The Atlanta City Council is set to approve new council district maps for the City of Atlanta next week. Municipalities in Georgia, and around the country, are required to go through a reapportionment process every 10 years to reflect the changing population of voting age residents. The changing demographics of Atlanta are easy to see when you compare the city council maps from 2001 with the new proposed maps. The new maps presented by the city council highlight a trend that indicates Atlanta is becoming less and less progressive.
African-American voters tend to be very progressive. In Atlanta, there has been a combined 27% decrease in African-American voters in council districts 2, 3, 4, and 5 over the last ten years. These council districts include the trendy Intown neighborhoods of Inman Park, West Midtown, Castleberry Hill and East Atlanta among others that have become popular for young White voters moving to Atlanta from other parts of the state and country. These new residents are likely looking for areas to raise their families close to their jobs and with the culture that these neighborhoods offer. All four of these council districts were majority, or near majority, African-American under the 2001 maps. Now only one, council district 4, will probably offer a clear majority of African-American voters for the next decade.
The significance of African-American voters to Intown council districts cannot be ignored. Starting with Maynard Jackson’s election in 1974, African-American voters in Atlanta have forged an unspoken alliance with moderate and liberal White voters from Intown Atlanta to elect progressive mayors. These mayors have enacted, and protected, progressive policies such as economic diversity in contracting, same-sex partner benefits, workforce diversity, and public support for the arts. This type of progressive leadership helped lead to the unprecedented growth of metro Atlanta in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s and set it apart from less progressive cities around the South.
As Atlanta’s demographics continue to change, so will its political leadership. Mayors, council members, and other elected officials will have to govern differently if they intend to win elections and stay elected. While some district council members in extreme North and South Atlanta may be able to continue to govern to the needs of their less diverse constituencies, the majority of council members will have to understand the needs and issues of a more diverse constituency in terms their ideologies and political party preference. While Atlanta’s elected leadership will probably become more diverse, we at BWB predict progressive coalitions will hold these newly elected leaders to the progressive standards of those who have come before them.