by Jeremy Fassler
Democrat Keisha Lance-Bottoms eked out a tight victory this week to become the next mayor of Atlanta, defeating Independent Mary Norwood, who would have become the city’s first white mayor since the end of the Vietnam War. Lance-Bottoms only won by a little less than 800 votes, so Norwood will proceed with a recount, but if she holds strong, she will go on to succeed outgoing mayor Kasim Reed. This victory, close though it may have been, is another blow to Our Revolution and the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party, who are still not producing results with the candidates they endorse.
For this race, Sanders and Our Revolution backed former Georgia State Senator Vincent Fort, an African-American who supported many of the same issues Sanders did, like free college tuition and decriminalization of marijuana. However, he could not make up the ground he lost when Mayor Reed endorsed Lance-Bottoms, leading to a devastating fifth-place finish in the primary. Fort refused to endorse either Lance-Bottoms or Norwood, and both Sanders and his PAC did not take sides.
Lee Fang and Zaid Jilani at The Intercept led a smear campaign against Lance-Bottoms before the primary attacking her for taking donations from shell corporations coming from Atlanta’s Hartfield-Jackson Airport. Reed endorsed a lucrative contract package that would allow them to do business there, which Lance-Bottoms supports, leading to her receiving more than 65% of the companies’ collected donations. Is it ideal? No, but it’s not illegal, either and these attacks never really caught on in the mainstream media. Lance-Bottoms was able to campaign with endorsements from Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, further angering the Purity Left.
Jilani wrote another article the Sunday before the election, framing it as a battle between the “business-friendly” and “progressive” wings of the Democratic Party and documenting why progressives are turning to Norwood instead of the corporate-backed, Booker-and-Harris-endorsed, Lance-Bottoms. Norwood, a former RNC delegate backed by a Log Cabin Republican is blind on terms of racial and LGBTQ equality, but Jilani left that out as he interviewed progressives who believed Atlanta should “give her a chance.” See if you’ve heard any of these arguments before (the first two from The Intercept, the last from this op-ed.):
“Mary Norwood is a constituent-services politician. She always has been. She’s not an ideological person.”
“You should know that if you can look past the ethical issues that the black Democrat has solely because of her identifiers then you are doing the exact same thing the Roy Moore voters are.”
“Democrats — specifically, the black political elite of the city — have more or less counted on the city’s demography to carry them across the finish line for a generation…Whatever ‘threat’ Mary Norwood poses to your life as a black voter is difficult to distinguish from the threat of the status quo. Thus, we are left with the empty argument that she might be a Republican.”
The last two quotes, which come from African-American progressives in Atlanta, eerily resemble talking points from progressives who switched from Bernie to Trump in 2016, like Bruce Carter, founder of ‘Black Men for Bernie’ before he switched to Trump. He praised Trump’s business record in The Hill, and said in Splinter News, “For someone or something who already owns you, you can’t negotiate with them. They own you. So Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party owns the black vote.”
The Intercept exemplifies Bernie Sanders’ “my way or the highway” attitude, even as it admonishes those who harbor similar thoughts. “Progressives are bad losers,” Shaun King wrote for the site today, “but when my preferred candidate loses, I simply don’t feel like I have the right to set the whole election ablaze.” As much as I agree with these sentiments, I can’t trust them coming from King’s mouth – after all, he’s the same man who wrote in May 2016 that he planned to leave the Democratic Party because Bernie didn’t get the nomination. For him to pretend that he is above this petty infighting is somewhat disingenuous.
The razor-thin margin that decided this election, as well as the one that sent Karen Handel to the House of Representatives over Jon Ossoff (another Georgia Democrat whom the Purity Left never fully embraced) reminds everyone that their vote does matter, even in a local election that many may not know much about. It also shows that people in Atlanta, and across the nation, are ready to move on from this purity style of politics. Over the last year, Bernie Sanders and Our Revolution have been ineffective, sitting out key races and missing opportunities to ingratiate themselves with Democrats who want to win races in such a polarized era. When Tom Perriello, who had been endorsed by Sanders, lost the Virginia governor’s primary to Ralph Northam, he rolled up his sleeves and got to work, campaigning tirelessly for his former opponent. Sanders never endorsed Northam.
Further undermining Sanders’ cause is this Vice article from this week, (condemned thoroughly by the Banter’s Justin Rosario). Rather, I’d like to highlight this quote from it where he states his beliefs about Trump supporters:
“I think that the vast majority of Trump supporters are people who are in pain, who are struggling economically, who are worried to death that their kids are going to be in even worse shape economically than they are, and they turned to Trump because Trump said things that made sense.”
Given the Atlantic study which proved not only that “economic anxiety” was a Hillary-voter issue more than a Trump voter one, but that Trump voters cast their ballots more out of “cultural anxiety” (i.e. racism) than anything else, it’s irresponsible for Sanders to keep expressing this position.
Sanders and his die hard supporters may have the right intentions, but they are creating division within the Democratic Party that is extremely damaging. The desire to bring Trump voters, and Bernie-or-Busters, back to the side of the sane and reasonable isn’t a misplaced one, but it can’t be counted on as a winning strategy. Advocates like myself have been saying that the key to winning again is by expanding our base to likely Democrats, not people who have jumped ship to Trump or are too infected by trendy cynicism that says both sides are the same. And given the success of the Virginia elections and the Atlanta mayoral race (close though it may be), if Sanders and his wrecking crew want to blow up the building rather than compromise, we are best to expand our base rather than worry about those who are not fully committed to the ideals of the Democratic Party.