The elimination of a woman in the middle

Lisa Borders concedes defeat in the Atlanta mayoral race

Lisa Borders concedes defeat in the Atlanta mayoral race. Elissa Eubanks/AJC

When the issue of race poked its inevitable nose into the Atlanta mayoral contest, Lisa Borders — without fanfare or elaboration — declared herself a woman in the middle.

“I have never had the luxury of being black or white. I have always been part of the entire city,” she said in late August.

It was a remarkable admission, little remarked upon, for the woman once presumed to be the natural successor to Shirley Franklin — the perfect fit for a city whose demographics have begun to resemble the chocolate-and-vanilla swirl of Jello pudding.

But elections are often a celebration of polarities. People in the middle are the people left out. And as Tuesday’s returns ground to a finish, Borders became one of the first certainties of the evening.

The Rev. Joe Lowery, the Civil Rights octogenarian, had wondered a few weeks ago whether eight years of Franklin had feminized the office of mayor beyond the claim of any male.

Border’s third-place finish, behind Councilwoman Mary Norwood and former state senator Kasim Reed, has left the theory in need of four weeks’ more proving.

Border’s loss also continued the string of losses for Atlanta city council presidents trying to reach higher. Robb Pitts was defeated by Franklin. Marvin Arrington by Bill Campbell.

But Borders’ middleness made her something different. She was a woman of Civil Rights heritage — her grandfather had forced the integration of Atlanta’s police department – who had excellent connections with the city’s business community.

She was a Democrat with high-flown Republican friends. Former Cousins Properties CEO Tom Bell, her ex-employer and her prime financial backer, dabbles on the presidential level.

Borders was even divided at a level any voter could grasp: Though a woman of high ambition, 14 months ago she was forced to call a halt to her budding mayoral campaign. She couldn’t handle the strain of work plus caring for two aging parents – one a double amputee with diabetes, the other with Alzheimer’s.

Before she called it quits, she’d raised $232,000. By the time she rejoined the race seven months later — her parents’ demands were handled, she said — Norwood and Reed each had more than $275,000 in their campaign treasuries.

Throughout the summer, Borders rode No. 2 in the polls, frustrating Reed. She won the endorsement of the city’s police union. Georgia Equality, the gay rights group, also backed her. But her middleness again did her in.

Borders became the alleged beneficiary of the “black mayor first” memo — a document written by pair of Clark Atlanta University professors who suggested that because of her No. 2 standing in the polls, African-American voters should rally behind her.

Borders recoiled. ”The color of skin of our next mayor is not the issue,” she said. (Reed said much the same thing.)

The memo did have its effect. From that point onward, the Atlanta mayoral race moved toward its traditional dynamics of black and white. Slightly modified for the post-Obama era, the same pattern can be traced back to Sam Massell vs. Maynard Jackson, or Sidney Marcus vs. Andrew Young.

The good news is that, because the runoff scenario is familiar, we know we’ll be able to survive the next four weeks. But there won’t be a place for middleness.

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52 comments Add your comment


November 4th, 2009
12:24 am

Why do I not see comments about black citizens of Atlanta unwilling to vote for a white candidate. Why are they not called racist?

Y. T. Norwood

November 4th, 2009
2:25 am

Atlanta, the city too busy to hate!

Voice of Reason #1

November 4th, 2009
2:26 am

The showing and votes for Mary Norwood show that Blacks ARE willing to vote for a White candidate…and did. Stop trying to agitate right off the bat.


November 4th, 2009
2:57 am

Many Black citizens did vote for Mary Norwood which is why she received so many votes.


November 4th, 2009
2:58 am

Uh @Bill, black citizens of Atlanta DID vote for a white candidate. Apparently you have very few if any black friends. If you even listened to black talk radio you would’ve learned that many black residents were voting for Ms. Norwood. Sorry, your assumption is totally wrong!


November 4th, 2009
3:41 am

Most white citizens will not vote for a black candidate. They are not racist, but race does play a part in their decision.

I do not believe any citizen is unwilling to vote for a candidate of a different race than their own. We are still in America. No one is color blind (white or black).

I did not live and experience what my forefathers experienced….being denied the right to vote (mostly by white citizens). We look beyond some history in our country, but it is history and it lives everyday.

