Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Lewis pounds pavement to upset Bond

The runoff Tuesday between two heroes of the historic civil rights battles of the 1960s was part ideal race and part feud for the dynamic black community of Atlanta. Out of it, former Atlanta city councilman John Lewis upset Georgia state senator Julian Bond for all but certain election as next year's only black congressman from the Deep South.

Mr. Lewis has a reputation for integrity, accessibility, and hard work for his constituents. He has little of the charm and urbanity of the articulate Mr. Bond. He also made political enemies of many of his fellow city council members with what some called grandstanding on ethics bills -- bills he never got passed.

About these ads

His win, like much of the contest, came as a surprise. The two longtime friends and allies were so close politically that many of their campaign staffers had trouble choosing sides.

Yet by Tuesday, a personal bitterness had developed over tactics and name-calling.

Much of Atlanta's black political establishment began the campaign in a neutral position, then filtered into Bond's camp. Mayor Andrew Young, for example, made no endorsements but lent campaign aides to Bond. In the mid-August primary, Bond came within a couple of percentage points of winning the race with an outright majority.

Yet Lewis won the Democratic nomination in this predominantly black district, meaning he will run against token Republican opposition in the general election, then replace Rep. Wyche Fowler (D) in Congress, who is running for the Senate.

The voters split in an odd way. In the mid-August primary, Bond carried the black vote 2 to 1 over Lewis, while Lewis carried the white vote by the same margin over Bond.

Bond ran strongly among affluent, sophisticated blacks, who populate a large chunk of this district. Lewis ran better among working-class blacks and the elderly, black, and white.

The last few days of runoff campaigning, apparently, brought Lewis up from behind. First, the Bond camp says now that many supporters felt victory was certain, so stayed home on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Lewis took to the streets in black neighborhoods and won converts, especially among the elderly.

About these ads

His most effective tactic, according to Bond staffers, was the public charge that Bond refused to take a urinalysis test for drug use. Bond, who says he is drug-free, nevertheless calls drug testing, lie detectors, and AIDS testing all demeaning and infringements of personal liberty.

Lewis, on the other hand, grew sensitive to charges by the Bond camp that he was inarticulate. Lewis felt Bond's effort to get black voters to the polls injected the element of race into the campaign by saying white voters would elect Lewis unless blacks went to the polls.

Lewis gets high ratings from the Georgia AFL-CIO, not just for his pro-labor voting record, but for his accessibility. His colleagues, those who support him, know him for close attention to the needs of the poor and elderly in his district.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.