Riverdale elects first black mayor

By Billy Corriher

History is often made in quiet moves and not in loud, splashy events. On Tuesday, history was made in Riverdale as the city of 12,478 elected its first black mayor n Phaedra Graham.

Graham, who led a ticket of four candidates three weeks ago, received 642 votes in the runoff election, compared to 241 for three-term incumbent Mayor Mary Lee, who is white.

The election Tuesday night was a runoff held after no candidate received 50 percent of the vote in the Nov. 4 election, in which Lee received 260 votes and Graham collected 411 votes.

While race was not mentioned in the campaign, it was very much at the forefront for some observers who have seen the city turn from majority white to 67 percent black in the 12 years Lee has been mayor.

Graham said after taking office in January she will look into the problems Riverdale has experienced with the Police Department n including rumors of police brutality and allegations of discrimination within the department.

"I think the community has become aware of improvements we need to make in the Police Department," she said.

Graham said she will examine what changes need to made at the department, in terms of personnel and department policies.

Graham supporter Lee Scott said that Graham's campaign platform, which also includes more youth programs and a strong economic development plan, resonated with all voters, not just blacks.

"We all came together and agreed that a change was needed," Scott said.

Graham and her campaign staff credited her landslide victory to working hard to communicate with voters and encouraging them to vote.

Gloria Hawkins, Graham's assistant campaign manager, said Lee managed to stay in office for 13 years because of complacency among voters. Hawkins said that by getting voters mobilized and excited, Graham was able to garner a lot of support from the community.

Hawkins said Lee seemed "out of touch" with the community and she was not sure if Lee was looking out for her constituents' interests.

Lee was not on hand for the election results and could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

Though Graham did not say she thought her victory would encourage more blacks to run for local office, she said that any candidate who runs on the issues and works hard to get the word out to voters will get support.

Eldrin Bell, who is black and intends to run for chairman of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners next year, said Graham's platform will be good for all Riverdale residents.

"But I do think it's right for African-Americans to be a part of the vision of Clayton County."