder Asa Candler, who owned the land and leased it to the city for free for the first five years. 

• Nobody will be breaking Hartsfield and Jackson’s service records anytime soon. Mayors are now limited to two four-year terms. 

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Ivan Allen, Jr., is widely credited for his leadership as mayor in the heart of the civil rights era. Allen had previously run unsuccessfully for governor on a segregationist platform, but realized that segregation would prevent Atlanta’s economic growth. On his first day as mayor in 1962, he removed “whites only” signs from city hall and integrated the city hall cafeteria. Allen allowed for African-Americans to be hired as firefighters and other city jobs that were previously restricted to white workers and made a push for downtown businesses and hotels to desegregate. In 1964, Allen testified in favor of the Civil Rights Act in front of Congress.

• Allen also presided over the creation of much of Atlanta’s modern commuting infrastructure: Interstate 285 and the Downtown Connector began construction during his tenure, as did MARTA. 

• Maynard Jackson, Jr., became Atlanta’s first African-American mayor in 1974, serving until 1982 and then serving another term from 1990 to 1994. There have been four mayors since Jackson, and all have been African-American.

Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson gives thumbs-up signs during a news conference at a Tokyo hotel Tuesday, Sept. 18, 1990 after Atlanta won a bid to host the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games.  (SADAYUKI MIKAMI/AP)

• Jackson oversaw improvements to the city in the years leading up to the 1996 Summer Olympics, including the completion of Freedom Parkway. Mayor Bill Campbell served during the games.

• Six of Atlanta’s mayors were newspapermen: Benjamin Bomar and Jonathan Norcross, the second and fourth mayors of Atlanta, helped found the Daily Intelligencer, Atlanta’s first newspaper. Jared Whitaker, Atlanta’s 14th mayor, was publisher of the Daily Intelligencer when it closed in 1871, and Evan Howell, the 35th mayor, was a reporter and editor at the Daily Intelligencer. Howell later bought a controlling interest in the Atlanta Constitution and became its editor-in-chief. William Hemphill helped his father-in-law launch the Atlanta Constitution. James G. Woodward, the 36th mayor, worked as a printer at both the Atlanta Journal and Atlanta Constitution.

• Twenty-seven former Atlanta mayors are buried at Oakland Cemetery, including the city’s first mayor, Moses Formwalt. Formwalt served as a DeKalb County sheriff’s deputy after his term as mayor and was fatally stabbed while moving a prisoner.

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In an exclusive Channel 2 Action News/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Landmark Communications poll, the numbers show a heated race.

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