Michael Lomax, declaring he was ending a divisive battle that would make the city "a loser," pulled out of the mayor's race here Tuesday, paving the way for Maynard Jackson to regain the job he held from 1974 until 1982.
Lomax, 41, had faced a nearly impossible task in seeking to defeat Jackson, 51, the city's first black mayor, whom many here regard as an icon.
Trailing badly in public opinion polls, Lomax had attacked Jackson's record on fighting crime in an ad campaign that backfired. The ads, showing white people expressing their fears of rape and murder during Jackson's two terms as mayor, were branded as racist by several black leaders in the city. Lomax also is black.
Ex-Mayor 'a Rock'
The most recent polls showed Lomax running about 20 points behind Jackson, according to campaign officials. "Big Mo just wasn't there," Jim Gray, a campaign spokesman, said. "Maynard is a rock. He's more rock-like than we imagined."
Lomax's inability to dent Jackson's lead had made it increasingly difficult for him to raise funds, and some contributors had grown disillusioned with his candidacy, according to sources here.
Jackson said there is still time for other opponents to come forth, and added: "Our campaign will continue to work very hard."
But Lomax's announcement left many political commentators doubting that any serious challenge to Jackson will be made in the nonpartisan election Oct. 3.
"It's over," Michael Giles, a political science professor at Emory University, said. "The race is over. If Lomax, with his excellent financing and reputation, couldn't defeat Maynard, then nobody can."
Lomax withdrew one week before mayoral candidates must qualify for the ballot. After that, he would have had to relinquish his position as chairman of the Fulton County Commission. By dropping out of the mayor's race, Lomax will be able to keep his commission seat until it is up for election next year.
Lomax said he was withdrawing to avert what would have been a divisive campaign and to be able to continue his work on the commission. Flanked by his wife and daughter at a news conference, he said: "With such divisiveness, surely Atlanta would be the loser, and I cannot let that happen."
Mayor Andrew Young, prohibited from seeking a third consecutive term, endorsed this view. He said Lomax's decision will "save additional expense, additional rancor" and "keep his leadership in the county."
Lomax, who announced his candidacy on New Year's Day, had been urged for some time to drop out but had resisted, believing the ads could salvage his candidacy.
Poring over the poll numbers Monday night with a small group of advisers, he decided the effort was futile, according to campaign officials. Tuesday morning he began telephoning supporters and important campaign contributors to inform them he was dropping out. He informed his staff in a morning meeting during which several aides shed tears.