Mary Norwood, during what she dubbed “her first speech, unofficially after losing” the Atlanta mayoral race, urged Buckhead residents to press the new administration on whether the neighborhood is getting its fair share of city-funded improvements and whether south Atlanta residents are paying enough in property taxes. She also expressed concern those comments could be taken out of context by people who called her “racist” during the campaign.
A spokesperson for new Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms later said Norwood’s comments “seemed designed to stoke division when we should focus on unity,” and that Bottoms will work to improve all neighborhoods in Atlanta.
Norwood, a former at-large city councilmember from Buckhead who lost the mayoral race to Keisha Lance Bottoms last month, was speaking at the Jan. 11 Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods meeting. Now a private citizen, she jokingly introduced herself to the group as “Mary Norwood, former a lot of things.”
“My first speech, unofficially after losing, is: I love Buckhead, I love the whole city. I represented the whole city,” Norwood said. “But Buckhead needs to be thoughtful about how we are truly an important part of this city, and for that, there should be just some fairness.”
That statement was received with an “amen” and other supportive remarks by members of the organization and others attending the meeting, where the official agenda was a legislative update from two Republican state representatives.
She prefaced her remarks by noting that a reporter was in attendance and said she would phrase her speech “appropriately.”
Norwood told the organization that it needs to pay attention to how much money Buckhead residents pay into the city versus how much city funding is spent improving the area.
“I think the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, with a new administration, needs to be very proactive about money in, money out,” she said.
“One thing y’all need to look at, guys, now that I’m not the mayor, is the three main funding sources,” she said, referring to the Renew Atlanta bond funds and the sales taxes funding MARTA and city transportation projects. “We need to be very thoughtful about supporting all these initiatives and where all that money is going.”
She also said some south Atlanta residents are not paying a proper amount in property taxes and said there are still plenty of affordable neighborhoods within the city.
“Of course, we’ve got the inequity whatever,” she said. “You’ve got a lot of issues with that. And a lot of issues with affordable housing. Well, let me tell you, ladies and gentleman, there are hundreds of neighborhoods in this town that are affordable. They just aren’t on the BeltLine.”
“There is no gentrification in a whole lot [of] these areas,” she added.
During her campaign, Norwood said she heard from supporters who are paying $50 in property taxes because their property assessments were never raised after the economy recovered from the 2008 Great Recession.
“It’s not all of the city south of us, but there are big swaths of the city south of us, where because of the crash and mortgage fraud and all that stuff, people are paying $50 to live in the city,” she said.
After the meeting, Norwood expressed concern her comments would taken out of context, similar to what she says happened with remarks she made at a Buckhead Young Republicans meeting in 2017 that became an issue in the mayoral race.
“I just wanted to say I know how much– there is a world, the same world that called me a racist for the past six weeks, that would like to say, ‘She went to Buckhead and she bitched about how Buckhead gets nothing,’ and they would like nothing more than to put that on every blog across the city,” Norwood said. “But what is true is, Buckhead really has been given some short shrift in the past year.”
She continued to say that comments she made at the Young Republicans meeting were taken out of context and used against her by Bottoms. In those comments, she accused her opponent in the 2009 mayoral race, former Mayor Kasim Reed, of coercing votes from people who lived outside of the city.
“They took the two words, ‘thugs’ and ‘felons,’ and said that that was the way that I referred to African Americans,” Norwood said. “The audio says I was trying help African Americans not be coerced and threatened by thugs, which is what happened in . It was absolutely, 180 degrees from what I said,” Norwood said.
Despite that, Norwood said she still received about the same amount of votes from African American residents in south Atlanta.
“They weren’t able to have the people that knew me be affected by the racial overtones,” she said.
Anne Torres, a spokesperson for Bottoms, provided a written statement in response to Norwood’s comments.
“Ms. Norwood’s comments are consistent with how she spoke and conducted herself on the campaign trail this past fall,” Torres wrote. “Her comments display a remarkable lack of understanding of the issues facing our city, and seemed designed to stoke division when we should focus on unity. Following her inauguration, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is moving forward with her progressive agenda focused on equity, affordability and mobility for all of Atlanta’s residents and neighborhoods.”