Even though Georgia was considered a backwater, a reliable red state filled with Angry White Men, there was enormous excitement. Both parties worked hard, yard signs were everywhere, there were rallies and people making phone calls.
Not this year. Atlanta just had its mayoral election and no one I knew cared. It's not just that a run-off was expected. There was a total lack of yard signs, few people talked about it, and I felt undecided almost before walking into the booth.
Instead of buying TV ads or hiring people to canvass, all the campaigns this year relied on robocalls, recorded messages that seemed to come from every area code around (and some that do not exist) but were in fact tapes with happy voices telling us who they were and who they were voting for.
Which is another thing about the campaign that struck me. All the calls were upbeat, relentlessly so. I wasn't told who to vote against. I was told "I'm someone you should trust and here is who to vote for."
The result was sad because turnout was low and real issues were not discussed. Everyone was rattling about crime, but the crime rate is not that high. There have been some spectacular incidents, acts of desperation by young, bored, pathetic people. But the gangs are in the suburbs now.
The real problem with Atlanta is that we pretend to be a great city but we are in fact a small one. There are just 500,000 people here, even with gentrification. We're like Tucson or Portland, but for decades we've pretended to be Philadelphia or Chicago, because we're at the center of a metro area that has grown to 6.6 million people. The efforts of Cobb and Gwinnett Counties to wrest control of the center from Atlanta have brought them Atlanta's poor, its crime and congestion. Government leaders there ignore the rot, and fearful whites move even further-out -- to Henry County in the South, Paulding County in the northwest, Cherokee County and Forsyth County to the north. They're as ignorant as they always were, so the problems will follow them there.
Good riddance, I say.
To me there's a huge opportunity before us. Outgoing Mayor Franklin had a plan to buy an old rock quarry, re-do it as a reservoir, buy the land around it and create a 300 acre park, something we need badly. That park would be twice as big as Piedmont Park, it would cause the Beltline route to suddenly make sense, it would move developers west of Atlantic Station and, probably, tilt Atlanta toward being a majority white city again.
It was when that last fact became obvious that people stopped talking about the Westside Park. Maybe it was because the original plan was to buy three times as much land. But I think it's also because race and class are questions we just don't like talking about here.
We should. Atlanta needs black gentrification. We need to bring the kids whose parents moved out to Lithonia and Stone Mountain and Ellenwood back into the city. We can't prosper as a place where the black poor are constantly competing with the white wealthy. It's an uneven fight. And it's why we have these explosions of violence.
Instead we worry about control by race, which is a false issue. Mayor Franklin's racially-tinged endorsement of Fulton County chair John Eaves last year basically ended her political career, and the big Republican bucks flooding into Mary Norwood's campaign aren't helping either.
I don't expect the run-off to be nearly as friendly as the first round was. Reed needs higher turnout among blacks to have a chance, and Norwood must keep her white turnout high. I voted for Reed in the first round, and I'm undecided in the second.
I'd just like to hear some reality, some real issues and real proposals, before all this is over.