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Several Major Cities Holding Mayoral Elections

ATLANTA - Potentially historic races in Atlanta and Houston are among big-city mayoral races that voters will decide Tuesday against an economic backdrop that already has proved disastrous for some incumbents.

High unemployment rates earlier cost incumbent mayors in Seattle and Albuquerque their jobs and likely will influence some voters, says Tom Cochran, CEO and executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

"It's very difficult to be an incumbent this year," he says. "We need to understand just how angry and visceral some people are who are unemployed. The bottom line is that if you don't have a job, and you see that somebody just got a million-dollar bonus from AIG, you're upset."

Among key races:

- Atlanta. This city, which played a pioneering role in the emergence of black urban political power, could elect a white mayor for the first time since 1969. Atlanta has had black mayors since Maynard Jackson's 1973 election.

The front-runner, City Councilwoman Mary Norwood, would win outright if she gets a majority against two prominent African-American candidates, City Council President Lisa Borders and state Sen. Kasim Reed, and three lesser-known candidates. Term limits keep two-term incumbent Shirley Franklin from running.

Several factors contributed to the potential shift, Atlanta political analyst Matt Towery says: The city razed high-rise public housing projects, some large black churches moved outside the city limits, and the white population grew to 38 percent from about 30 percent at the beginning of the decade.

- Houston. City Controller Annise Parker could become the city's first openly gay mayor if she can beat fellow Democrats Gene Locke, an attorney, and architect and City Councilman Peter Brown, and Republican Roy Morales, a county education official. Incumbent Bill White is running for the U.S. Senate.

Parker is well-known to Houston voters and her sexuality has not been an issue, says Houston political analyst Nancy Sims. "The fact is she's been a public official citywide in Houston for 12 years, and she's always been open."

- Detroit. Former Detroit Pistons star Dave Bing, elected after former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick pleaded guilty to perjury and obstruction of justice, is seeking a full term.

Bing, who has laid off about 500 city workers and threatened more cuts as he tries to keep Detroit from bankruptcy, has declined to debate his opponent, accountant Tom Barrow. Bing is widely expected to win, says Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics.

Other big cities voting for mayor include New York, Boston, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and Seattle.

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