The polls had long predicted that Atlanta City Councilwomen Keisha Lance Bottoms and Mary Norwood would square off in a December runoff. What they did not predict was the strong third-place finish by Cathy Woolard.
The former city council president finished with 17 percent of the vote – doubling her standing in the most recent polls – and fell about 4,000 votes shy of a spot in the runoff.
And now her formidable constituency, a dedicated bloc of voters rooted in her east Atlanta base, could help swing the Dec. 5 runoff. And there’s no telling who Woolard, who tangled with both Bottoms and Norwood throughout the campaign, might support – if anyone at all.
She was mum on the prospect of endorsements on Wednesday, saying only that she was proud she left an indelible imprint on the race.
“I was able to keep a contest that could easily have become about a number of different things centered on what really matters: How we can make sure Atlanta capitalizes on its promise,” said Woolard.
She added: "I can say with confidence that our ideas won, and you can bet our next mayor will be borrowing from our blueprints.”
Woolard, who was competing to be Atlanta’s first openly gay mayor, has long had solid support among LGBT voters. The voting results also showed the depth of her backing in other Atlanta neighborhoods.
She was the leading vote-getter in the DeKalb portion of Atlanta – the eastern-most part of the city where she racked up nearly 4,000 votes, more than doubling her closest competitor.
And she dominated in a ring of eastern precincts along Atlanta’s eastern edge, winning territory that stretched from Grant Park and trendy Old Fourth Ward neighborhoods north along the Beltline through Virginia Highland and Piedmont Park.
Her support petered out in south Atlanta, where Bottoms and former state Sen. Vincent Fort excelled, and in parts of Buckhead, where Norwood and former chief Atlanta operating officer Peter Aman picked up big support.
Many of Woolard’s most fervent backers are sure to be torn over the December runoff. Her liberal base seems unlikely to be a natural fit for Norwood, a self-described independent painted as a “closet Republican” by her adversaries. And Bottoms’ embrace of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has some uneasy.
Jack Pelham, an Ormewood Park resident, has known Woolard since 1992 and fondly recalls seeing her social justice work. He said he feared a choice between two other candidates in December he said weren't as qualified as Woolard.
"I want someone who can transform the city,” he said, “and not to have to settle for second best.”
- Staff writer Becca Godwin contributed to this report.