One of the local political mysteries of the last few years is why Republicans seem to have a lock on the chairmanship of the Fulton County Commission, a seat that, demographically speaking, ought to be up for grabs.
This fall, the GOP appears certain to elect its fourth chairman in a row. Lee Morris, a well-liked former Atlanta councilman from Buckhead, is likely to have scant trouble with either John Eaves or Keisha Waites, both little-known south side Democrats who were losers in last year's City Council races.
Perhaps the bigger mystery is, why would anyone still want the job?
Fulton is coming apart at the seams. Both ends of the county are clamoring to form their own cities. Its tax-assessment system is in shambles. And the board of commissioners has become the most dysfunctional elected body in metro Atlanta -- in part because of its egalitarian structure. Aside from leading meetings, the Fulton chairperson has no more power than a district commissioner.
"I'm guessing that many people didn't want to end up like Karen Handel, a capable person unable to accomplish anything," says a Democratic insider who requested anonymity, referring to the outgoing chairwoman now running for Georgia secretary of state.
The idea of sitting powerless while the county unravels likely helped discourage stronger Democratic candidates such as former Atlanta school board Chairman Joe Martin and ex-state Rep. Nick Moraitakis, who were rumored to be interested in the chairmanship.
The thing is, it didn't have to be this way. State Sen. Sam Zamarripa, D-Atlanta, says he hoped to introduce a bill this past session to make the Fulton Commission chairperson more powerful, similar to the post Sam Olens holds in Cobb County. GOP leaders weren't ready to support his plan, however -- possibly because they were waiting to see if another Republican would claim the seat.
If Morris wins, there's a good chance he could be rewarded with new powers that would allow him to impose his own agenda on the rapidly downsizing county.
Says Zamarripa, "In some ways, it's a great opportunity for someone to effect a turnaround, like what Mayor Shirley Franklin has done with the city of Atlanta."
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