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Atlanta Race for Mayor Heads to Runoff

Atlanta mayor candidate Mary Norwood

Nov. 3: Atlanta Mayor candidate Mary Norwood speaks to supporters at an election night party in Atlanta. (AP)

ATLANTA -- An Atlanta councilwoman could become the city's first white mayor in a generation, facing off against a black state senator in a runoff next month.

With 100 percent of the precincts reporting early Wednesday, Mary Norwood received 46 percent of the vote, compared to Sen. Kasim Reed at 36 percent, with 78,324 of the city's 237,000 registered voters casting ballots. City Council president Lisa Borders was a distant third with 14.5 percent and conceded late Tuesday.

Norwood did not get 50 percent of the vote plus one to avoid a runoff. Voter turnout was about 33 percent of registered voters, higher than the 22 percent who voted in 2005 but less than the 41 percent who voted in 2001.

Norwood, Reed and Borders were the front-runners in the crowded field for much of the campaign and battled for weeks over public safety and open government, as the issue of race loomed over the contest. Political observers say the race will continue to polarize voters along racial lines in the weeks before an anticipated Dec. 1 runoff.

Borders thanked supporters at her Election Night headquarters downtown.

"I am conceding the race," Borders said about three hours after the polls close. "I'm not going to talk about endorsements tonight."

Norwood sounded upbeat.

"I am really focused on this city and our citizens and the issues that matter to our citizens," Norwood said. "So I have been totally focused on winning this campaign tonight or 27 days from now. This has been a totally unified, united campaign across the city and that's what I have wanted and that's what it is."

Reed, whose momentum has swelled in recent weeks, told cheering supporters he was "ready to go for this city."

"I will fight for you," Reed told the crowd. "I will stand up for you and we will make Atlanta the city on a hill again."

Atlanta has had a long line of black mayors since 1973. Current Mayor Shirley Franklin, the city's first female in the office, was barred from seeking a third term.

Only about 9,100 voters cast ballots in early voting -- which ended Friday -- and another 2,500 voted absentee, according to the Fulton County Board of Elections. Director Barry Garner said seven memory cards were left overnight in voting machines in precincts across the city Tuesday night in a poll worker error election officials expect to correct by Wednesday morning.

Atlanta, nicknamed The City Too Busy To Hate by former Mayor William Hartsfield during the 1950s, elected Maynard Jackson as its first black mayor in 1973. He was followed by all black successors who each served two terms.

Norwood has been on the Atlanta city council for seven years but ran as an outsider who would make the city safer and more accountable. She began campaigning as early as last summer -- some say even earlier -- gathering support from white and black communities.

The campaign has also revolved around police officers and money.

Walter Calloway, who lives in predominantly black southwest Atlanta, said he voted for Norwood because he wanted change in city politics.

"She will bring a new regime here," said Calloway, 37. "She has new ideas and she will bring a different landscape to the political system. It's not a black and white issue. It's an association issue. We need to see something different. And with Norwood, I can see that happening."

Norwood has blamed Franklin for the financial woes. Franklin has called Norwood incompetent and not ready the run the city.

Franklin -- who took office in 2002 -- announced that she would vote for Reed, though she stopped short of an official endorsement.

Borders has a background in real estate marketing and consulting. The Atlanta native is also the granddaughter of a civil rights-era minister who helped integrate the city's police department.

She lost some support when she dropped out of the race last fall to care for her aging parents, but had endorsements from black clergy and the city's police union -- which she touted as proof she would improve public safety if elected to Atlanta's top job.

Reed has been a state lawmaker and Democratic operative for more than a decade, but he had to spend thousands of dollars to introduce himself to local voters. His strategy propelled him from near anonymity to a spot among the front-runners. He was the leading fundraiser, with high-profile endorsements from former Mayor Andrew Young and rapper Ludacris -- who spent Election Day encouraging followers on his Twitter account to vote for Reed.

Erica Bennett voted with her husband and son at Adamsville Recreation Center in southwest Atlanta. She cast her ballot for Reed, but said she was hesitant to vote for him because of Franklin's support.

"It's time for a man in the office," said Bennett, 35. "I thought when I found out about Shirley voting for Kasim, they might have been on the same page. But after meeting Kasim on a few occasions, it seemed like he's for the people. That made me want to vote for him and no one else."