Race is unimportant to me. It is still considered though. Give me facts on how each candidate can potentially help improve Atlanta. Not one candidate over the other. Show me equal facts on each candidate.

You can call a black citizen racist for not voting for a white candidate. However, most have a greater natural comfort level with a black candidate as most of their white counterparts would with a white candidate.

Show me the facts on white citizens voting for a black candidate also. I would really like to see those facts.

I do not think more white citizens vote for black candidates than black citizens vote for white candidates. I may be wrong though.


November 4th, 2009
3:56 am

Bill I agree. Someone voting based on someone skin color is unfair and wrong. I don’t think the majority of blacks however vote based on color considering that the country very seldom allows any minority to compete equally in the political arena. Blacks have always had to vote for a white candidate throughout history regardless of the competence of that candidate. Voting for a black just because they are black is wrong but not voting for a more competent, educated person of color is just as wrong.


November 4th, 2009
4:10 am

I would call Ms.Borders the woman on the end.The one no one wanted.


November 4th, 2009
4:16 am

The Same Reason why 75% of the White Voter’s, voted for Mary Norwood and they are not called racist.


November 4th, 2009
4:26 am

I am so happy that there is going to be a run-off. Reed will win and ATL will still be the “City to busy for racism.”


November 4th, 2009
4:31 am

Bill, it must have taken a great deal of reflection to come up with your conclusion. Pat yourself on the back! You’re the only person that I know who has concluded that racism is beyond the ability of blacks. Bottom line: in a democracy, people have the right to choose their political candidates according to their own personal prerogatives, and choosing a candidate of similar background isn’t necessarily racist. Representative democracy means you CAN choose people who you think will best represent YOU. Politics 101. Most importantly, Mary Norwood could not have gotten 46% of the vote WITHOUT the enormous BLACK support that she garnered.


November 4th, 2009
4:40 am

If it not about race, why do blacks keep bring it up. Blacks vote for blacks regardless of their background or qualification.
Thinking that they will look after their own, which is mostly false. Race stands out where ever there is a large black population.
A white person doesn’t stand a change, but lets hope all those who are blind when it come to race, will vote for the best qualification person which means, not a smooth talker or looks, but ability to take the city in the right direction.

Liberal wilth a Brain

November 4th, 2009
6:00 am

They get a Pass Bill. Plain and Simple.

aaron aker

November 4th, 2009
6:02 am

I usually do not comment on things but today I must. It is not about color, but credientials and ability to be a successful leader. I am saddened by the lost for Ms. Borders. As a fellow resident of Atlanta I knew she had the credentials that we needed to help not just handle the financial issues of the city, but effectively manage and grow our beloved city in a successful way. We have been recently mislead by prior administrations (Mayor Campbell) who have left us in financial trouble which could had been devastating, but Mayor Franklin should us by example how not to toss the blame on others, but effectively lead by higher standers and got to work to handle all the issues that was needed to be done.
I think Ms. Borders would have done the same thing for city, she would have continued the work she was a major part of as Council President and been an effective successful leader for the city. I am not sure if Ms. Norwood can bridge that cap needed between local, state and national business leaders whom are needed to help her grow the city. I say the same for Mr. Reed. Neither have a real prior record where they have helped change in either the city or state levels. I will pray that whichever one is elected can continue the positive and successful work of Mayor Franklin.

Liberal wilth a Brain

November 4th, 2009
6:02 am

All of my comments Bill have awaited moderation. Very surprised yours got posted.

Comment Awaiting Moderation

November 4th, 2009
6:11 am

You aint seen nothing yet. Mary Norwood will be raked over the coals for being good. She will have a uphill battle. She will be called a racist in everyway known to man and the AJC will print it. Except my comments will still be in moderation. AJC, I wonder why your paper is gettin so small an is the worse and only paper we have in our little corrupt town.

Comment Awaiting Moderation

November 4th, 2009
6:14 am

Bill How did you get your comment through. None of mine have been shown yet. You work for AJC.


November 4th, 2009
6:24 am

Bill—don’t be silly. Black folks cannot be racist. *Only* white folks can. White folks have the market cornered on racism. Get with the programy, my friend!

