The vote, the editorial stated, was a "glimpse into a City Hall in chaos."
Certainly, the Campbell administration has seen better days. Just last week, Fred B. Prewitt, a Campbell friend and campaign supporter tied to the city's affirmative action program, pleaded guilty to tax evasion charges. The mayor himself is allegedly under investigation by federal authorities and has been the subject of a number of recent ethics inquiries regarding his acceptance of speaker's fees larger than what the law allows.
But despite the distractions, it's tough to find the chaos.
Campbell still maintains tight control over City Hall, and what he wants from the council, he gets.
Name a major mayoral initiative that hasn't gone through, challenges Councilwoman Felicia Moore.
Even in the case of $2,000 bonuses for veteran cops -- a measure Campbell initially vetoed -- the simple fact is that the mayor didn't want to pay. The police supported Campbell's challenger during the last election and the mayor had the votes to sustain his veto (though he reversed himself Monday by reinstating the end-of-year bonus checks).
If there's chaos, it's not a chaos that's translated to votes against the mayor's pet projects. He might not win awards for diplomacy, but for Campbell, it's still good to be king.
Moore has been a city councilwoman since 1997. In that time, she's spoken to the mayor twice.
Councilwoman Cathy Woolard's claim is more modest: In three years, she's only seen the mayor a couple of times.
Meanwhile, Council President Robb Pitts and Campbell aren't exactly swapping recipes either; they don't speak. And Councilwoman Clair Muller says she and the mayor don't talk except to exchange pleasantries when in public.
Indeed, only a short list of council members have regular access to Campbell.
Business leaders, police officers and many neighborhood groups, such as the Buckhead Coalition, have all complained about being victims of mayoral neglect.
Chip Warren, the national vice president for the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, says that a cop has signed in to request an audience with hizzoner every day for years, to no avail.
It wasn't always like that.
In January 1994, just three weeks into his first term and days before the Super Bowl came to town, a severe cold snap ruptured water mains throughout the city. Campbell worked from the pre-dawn hours until most of the city had gone to bed, hurrying to press conferences and rallying public opinion to support water restrictions.
"He handled the situation beautifully," Muller says. "We had hoped his whole administration was going to be like that." Her voice takes on the distinct sound of promise lost.
Later that same year, Muller had a falling out with the mayor over a sewer issue and they haven't spoken substantively since. That's really the polite way to describe it. Actually, he was venting at her in an elevator.
Sam Massell, a former mayor and current president of the Buckhead Coalition, recalls a series of breakfasts with the business community after Campbell's victory in the 1997 campaign.
"He told us he would be accessible, cooperative," Massell recalls. "They were beautiful speeches. He had a foundation for statesmanship."
But the relationship never materialized. Certainly, Massell admits, it's not unusual for the winner of a hotly contested race to punish those who supported his opponent. But Campbell, he says, has taken it to the extreme.
When Moore talks about her first three years on the council, the same weary tone surfaces.
"When I first came to council, I spent a lot of time opening my mouth," Moore recalls. But those days of debating are gone. Now, says Moore, she just explains her position before votes, and tallies her colleagues' views. When the votes are lined up (and if the mayor wants something, they usually are), there isn't much point in trying to sway anyone.
And even if she just wants more information from the mayor's staff, Moore says it's often a difficult proposition -- if she gets the info she's looking for at all.
Who needs morale?
To the council members on the outside -- a loose, nonaligned cadre of six or seven members who frequently find themselves voting in opposition to Campbell's initiatives -- the mayor's management style seems to reflect a destructive pattern of trading "short-term victory for long-term gain," says one city councilwoman.
"Morale at City Hall is horrible," says Muller, who also served under Mayor Maynard Jackson. "Maynard was a strong person also, but he at least listened. He was more willing to debate, to compromise, to build consensus."
What's been lost and what the city will continue to lose is input from varied viewpoints, Muller says. And limiting debate and input affects how well the city is run.
Councilman Doug Alexander puts it more simply.
If the mayor used the carrot more than the stick and took time to listen, "he might actually hear a good idea from someone once in a while."
No one except the mayor knows why he's chosen to keep so many people at a distance. Alexander says the problem has worsened with the alleged federal investigation of Campbell.
"He has become more distant, as anyone would ... when you've got the FBI breathing down your neck," Alexander says.
The mayor's administration has made mistakes, admits city spokeswoman Glenda Blum Minkin, but the city continues to move forward.
"We're not in chaos at all," Minkin says.
With every administration there are insiders and outsiders, and most of the negative perception of how business is being conducted has been created by the print media, Minkin says.
Michael Bond is one of those insiders and part of the Constitution's "Nod Squad." While he balks at being called the mayor's floor leader on City Council, Bond says the problem of communication lies not with the mayor but with those members who have never regularly supported him. They have failed to realize some political realities, says Bond.
Under Atlanta's charter, the mayor has most of the power -- and that's a fact of Atlanta's political life, says Councilman C.T. Martin.
The council members who find themselves outside the mayoral loop haven't grasped that, Bond says. They need to reach out and play political ball. He says he and the mayor don't always agree, but being a supporter has meant good things for the people in Bond's district.
"They can't get over their egos, and they are hurting their constituents," Bond says, referring to the council members who rarely find an audience with the mayor.
Alexander disagrees. The mayor's opponents know the political score, but they are elected officials and should disagree if that's what they think is right for their constituents. The problem for them is that they are left to oppose with little power.
"If you really, really want to make a difference in Atlanta, the only way is to be mayor," Alexander says. "As a council, you can encourage, nudge, extol, but when that doesn't happen, there's not much left to do."
Say what you will about his tactics, says an official close to Campbell, but the city is better off now than it was when he took office.
Most observers acknowledge that many of Atlanta's neighborhoods have been revitalized and that people are moving back into the city. Since the Olympics, most people also agree, the city's housing projects are safer and healthier overall. And infrastructure needs that have been ignored since Massell's time in office are being addressed.
"The facts on the ground speak for themselves," Minkin says.
And Campbell still has a core group of supporters that appear to be able to, at the very least, sustain any veto issued from his pen.
The question is whether he'll be able to keep those votes if the federal investigation heats up.
On Monday, Campbell called a press conference to announce that the city had found the $2 million needed to give the cops their bonuses. Some say that the mayor realized that Pitts intended to call a special session to reinstate the bonuses and had the votes to override the mayor.
That move in itself might point to a weakening of mayoral power, says the source close to Campbell. Two years ago he would have clung to the assertion that he never promised the bonuses; he wouldn't have backed down, says this insider.
In today's atmosphere, the mayor is going to have to pick his fights more carefully.
That doesn't mean, though, that the mayor will suddenly start reaching out to council members and community leaders he has long ignored. Instead, says Moore, he'll probably just stop introducing legislation that will get voted down.
What else is an embattled king to do?
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