Georgia Equality takes a pass on mayor’s race

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UPDATED | 4:08 p.m.

imageWith Georgia Equality’s candidate in the mayoral race–Lisa Borders–now out, the statewide gay rights group has decided they’ve got no dog left in this fight as the Dec. 1 runoff nears.

The group’s executive director, Jeff Graham (photo), tells the AJC’s Political Insider that there won’t be an endorsement for either Kasim Reed or Mary Norwood in the Atlanta mayoral race. Georgia Equality endorsed Borders on Sept. 15, though she went on to place a distant third on Nov. 3. She has since backed Reed.

“We feel that both candidates have a good track record of supporting pro-equality legislation,” GE executive director Jeff Graham.

Georgia Equality had endorsed City Council President Lisa Borders in the Nov. 3 contest.

The decision to stay neutral in the runoff is likely to benefit Reed, whose opposition to gay marriage – he supports civil unions – had put him at a disadvantage. Norwood supports marriage equality.

Graham said his group decided “there were not strong enough differences” between the two candidates to merit choosing one over the other – despite the same-sex marriage issue.

“We’re looking beyond that,” Graham said. “We always have.”

Georgia Equality also sat out the crowded District 6 race for the Atlanta City Council until after the Nov. 3 election. Two days later, they backed Alex Wan, a gay candidate who placed first.

In a statement released Thursday, Graham says the complexity of issues facing LGBT residents in the city — not just same-sex marriage — prompted the group’s board to decide against issuing an endorsement.

“After careful deliberation, the board of directors of Georgia Equality has decided not to issue an endorsement in the Dec. 1st runoff election for Atlanta Mayor,” Graham says in the statement. “If the only criteria for support of the LGBT community were the candidate’s stand on marriage equality, Mary Norwood would be the obvious choice. However, we must recognize the complexity of municipal issues facing the LGBT community in Atlanta, as well as the actual job responsibilities of Atlanta’s mayor.”

“Both runoff election candidates already have a proven track record of working to advance civil rights for our community,” Graham says.

Endorsing Reed or Norwood carried risks for Georgia Equality.

Reed gained the backing of the Atlanta Stonewall Democrats, despite not supporting same-sex marriage. Norwood said in May that she supports gay marriage, though she did so only after leaving a meet-and-greet with LGBT voters.

At that forum, Borders reiterated her support for gay unions, while Reed backed civil unions. Norwood issued a statement the next day saying she would “endorse and publicly urge passage of a measure that would allows gays and lesbians to marry.”

But Norwood has received small campaign contributions from former U.S. Sam Nunn, one of the architects of the military’s ban on gay soldiers, and former state Attorney General Mike Bowers, who took his fight against gay civil rights to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The full statement from Georgia Equality’s Graham:

After careful deliberation, the board of directors of Georgia Equality has decided not to issue an endorsement in the Dec. 1st runoff election for Atlanta Mayor. If the only criteria for support of the LGBT community were the candidate’s stand on marriage equality, Mary Norwood would be the obvious choice. However, we must recognize the complexity of municipal issues facing the LGBT community in Atlanta, as well as the actual job responsibilities of Atlanta’s mayor.

Both runoff election candidates already have a proven track record of working to advance civil rights for our community.

As a state senator, Kasim Reed has stood by our community as an advocate for HIV prevention and treatment, was one of only 14 senators to vote against Georgia’s anti-gay marriage amendment and has been a stalwart supporter of an inclusive hate crimes bill.

As a member of city council, Mary Norwood has supported legislation to protect the rights of people living with HIV, has focused attention to the crisis in HIV housing and has actively supported many LGBT organizations, events and businesses.

Therefore, in our efforts to represent the full LGBT community, we concluded that either candidate, if elected, would be a mayor whom we could work with on municipal issues that are important to our community. These topics include ensuring that LGBT Atlantans will have input in selecting the city’s next police chief, improving the diversity training given to city police officers, and educating the city government on issues related to the transgender community, as well as those living HIV/AIDS. We have offered each campaign the opportunity to gain greater community support by participating in a debate specifically on LGBT issues. Unfortunately, both campaigns have failed to respond to this offer.

We encourage the LGBT community in Atlanta to note that the mayor’s race is not the only runoff election on Dec. 1. As LGBT Atlantans, we have a unique opportunity to show the strength of our vote and make history by uniting in the runoff election behind Georgia Equality-endorsed candidates, such as Simone Bell (State House District 58), Alex Wan (Atlanta City Council District 6), Ceasar Mitchell (Atlanta City Council President) and Amir Farokhi (Atlanta City Council At-Large, Post 2).

Who’s your pick for Atlanta mayor (and why)? Will LGBT issues make a difference in your decision? Let us know in the comments below.

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