Had that memo been written by two white professors at GA Tech raising the red flag that *we must have a white mayor at all costs*, all heck would have broken loose. We’d have had the entire racial grievance committee (ie, Sharpton, Jackson, et al) take to the airwaves demonstrating against and complaining about “institutional racism” blah blah blah.

But it’s OK to discriminate against white folks. In fact, I get the feeling a lot of black folks in this town would LOVE to see white folks pack up and leave Atlanta, given that “Atlanta has become the new Harlem” (I *actually* heard this said in the news yesterday). Kanye West must feel VERY at home here in Atlanta.

Well, have a good day ya’ll…

Barky Obummer

November 4th, 2009
6:33 am

Very good point…lets see some of those!


November 4th, 2009
6:33 am

Did it ever occur to the AJC that maybe Borders is to blame for her loss? Reading this puff piece, you would think she was the perfect candidate who was just too good for the voters. That was hardly the case.

Borders came across as a woman who wanted the title, but had nothing to offer as far as the job was concerned. Her loss had nothing to do with “middleness” and everything to do with voters not wanting her as Mayor.

Her attack on Norwood in the debate was typical. When asked why party affiliation was important, Borders said it was a matter of honesty. Any voter with half a brain had to realize it was Borders who was trying to lie about Norwood. Any voter with a pulse knew Borders was thick as thieves with her former employer, the developer, who is a huge Republican donor. Nobody wants to vote for a hypocrite. Nobody wants to vote for someone who thinks she is so smart she can fool us, when in fact, she is pretty silly if she thinks she is fooling anyone.

There is nothing wrong with Cousins, nor Border’s previous employment. It was the hypocrisy that turned off voters.

The voters didn’t buy her “throw the bums out” rhetoric, given she is one of the bums.

Had Borders run on specific accomplishments achieved while City Council President, voters might have thought she had actually done something while in office. It seemed she was always giving an excuse for not being able to do something. As City Council President, shouldn’t she have been in charge? Would Nancy Pelosi claim to have no control over Congress? Borders seemed to be claiming her own ineffectiveness, and voters noticed.

She chose to highlight silly stuff, like “we need a Democrat” and “I was a crime victim,” so voters realized she has been dead weight in her present position. Seriously, did the woman ever once mention anything she did in office already?

Borders started out the frontrunner, but as voters listened to her and watched her, they came to the conclusion she had nothing to offer.

The Real Politico

November 4th, 2009
7:04 am

Only because you have no idea what you’re talking about. Anyone with a bit of knowledge about Atlanta politics would know that African-Americans have always voted for white candidates more than the reverse. Norwood’s showing is a prime example of that. White Atlantans voted in a block for Norwood, while the African-American vote was necessary for Norwood’s strong showing even with two strong candidates of race.

Would you like some cheese with that whine?


November 4th, 2009
7:06 am

I believe in this particular race there has been a lot of openness towards Mary Norwood as a candidate on the side of African Americans. My mother was very much considering her as a candidate. Then she saw a commercial that stated that she was a Republican leaning Demorcrat and that changed her opinion. So instead she voted for Kasim Reed.


November 4th, 2009
7:16 am

Contrary to popular belief, not everyone is motivated by race. I am so sick of hearing this. Yes, some people (both white and black) do still cling to it, but I think more and more people today don’t. Barack Obama would not be president today if white people didn’t also vote for him. As a Black person, I can tell you that I cast my vote for mayor SOLELY based on that candidate’s positions on key issues. I even watched the debates to hear the candidates’ points firsthand, instead of relying on advertising or newspaper articles. The notion that everyone just blindly votes in elections based on race I frankly find offensive and I really wish the race card would stop being used as an excuse.


November 4th, 2009
7:29 am

I totally agree with you BILL some blacks complain about discrimination, but whites also face discrimination from blacks. Political affiliation and color had no business in this election. I can see the same problems in Atlanta if the voters are not willing to put color aside and vote for the best candidate. Lets face it, some people are not smart enough to understand.


November 4th, 2009
7:46 am

Love you Lisa! Now it is time to get Mary as Mayor! Hope Lisa will support Mary!!!!


November 4th, 2009
7:47 am

Bill, I know many black citizens of Atlanta that voted for Mary Norwood. People tend to vote for those who represent their issues. I personally voted for Borders. Needless to say I’m not thrilled this morning. Reed, I believe will be an extinction of Franklin. Norwood will be tougher on crime which is more important to me living in the Atlantic Station area. Norwood will get my vote.


