Historic Stakes for Atlanta and Houston Mayoral Races

The mayoral races in Atlanta and Houston today could both result in landmark decisions.

In Atlanta, Mary Norwood is urging voters to look beyond race and choose her as the mayor of a city that remains more than 60 percent African-American. If they do, she would be the city's first white mayor in more than three decades.

And in Houston, Annise Parker urges voters to choose her as the first openly gay woman elected mayor of a major American city.

Breaking Ground in Atlanta
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Norwood is a surprise. She lives in the middle of "old money" Atlanta, in the city's Buckhead neighborhood, and despite that, she has more than a third of the city's black voters supporting her in the nonpartisan campaign.

"I don't care about color. That's unimportant to me, color. Race is unimportant. Just do what you say you're going to do," said voter Barbara Boyd, a black city resident.

Across the city, black voters appear ready for a change.

"I think we need the best mayor," said Marla Jones, a black voter. "I don't think it makes a difference whether they're black or white."

"I think it has been very interesting and it could very well be a watershed moment in the history of Atlanta, because we have a lot of issues here that need to be addressed," said resident Barbara Ramos, who is white.

"What we're seeing are African-American voters who, in the past, have voted for the so-called machine, and not prospered in recent years under that machine," said Matt Towery of Insider Advantage. "And now they're willing to say, 'Let's look at another candidate,' and race really is not the number one issue for them."

Towery said the recession has put more black and white voters on the same page.

"I'd like to hear a little more about the color green than about the color black or white," said voter Mike Wright, a white resident.

"You're having a lot of people say, 'Hey, I like what I'm seeing here, this is not politics as usual, this is a good change," said John Wright of the Buckhead Business Association.

But deep in many black neighborhoods in Atlanta, there is still a great distrust of many white elected officials, and there's also the sense that black residents might be surrendering the mayor's office.

"I'd rather see an African-American, period," said resident Jimmy Robinson.

Even former mayor Andrew Young is encouraging black residents to unite behind Kasim Reed, one of Norwood's black opponents in the race.

But the wind is still blowing in Norwood's favor. Tonight, or after a runoff election, she could become Atlanta's first white mayor since 1973.

Houston's Historic Race

Hundreds of miles away in Houston, Parker, the city controller, is working hard to become the first female elected mayor of a major American city who is openly gay. And she is doing it in a city dotted with mega-churches, in the heart of the reliably red state of Texas.

"I'm not out of the closet; I'm out on the front lawn," Parker said.

Parker's opponents haven't dragged the issue into the public spotlight -- they have never brought it up in their four debates. In fact, the race has focused on budgets and zoning, without a word about sexuality.

"The most important thing to me is to win this job and lead my city," Parker said. "I have been out for so long it's not something I talk about anymore, not something I have to talk about."

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