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Atlanta mayor’s race is too close to call as recount looms

ATLANTA — The race for mayor in Atlanta early Wednesday was too close to call, with one candidate declaring herself the city's new leader and the other vowing to request a recount.

The margin was razor-thin, with just a few hundred votes separating Keisha Lance Bottoms and Mary Norwood.

Bottoms spoke early Wednesday at an Atlanta hotel, saying near the end of her speech that "I am just in awe of what God is able to do."

Image: Keisha Lance Bottoms
Atlanta mayoral candidate Keisha Lance Bottoms declares victory during an election-night watch party Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, in Atlanta. Rival Mary Norwood called for a recount. John Bazemore / AP

"I'm so honored to be your 60th mayor," she told her cheering supporters.

But Norwood, who calls herself an independent, took the podium at her own rally and said that absentee ballots from military members were yet to figure in the totals, and that she believes that some ballots have yet to be tabulated.

"We will be asking for a recount," Norwood said.

Just 759 votes separated the candidates early Wednesday morning, Norwood told supporters.

Bottoms led Norwood by a margin of less than 1 percent, which is the threshold where the second-place finisher can request a recount under state law.

The contest between Bottoms, who is black, and Norwood, who is white, was seen as a test of the staying power of a long-dominant black political machine amid profound demographic and economic changes.

Both women are Atlanta city council members. Bottoms is the chosen successor of outgoing Mayor Kasim Reed.

Image: Mary Norwood
Atlanta city councilwoman and mayoral candidate Mary Norwood tells supporters she'll seek a recount in the tight mayoral race on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. David Goldman / AP

A victory for Bottoms, 47, would continue a run of African-American mayors that began with Maynard Jackson in the mid-1970s.

A win for Norwood, 65, would give Atlanta its first-ever white female mayor, and end the Democratic Party's hold on an office it has held without interruption since 1879.

Related: Is Atlanta in danger of losing its 'Black Mecca' status

A half-century after white flight led to sprawl that fueled legendary traffic jams, Atlanta is booming economically and growing at a breakneck pace, with townhouses and apartments going up in vacant lots all over town. Parts of the city are more diverse, younger and wealthier than they have been in years.

Political analysts have said African-American voters will ultimately determine the outcome, but many of the city's most formidable challenges transcend race. Everyone seems to care about transportation, public safety and affordable housing. As rents and home prices soar, some longtime residents struggle to stay in their neighborhoods, and face no easy commutes if they move out.

"We're behind the times in terms of having a modern transportation system compared to what you see in New York or Washington," said Kendra A. King Momon, professor of politics at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta.

"It impacts quality of life because most of us don't know what we're going to run into when we head into the city," she said of Atlanta's notorious traffic jams. "That's a huge issue that we have to address."