ATLANTA — Since 1973, this Southern capital has elected a succession of black mayors, sometimes to the consternation of residents in the largely white, prosperous neighborhood of Buckhead to the north.
But the current race to succeed Mayor Shirley Franklin in the Nov. 3 election has upended normal expectations here in what Chris Rock, in his new documentary, “Good Hair,” calls “the city where all major black decisions are made.” The front-runner, Mary Norwood, is one of Buckhead’s own, a white Junior Leaguer running as a populist outsider.
All three candidates have maintained that Atlanta has moved beyond using race as a qualification for public office. But the ascendancy of Ms. Norwood may also reflect the decline of the city’s black majority and the recession’s sour effect on the mood of the voters.
The city has changed significantly since Mayor Franklin squeaked to victory without a runoff in 2001. It has grown by more than 100,000 people since 2000, according to census estimates, and the influx of many whites and Hispanics has narrowed the black majority to 56 percent from 61 percent.
Atlanta is still a draw for black professionals, and the percentage of blacks in the metropolitan area has grown slightly, but in the city the pool of likely black voters is estimated at just barely a majority. Many of the city’s public housing projects, where black votes once could be marshaled in a bloc, have been demolished.