In the days before the Nov. 8 elections, campaign ads showing a cheerful, relaxed Shirley Franklin touting her achievements as mayor began popping up on local TV. Since Franklin wasn't in a competitive race, it would appear to some that she was simply burning off her more than $1.3 million in campaign contributions.
But the mayor's political strategists saw the TV spots as necessary to ensure a City Hall victory -- not for Franklin herself, who coasted easily to re-election, but for several Council members whose survival she saw as essential to her own continued political success.
The ads were intended to energize "people who were pleased about the overall direction the city was taking" -- and motivate them to head to the polls in an otherwise lackluster election cycle, explains state Sen. Kasim Reed, D-Atlanta, who served as Franklin's campaign manager. Ideally, those contented voters would cast ballots for Council members the mayor had gone out of her way to endorse.
Franklin also put her war chest where her mouth was, giving $2,000 apiece to incumbents Clair Muller, Ivory Young, Cleta Winslow and Jim Maddox. To her endorsees in extra-tight races -- Joyce Sheperd, Anne Fauver and Council newcomer Kwanza Hall -- the mayor donated the services of her top get-out-the-vote operatives, a fact reflected in her latest campaign disclosures. She also endorsed Ceasar Mitchell, who won handily without direct aid.
The result -- despite a few nail-biters such as the three-vote Fauver win -- was a near-total victory for Franklin, providing powerful momentum for an ambitious second-term agenda that includes new police headquarters, downtown revitalization and the Beltline.
"We won every race the mayor put her name on," Reed says proudly, "except for the Sheperd race, and that's entirely winnable. Mayor Franklin made a clear difference in the outcome of several races."
Sheperd, a one-term Southside incumbent who narrowly scored a place in the Dec. 6 runoff against the better-known ex-Councilman Derrick Boazman, likely will benefit in coming weeks from the mayor's formidable political and financial support.
Reed suggests Franklin is willing to go door-to-door to keep Boazman from regaining his old seat, which he used as a bully pulpit from which to attack the mayor's policies. Franklin already has treated Boazman to a rare public dissing by describing him to the AJC as a "bully" and a two-faced one at that. (The odds may not be in Boazman's favor; three of seven Council front-runners lost their runoffs in 2001 -- without a popular mayor's intervention.)
But Reed dismisses criticism that Franklin's help to friendly Council members amounts to a power grab.
Instead, he says, it was payback for folks who've gone out on a political limb to support tax increases, the sewer fix and the mayor's other controversial policies.
"This was more about personal loyalty and getting a Council that can work together," Reed says.
An early indicator of Franklin's enhanced, post-election clout could come as early as Nov. 21, when the Council is set to vote on whether to give the mayor the authority to sign purchasing contracts worth up to $1 million without Council approval. The current limit is $20,000.
Councilwoman Debi Starnes, a Franklin ally who opted not to run for re-election, says most Council members, herself included, are unlikely to give the mayor that much control. She predicts that the final figure will probably end up around $500,000, or perhaps less.
"It doesn't concern me if we can find the right cut-off," Starnes says, "but I'm not convinced $1 million is it."
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