The answer will determine whether Gloria Bromell-Tinubu has a genuine shot at winning Atlanta's mayoral election or will be relegated to the role of also-ran, straining to be heard over the din of well-financed rivals.
Hers is the kind of campaign most reformist voters want their candidates to run -- free from corporate interests and influence buyers -- especially in the city's current scandal-plagued environment.
"I'm not the usual politician," Bromell-Tinubu says. And she doesn't want to play the game by established rules.
But others say she doesn't have corporate backers because she hasn't sold herself as a viable candidate.
While her two main opponents in the November election have already built sizable war chests, Bromell-Tinubu, who ran third behind Bill Campbell and Marvin Arrington in 1997, didn't hold her first campaign fund-raiser until Feb. 22.
Before the shindig at the Atlanta Opera Center, the night's mood carried promise. Buoyed by a three-piece light-jazz ensemble and scores of blue-and-white balloons, campaign manager Emmett McCord, Jr., predicted a crowd of 500 supporters and a final tally of $50,000.
But the sky was overcast, headliner Winnie Mandela canceled her scheduled appearance and the turnout reached about half the predicted amount. McCord estimated a take of $10,000.
In an Atlanta election, ten grand is a poor kid's allowance.
Meanwhile, mayoral hopeful Shirley Franklin cleared the million dollar mark last week, and current City Council President Robb Pitts is at or near the same point -- halfway to the $2 million goal his advisers have told him he'll need to win in November. At last count, Pitts has averaged more than $600 per contribution and Franklin more than $400.
Bromell-Tinubu's finance report isn't due until late March, and she cautions any rush to judgment before then.
A longtime Atlanta political insider, though, says a test of Bromell-Tinubu's candidacy will be whether she can bring in 10 percent of her opponents' totals, which would mean $100,000 by the end of March.
She can still compete without gaining hefty chunks of corporate funding, but she will have to work. "The black community will support you, not at the level of the total city, but you should be able to raise $250,000," the insider says.
So far, Bromell-Tinubu has talked about generating grassroots support, but that support will have to materialize in her campaign's bank account.
On a recent morning at a Midtown cafe, Bromell-Tinubu leaned across the table at mention of the campaign numbers, her tone quietly incredulous.
"It is unconscionable; it is unthinkable," Bromell-Tinubu says of the millions rolling in. "Big money has taken over government, and you've seen what kind of government and politics it produces."
It soon becomes apparent that this candidate views her campaign as a referendum on larger issues.
"If we don't do all we can to preserve democracy at the local level, there's a chance we're going to lose it," she says.
But getting her message out is going to cost her.
"This media market demands a certain amount of money," cautions William Boone, a political science professor at Clark Atlanta University.
McCord thinks the business community will loosen its purse strings once his candidate goes head-to-head with her rivals in debates, the first of which is set for April.
Boone agrees that the charismatic, brainy Spelman College economics professor is likely to do well in the debates, but to get corporate Atlanta interested, Bromell-Tinubu will have to convince city businesses that her policies are central to their interests.
For her 1997 campaign -- which lasted only three months, start to finish -- Bromell-Tinubu didn't hire consultants or pollsters. She didn't even mail out fliers.
Even so, she won 14 percent of the vote while raising only about $50,000, more than half of which came in the form of a personal loan -- a debt that hasn't been retired yet.
This time around, she insists, will be different. No loans, and the campaign is bringing in a prominent consultant.
And in an apparent sign that the cold reality of an Atlanta political campaign is replacing pie-in-the-sky optimism, Bromell-Tinubu has also retreated from her idea to use the first $25,000 to $30,000 her campaign raises to fund Advantage Atlanta, a tenet of her campaign. Bromell-Tinubu envisions the group linking education, the government and businesses to develop a vision for the future of the city and create a sustainable new economy workforce.
"That might have to be delayed some," says Bromell-Tinubu, who realizes that the priority now is funding a traditional campaign.
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