The insider 

You may not know the name Shirley Franklin, but get used to it. She may very well be Atlanta's next mayor.

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Pelligrini's kudos might be problematic for more conservative residents.

Voters may also look askance at her familial relationship with airport concessions, long viewed as a feeding trough for political insiders in Atlanta.

When Shirley and David Franklin divorced in 1986, the break allowed David to take advantage of a sweet deal offered to him by his client Ed Elson, owner of airport concessions super-chain, Elson News and Gifts. Elson wanted David to become a partner in the business, rather than just its attorney. With David on his team, (according to David) Elson could meet Atlanta's newly-emerging minority participation requirements. However, with Shirley in the office of chief administrative officer, there would have been a glaring conflict of interest. The city had to approve Hartsfield International Airport concession licenses and regulate rent at the airport. When her husband first took Elson as a client, Shirley Franklin filed a disclosure of conflict of interest and, she says, recused herself from any discussion of policy that may have had a bearing on his business. But with Shirley no longer his wife, David Franklin could accept 20 percent of the $3 billion business.

David Franklin's partnership with Elson split in 1994. Of the company's 18 Atlanta stores, Franklin got six that are worth, he says, about $25 million. He owns the FWAC (Franklin $ Wilson Airport Concessions) stores in Concourse A at Hartsfield. He also owns the W.H. Smith store in the International Concourse. A plaque on the store explains that despite the name, it's an FWAC store. Today, David Franklin employs his two oldest children, Kai, 27, and Cabral in the family business. The Franklins' youngest child, a daughter named Kali, is a student at Georgia State University.

Shirley Franklin says that she plans to "hold at arms-length" any city dealings with the airport, recusing herself as much as possible from issues that would impinge on her children's livelihood.

Joel Cowan, who chairs GRTA, doesn't doubt that Franklin will be able to do that. He, like Pelligrini, refers to her integrity. He praises her organized and forthright approach to working on issues related to sprawl. He lauds her ability to deal with sensitive topics like race.

"She does not wear her race on her sleeve, but she's very firm about the fact that [African Americans] are an under-represented minority."

George Berry, senior vice president of mega-developer Cousins Properties, shares Cowan's view of Franklin.

"Race is the overwhelming reality of city politics," says Berry. "But she is an African American who does not put white people on edge. She has the Andy Young knack for tact and bridge-building."

Besides, says Berry, who served as chief administrative officer under Jackson, Franklin has a proven track record for making city government work. She believes in returning phone calls and answering letters. She'll bring responsiveness back to City Hall.

Cousins' namesake and president, Tom Cousins recently sent a letter out to some of his business associates asking them to meet with Franklin before deciding who they will support for mayor. Berry believes meeting her may dispel some peoples' notion that Franklin will be a puppet for former administrations.

"I've talked to her about that," he says. "She has convinced me that she is her own person and will be no one's running dog."

The fact that she's getting support from people like Berry and Cousins is a warning flag for the Rev. Juner Norris, a longtime campaign watcher and active Democrat in the West End.

"That's where she's making a mistake," says Norris. "She should be coming to the neighborhoods to ask for support, not them. That's going to hurt her."

If Atlanta's traditionally black neighborhoods are not often coupled with Franklin's name, it's probably because she was not produced by them. She grew up in a middle-class neighborhood of row houses near the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Her parents divorced when she was of pre-school age and her father, who graduated from law school at age 21, "dropped off the face of the earth" until Shirley was 18. He turned his life around. She attended a girls-only public school. Her mother was a teacher.

It takes four or five questions to get her to finally say what it was that got her father, Eugene Clarke, to do a 180 and become a state court judge in Philadelphia, but she finally says it and when she does, her voice betrays her annoyance at being asked.

"He was an alcoholic. He was a member of a 'bottle gang,' you know? I'm talking about the guys in the gutter. It was that bad." Her intense, dark eyes are flickering like warning flares on a highway. "When he was finally in a public hospital, bleeding from every opening, he made a promise with God, that if He would just get him out of that, he would turn himself around and he did."



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