Somewhere in the vast darkness of a Wednesday night, on the heels of last week’s Atlanta’s race for mayor, the loneliness of his situation forced Ralph Long III to open his eyes.
The first-term state lawmaker, whose district eats up much of southwest Atlanta, is the only elected official who has endorsed Councilwoman Mary Norwood for mayor. Not just the only African-American elected official. The only elected official of any stripe or complexion.
“My father often told me that leadership was lonely, but wow,” Long tapped out in a long, pre-dawn missive that — after a little editing from his lawyer wife — was posted on his Facebook page. “Forty-six percent of Atlanta could not possibly be wrong. Why won’t other politicians follow the lead of their constituents?” he wondered on his keyboard.
“Am I supposed to believe that only my eyes see the trash, lack of development, vacant homes and absolute lawlessness plaguing my side of town? We are near the point of anarchy.”
While she finished first in last week’s voting, Norwood hasn’t done so well in the endorsement department. On Wednesday, Atlanta City Council President Lisa Borders — yet another elected official — endorsed former state senator Kasim Reed in the Dec. 1 runoff. Former Gov. Roy Barnes, while not currently a public servant, will follow suit today.
Norwood supporters say that the failure of metro Atlanta’s political community to back the eight-year councilwoman is a badge of honor — proof of her status as an outsider with no vested interests in City Hall.
Others, including many of Atlanta business leaders, wonder whether a mayor without an alliance of internal support can engineer the kind of change the city truly needs.
Cut and pasted, Long’s Facebook letter of frustration became the foundation of a weekend Internet conversation conducted among Atlanta’s African-American political class. It was capped by a note from Bunnie Jackson-Ransom, ex-wife of the late mayor Maynard Jackson and a supporter of Reed.
“I intend to do whatever I can to wake up those African Americans who have become ‘bamboozled’ into believing that a moderately educated, Southern white [woman] will do something for them,” Jackson-Ransom wrote shortly after 4 a.m. Saturday.
Our own efforts to reach Jackson-Ransom have been unsuccessful. But Maynard Eaton, a longtime Atlanta journalist and political strategist, said Jackson-Ransom expressed regrets to him for her remarks, which she attributed to “early- morning emotions.” (Eaton, in addition to being executive director of Newsmakers Live, also served as a spokesman for former mayoral candidate Jesse Spikes.)
Though Reed campaigners declined comment, it is fair to say that this is not a direction they wanted conversation in the mayoral runoff to take. An overt discussion of race benefits neither Reed nor Norwood.
Long, of course, was stung by Jackson-Ransom’s comment. “Bamboozled,” he said, is a loaded phrase. Spike Lee used it as the title of one of his most caustic films.
Long endorsed Norwood in September. Many black elected officials no longer take his phone calls. At one forum, a woman accused him of running away from his “blackness.”
“I had to sit there. I had to be a statesman,” said Long, 33, a residential real estate broker.
But underneath the allusions to race, whether misplaced or not, is a worthwhile discussion of where the benefits from Atlanta’s (now curtailed) economic boom have landed.
“My house is in Sylvan Hills. I’m parallel-parked between two murders in the last three months,” Long said. “An execution-style murder on the corner of Langston and Carnes avenues. That didn’t make the news. And the young man who was shot 31 times in his vehicle. I even had another young lady who got shot in the face — it took her seven months to die — at an illegal club that was on Murphy Avenue.”
Development stops at the edge of Long’s district. Restaurants are rare, and grocery stores limit their stock. A fresh cucumber requires a seven-mile drive.
“My neighborhood has been bamboozled,” he said.
It should be noted that this isn’t the first time that Long has found himself at odds with Atlanta’s political establishment. He backed Robb Pitts against Shirley Franklin in the 2001 mayor’s race.
One senses the same flavor of southwest Atlanta rebellion in Long’s choice this year. “I’ve never been part of the get-along gang. My area’s already been ostracized,” he said.
Long, who includes his cell phone number on his campaign material, is all about access. He knows Norwood. She returned his phone calls. He’s seen her in his neighborhood.
Reed and Borders were less eager to discuss his concerns, which included a “home-grown” police chief, Long said.
Without adequate attention from City Hall, the symbolic nature of the office loses its importance, the lawmaker said. “We have a black president now. It’s not a mile-marker any more to have a black mayor.”
While you ponder that, consider these items found while perusing this morning’s ajc.com:
Barnes, Borders endorse Reed; Norwood honors vets. Georgia unemployment claims drop slightly in October. Defense secretary to speak at UGA graduation. Big party no cause for celebration in Sandy Springs. Six more educators in test scandal may face sanctions by agency. Cobb students face shorter summer breaks. Misplaced bolt blamed in collapse of Midtown parking deck. Special grand jury selected to probe Gwinnett land purchases. Report: 10 states face looming budget disasters.
Kyle Wingfield thinks Democrats will soak the young. Psst! Morehouse men — pull your pants up! Is redemption greater than execution?
And from beyond:
WSJ: White House aims to cut deficit with TARP cash. WP: Army sought ways to channel Hasan’s absorption with Islam. NYT: American adviser to Kurds stands to reap oil profits.
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