November 4th, 2009
7:54 am

What happened to Clark Howard?

Didn’t he announce quite a while back that he was running for Atlanta mayor?

Ira in East Lake

November 4th, 2009
7:56 am

Bill – you are NOT a victim. Stop pretending to be one.

As for Lisa and her supporters, HA!


November 4th, 2009
7:59 am

It seems that what I write is so offensive to you that it needs hours of sitting in moderation for approval.Not to worry ,sir.I won’t ever bother you again.


November 4th, 2009
8:01 am

I whole heartedly agree with you Bill. Why can’t we just say all the candidates are green and vote for the best one. In the next election I am voting light green.

She was not the middle

November 4th, 2009
8:02 am

I think you missed her campaign. Lisa Borders did not chase the middle, she chased the extremes. I am the middle. I fully expected to vote for her. Then I read her materials – she focused on the police and fire union vote, she focused on gay and lesbian community, she trotted out the evangelical preachers, and she focused on uber-rich people. Heck, look at where the election night parties were: Lisa was at the W – the most exclusive people-wearing-black-turtlenecks kind of place you could find. I went to meet & greets where she was polished, but certainly NOT about the middle. Lisa Border lost this election because she didn’t go for the middle – while Mary Norwood did.

Big Joel M.

November 4th, 2009
8:02 am

Mark Rountree loses yet again.


November 4th, 2009
8:04 am

To Bill: Why are white citizens NOT called racists when they are unwilling to not vote for a black candidate??? Whites have always voted for whites. It’s time blacks start supporting BLACKS!!

First Sergeant

November 4th, 2009
8:04 am

Maybe she’s not the best candidate. Did you ever think of that?


November 4th, 2009
8:09 am

Why do I not see comments about white citizens of Atlanta unwilling to vote for a black candidate. Why are they not called racist?


November 4th, 2009
8:16 am

And, why is this story about a Black losing and not a story about a White in a Runoff……Ahhhhh, could it be that AJC Liberal Face Showing it’s ugly head? Insider, you should be writing a story about the candidates with the highest number of votes……


November 4th, 2009
8:20 am

Lisa Borders is a class act. This city has suffered a loss few will realize until midway of the next crippled and corrupted administration.


November 4th, 2009
8:34 am

The AJC is just as repsonsible as any party of fanning the flames of the “racial” element in this election. I remember when Mayor Franklin won a second term and one of the “headlines” in the AJC read along the lines, Will Shirley Franklin be Atlanta’s Last Black Mayor. Look it up, so the AJC benefits from the “race angle”.

BTW, for this race to enter a runoff demostrates that all of the candidates had support across racial lines. AJC, give it a rest.

Will Jones - Atlanta Jeffersonian Exegesis

November 4th, 2009
8:46 am

You don’t “see comments about black citizens of Atlanta unwilling to vote for a white candidate,” because there obviously are many willing to vote for a white candidate…even if she’s willing to lie about her being George W. Bush’s undercover-Republican cousin.

Please, someone, tell us something about Kasim Reed that’s good and true.

P.S. This is the problem with Diebold voting and no paper trail.

Gerald Ball

November 4th, 2009
8:50 am

Lots of black citizens voted for Mary Norwood. Otherwise, there would have still been a runoff, but Reed would have finished first. Also, there was not this huge black turnout to keep Norwood out. Instead, many black voters decided that there was no real difference between the three candidates and stayed home. But “conservatives” who have spent decades race-baiting Atlanta and black people in general are intent on making this a racial controversy. This from the same group of people that have never so much as nominated a black person for a significant office, not even Republicans like Hermain Cain and Dylan Glenn. Instead of voting for the true conservative businessman Cain, the Georgia GOP elected the pro-abortion RINO and career politician Isakson and then patted themselves on the back about what a big tent they are.

Look, study after study has proven that blacks are much more willing to vote for whites than whites are willing to vote for blacks. Further, far more blacks have voted for Republicans than white Republicans have voted for black candidates. Examples: Strom Thurmond used to regularly get 25% of the black vote in South Carolina and Ronald Reagan got 20% of the black vote nationwide in 1980. So white Republicans accusing black voters of being racist need to take a look in the mirror.

bill, bill, bill

November 4th, 2009
8:53 am

Because a huge percentage of black Atlantans voted for Mary Norwood. It is the same reason you see very few articles about the lack of white people in Iowa voting for Barack Obama and why you do not see articles about mutant space hamsters taking over Milledgeville.

