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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.
THE CAMPBELL FACTOR
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.
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