The making of a mayor 

Cash, causes and, of course, Campbell

A Midtown pothole, actually more like a Himalayan crevasse, covered by one of those giant, tire-popping steel covers.

A dilapidated house in Cabbagetown on a corner with cars coming and going 24 hours a day.

A family in East Atlanta forced out of their gentrified neighborhood by higher rents.

There's a common thread to those three problems. Each stands to be affected by whomever Atlantans choose as their next mayor.

Because, under Atlanta's charter, it's the mayor who wields the most power. As the mayor goes, so goes city dollars.

This year's election presents voters with a historic choice. For the first time, a woman stands a good chance of becoming mayor of Atlanta. Also at stake in November are all 16 of the City Council seats. So far, at least 30 candidates have declared their intentions to run. What's more, Cathy Woolard could become the city's first openly gay City Council president.

Combine that with the final months of Bill Campbell's tumultuous administration, and you've got a long hot summer of politics ahead.

We at Creative Loafing will cover the city elections from start to finish. We'll give you the inside dope on the candidates -- what's motivating them, what's frustrating them and whether their actions live up to their words. We'll analyze the issues and give you a clear picture of who's telling it straight, and who's full of hot air.

So stick around.

After watching the first debate between the three mayoral hopefuls last week, Maynard Eaton didn't mince words.

"They sound like Moe, Larry and Curly," says the freelance journalist, who served as one of the panelists at the April 3 Atlanta Association of Black Journalists debate. "At some point, they'll have to separate themselves. They'll take the gloves off fairly soon."

But who knows what issue is going to inspire a fight? So far, the buzzwords are trust, integrity and accountability. Implicit in those words is the city's current chief, Mayor Bill Campbell -- a man who may yet play a wild card role in the campaign. Certainly, his own problems -- a federal investigation involving his administration -- threaten to overshadow the whole race. It's enough to give a body a case of Clinton-itis.

For now, though, the three candidates seem content to paint themselves as eager reformers and able administrators.

Shirley Clarke Franklin is the can-do, has-done, former chief administrative officer during Mayor Andrew Young's administration.

Robb Pitts wants the audience to see a fiscal watchdog, an experienced political hand paddling against Campbell's legislative stream.

Gloria Bromell-Tinubu plays the part of the brainy populist, an economist reformer who's looking to take the election to the people.

The cast
With more than 20 years on the City Council, the last four as president, Pitts owns the highest level of name recognition of any of the candidates.

But during a period of economic promise when Atlanta actually gained residents for the first time since the 1960s, it's difficult for him to point to a list of accomplishments. He's spent most of his time opposing Campbell and his faction on the City Council and little time shaping the agenda.

At the same time, Pitts doesn't want to be perceived as a cog in a city government many find unresponsive to citizen concerns and rife with corruption. In this way, Pitts isn't unlike Al Gore, eager to separate himself from the peccadilloes of the incumbent.

Pitts shares other similarities with Gore -- a firm grasp of the issues coupled with an absolute dearth of room-rocking charisma. Pitts has the broad-shouldered slump of a past-his-prime Muhammad Ali and an even, measured speaking voice. His years on the City Council have taught him how city government works. But, says Eaton, "someone needs to light a spark under his butt."

Don't expect any changes to the delivery, Pitts says.

"I don't believe in gimmicks like that; I'm Robb Pitts, the same person that was elected 24 years ago," he says. "I don't need professional handlers to tell me what to say and how to say it."

Instead, Pitts is hoping a sincere, matter-of-fact message hits the mark with voters. His message has already won him the support of sizable chunks of Atlanta's business community. But in a city where the grassroots vote counts, that could hurt him more than help him.

Pitts doesn't lack bold ideas. He says he would consider reversing the 1998 privatization of the city's water system, a move that has been plagued by customer dissatisfaction. Atlanta can escape its 20-year contract with United Water, Pitts says, and he has asked Councilwoman Clair Muller to look into the possibility.

And if Pitts wins in November, police Chief Beverly Harvard should probably update her resume. Pitts says Atlanta police have "lost confidence" in Harvard -- a not-so-subtle hint she could be sacked if he wins.



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