Change I can believe In

November 4th, 2009
9:13 am

Bill, you’re such an idiot. There were white voters who did not vote for either black candidate as well. But overwhelmingly, if the city is only 40% white, it must be clear that a number of them voted for Mary Norwood…..Can you do math?

Chris Murphy, Atlanta, GA

November 4th, 2009
9:24 am

Can it, Bill. Norwood had plenty of support from black voters. The story instead should be about voter apathy: turnout was pathetic. I suppose that speaks to the candidates themselves, none seemed to grab the voters’ imaginations. And now with a runoff, maybe 20-30,000 voters will determine the mayor of a city of over 500,000. Like I said, pathetic. Citizens came blame any politician they want, but the truth of the matter is that the problem with the city is the face that looks back at those non-voters in the mirror every morning.


November 4th, 2009
9:26 am

The most racist aspects of this election so far are two things: (1) white Atlantans that presume Mary Norwood is somehow more competent and less susceptible to cronyism than her black competitors, despite all evidence to the contrary; and (2) the national media seizing on and repeating incessently the Norwood campaign’s spin about how electing a white woman as Mayor of Atlanta is somehow the embodiment of MLK’s dream. Both ideas are a gross perversion of the truth.

Kasim Rules!

November 4th, 2009
9:46 am

Lisa Borders need to tell all her supporters to vote for Kasim! Atlanta needs a black mayor to look after the interests of the African-Americans, not some rich white woman in the pocket of all the rich white people, trying to keep the minorities down in this city! African-Americans need to get out in the runoff and get Kasim in office!!!!


November 4th, 2009
9:55 am

@ Bill, because some people include “power” in their definition of racism. Those “without power” can’t be racist. I disagree with that definition, but that’s just me.

Great post, Mr. Galloway! One would have to question whether Ms. Borders’ heart was actually in this race. Why re-enter the mayor’s race after your concern for your parents’ help? Who talked her back into this race?

Also, the months Ms. Borders was out of the race were the death knell to her campaign. Those months were filled by Kasim Reed capturing a lot of the support Ms. Borders would’ve had for this race. This was too big a hurdle to overcome.


November 4th, 2009
11:08 am

This conversation is very interesting. The race factor sure has been played up in the media, but then again the turnout seemed to be low. Why is that? Did voters see no real difference between the candidates? Are people not really interested in local politics? Now we’ll need to wait and see who Borders will endorse, and if turnout improve or suffer in the runoff.


November 4th, 2009
11:41 am

I know black voters who voted for Norwood, and white voters who voted for Reed (or Borders or Spikes). So it’s not a simple divide along racial lines.

Regarding the comment above (by Aaron at 6:02) that neither Norwood or Reed “have a real prior record where they have helped change in either the city or state levels”: as a state senator, Kasim Reed has sponsored and passed legislation increasing the homestead exemption for seniors in Atlanta; he went to his fellow legislators to acquire $500 million in low interest loans using the State’s AAA bond rating for the City of Atlanta’s water system, saving the city millions in interest payments; and he co-authored and passed legislation aimed at code enforcement and cracking down on crime caused by irresponsible bars that function as magnets for crime, increasing penalties for violations, in order to clean up neighborhoods and make the community safer. He has established excellent relationships with leaders of the state legislature (most of whom are rural, white Republicans). That’s why this white guy decided to vote for Reed. (I think Norwood is a good and likeable person, just with less of a track record of effectiveness.)

Now can we keep the comments a bit more constructive???

Scared to death

November 4th, 2009
3:46 pm

I am a black person, african-american, colored, etc. and I resent the fact of the comments that black people can’t vote for a white Mayor. A lot of us voted for Mary and will vote for her again in December. I am almost sure that a lot of black people can look beyond race in this election and vote for a “person” who can make “change”. I think WE ARE ALL READY FOR THAT..No matter what color we are.

[...] As the AJC’s Jim Galloway points out, Borders even studiously avoided self-identifying as black or white. [...]