Atlanta mayor's race heads to recount

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A race for mayor of Atlanta headed for a recount on Wednesday after a knife-edge election that exposed a racial fault line running through one of the biggest cities in the U.S. Southeast.

Mayoral candidate Kasim Reed smiles at his supporters after declaring victory in Atlanta, Georgia, December 1, 2009. REUTERS/Tami Chappell

Former state Senator Kasim Reed declared victory overnight when results from the runoff vote showed him beating city Councilwoman Mary Norwood by around 750 votes out of 83,000 cast.

But Norwood said she will ask for a recount under rules that permit one when less than 1 percent of votes cast separates the candidates. A recount could not begin until Saturday, the Fulton County elections office said.

Norwood, who won an initial round of voting in November, would be Atlanta’s first white mayor since 1974.

Tuesday’s voting mirrored Atlanta’s demographics, with Reed running up big numbers in the south and west, which are majority black and include some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

Norwood’s support base was in mainly white northern precincts, which include some of the city’s richest neighborhoods.

Both candidates avoided playing up race during the campaign, instead presenting themselves as outsiders best qualified to restore city finances and fight rising crime.

“It is my hope tonight that we will unite this city and make Atlanta the city shining on a hill,” Reed said in a victory speech. Naming a new police chief to combat rising gang violence would be his first priority, he said on Wednesday.

Major U.S. corporations such as Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines and UPS are based in Atlanta.

For decades, civic leaders have credited part of the city’s prosperity on its ability to navigate potential racial divisions and its status as home of the civil rights movement and birthplace of Martin Luther King.