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.

While Pitts seemed content to play statesman at the first debate, Franklin appeared more willing to try to connect with the audience. She stayed aggressive throughout, answering questions quickly and even standing to deliver an impassioned closing statement.

But what seemed like welcome enthusiasm and aggression at the April 3 debate came off looking shrill two nights later at the debate sponsored by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. The debate's moderator, Chronicle columnist Dick Williams, sparred with Franklin over claims that she would make government more open.

"You were a tough nut to crack," Williams quipped about getting information from Franklin in her role as Chief Administrative Officer under Young.

"But you got the answers," a seemingly startled Franklin shot back.

While he took a couple of swipes at Franklin, Williams left Bromell-Tinubu alone, and called Pitts, who was sitting in the middle, a "rose among two thorns."

At both debates, Franklin offered a litany of plans she would pursue as mayor, everything from creating a special neighborhood advocate position in City Hall to a 24-hour hotline to moving toward a paperless bureaucracy. She also proposed top-to-bottom audits of each city department.

Meanwhile, the debates are vital to Bromell-Tinubu -- free exposure for a candidate whose campaign is hurting for money.

Last week, she used them to float trial balloons -- ideas that at times seemed more like flights of fancy than do-able public policy.

To fight pollution, she suggested less parking, not more. She also suggested free-ride zones within MARTA. The capper, though, was a commuter tax -- drivers would pay a fee to take their cars into smog-choked Atlanta.

"A commuter tax is appealing to a lot of people, but it would take a Herculean effort to get it through the state legislature," says William Boone, Clark Atlanta University political science professor.

Says Eaton: "A no-fare zone sounds good, but MARTA's broke now."

Other ideas, like a proposed initiative to redevelop city-owned and unoccupied homes for low-income Atlantans was a hit with the audience at the first debate, and her ideas about improving City Hall accountability and responsiveness and creating competition among city workers to improve their performance played well with each crowd.

Aligned behind Franklin is much of the same campaign machinery that helped elect the city's last three mayors. Her close ties to Andrew Young and Maynard Jackson (Jackson is her son's godfather) has undoubtedly been a help in amassing a hefty war chest. But with that association, she runs the risk of being tied too close to Campbell.

She's aware of the risk. In an Atlanta Journal-Constitution column, she said, "I don't want Bill Campbell's support, and I don't have it. ... Campbell has made some huge mistakes in running city government."

That hasn't stopped Pitts from talking up the connection, though. At the April 3 debate, he twice intimated a Franklin-Campbell tie, saying he has opposed the circle of Campbell faithful on the Council that will support Franklin in the Nov. 6 election.

Indeed, Campbell seems to loom over the entire election season without saying a word. He still inspires a Clintonesque devotion in some circles. He's also got Clinton-size problems, like rumors of pending indictments, which threaten to eclipse the election altogether.

Given his recent history with the mayor, Pitts doesn't have to work too hard to create distance. Still, he opened each debate by saying that political connections won't guarantee city business. He told the crowd that his campaign volunteers must not expect favors if he's elected -- even going so far as to have them sign affidavits to that effect.

But at the same time, at the second debate, Pitts was the only person to mention Campbell. Each time, Pitts pointed to positive contributions the mayor has made to the city during the last seven years. The oddly conciliatory tone doesn't help dispel rumors that Pitts is looking to add part of Campbell's campaign machinery -- like Michael Langford, for example, one of the undisputed champs of getting out the vote in the black community -- to his own election bid. Pitts denies he is looking for any help from Campbell backers.

Likewise, Franklin dismisses any talk that her rebuke of Campbell was a less-than-sincere campaign tactic designed only to provide the illusion of distance and improve her standing among white, northside voters.

People can think what they like; some people thought it was too genuine, Franklin says cracking a wry smile. The group active in the elections of Jackson, Young and Campbell is not monolithic, she says.

Campbell, meanwhile, showed his usual prickliness when Eaton brought up all the talk of integrity at a recent meeting between Campbell and black journalists. Campbell claimed he had more integrity than the three candidates combined, Eaton says. And the mayor reminded Eaton that he carried every black district in the last election. Distance yourself from me at your own peril was his message, Eaton says.

If an election is decided by money -- and what election isn't? -- Shirley Franklin is the front-runner. She's not bashful about having already raised $1.3 million. It's going to take every penny for a virtual unknown and a woman to win, she says.

Some people advised her that she could run a different kind of race, a race without the baggage that heavy contributions bring, but Franklin says the numbers didn't support it. "When women get outspent 2-1, they lose," she says.

In Bromell-Tinubu's case, she stands to get outspent about 10 to 1. The latest numbers show her raising less than $70,000 -- more than $16,000 of which came in the form of a personal loan. What's more, she has only $2,000 immediately at her disposal. And she declared her candidacy nine months ago.

"It's early yet, but it's not too early to have a little larger war chest," Boone says about Bromell-Tinubu's fundraising. It's going to take money to get your message out and get people to the polls.

Bromell-Tinubu deflects such criticism by saying she is waging a grassroots campaign that re-imagines the way elections are done in Atlanta. That remains to be seen, but what is a certainty, is that she'll have to work like hell and have the right people in place to get elected without much money.

Maybe the only advantage her penury lends her is the role of "outsider" -- the ability to accuse Pitts and Franklin of running a "politics as usual" campaign.

In the middle is Pitts, who in the last three months raised a little less than $100,000, a third of what Franklin has raised in the same time. Pitts' campaign disclosure lists his contributions at about $800,000.

Many expected him to join Franklin with more than a million in the bank, and the surprising number leads some to speculate that his candidacy has lost steam.

Pitts spokesman Dana Bolden explains that the City Council president scaled back fundraising efforts during the first part of the year, holding small, neighborhood fundraisers where $4,000-$6,000 was typically raised.

But Pitts is not backing away from his original $2 million goal. He says he will raise $1.3 million during May, June and July with a series of heavy- hitting fundraisers.

And he'll probably need every penny -- just like the other candidates. Because there's no enemy in this race, no Mitch Skandalakis, to get voters to the polls. There's no crisis to be had either.

Instead, there's just the tightrope to walk -- proving you're the one to govern tomorrow while insisting you're not tied to those who govern today.



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