Is the city of Atlanta better off than it was four years ago? You betcha! For that alone, Mayor Shirley Franklin has earned a second term.
Franklin benefits in comparison to her now-indicted predecessor, Bill Campbell. But she's also an effective, capable mayor. She could rise to greatness if she pushed a bit harder for more efficiency in city government, and if she was more mindful of the concerns of outsider groups, like neighborhoods and the poor, who now feel unheard at City Hall.
That would be more likely if Franklin got a bit more pressure from independent-minded reformers. But such pressure won't come during this election season: She faces three token opponents. Short of a hurricane, earthquake or tsunami hitting Atlanta, she'll win that second term easily -- and deservedly.
Her chief ally, the less-tested City Council President Lisa Borders, faces two sacrificial sad sacks. We especially wish that Borders, who won office last year in a special election for the final part of a four-year term, had more substantial opposition. We like her. She's smart, savvy and, as far as we know, clean. She has promise.
But Borders is a political neophyte with apparently higher ambitions. She's made a few missteps -- holding a closed meeting on the Beltline, for example. It's too bad she'll miss the chance to hone her public service skills in the dialogue of a competitive campaign. That said, Borders, too, has earned a second term.
Such is the state of democracy in Atlanta.
But at least there are nine contested City Council seats, seven of which are competitive.
As always, we closely examined the records and credentials of incumbents and challengers, we asked people we trust what they thought of the races, and we spoke with most of the candidates. This year, in most contests, we invited the foes to visit Chez Creative Loafing together for frank tête-à-têtes.
We arrived at the following conclusions:
Post 1 at large
Includes all of Atlanta.
Dwanda Farmer (business consultant), Stephen Hull (graphic designer), and Ceasar Mitchell (attorney and incumbent).
By most accounts, Ceasar Mitchell is one of the stars of the class of 2001 -- freshmen Council members who landed in City Hall that year. He's typically described as thoughtful, methodical, open-minded -- and other adjectives that give some people the impression that Mitchell is indecisive or lacks strong convictions. That seemed to be the case last year when he first supported Mayor Franklin's proposal for a parks authority, then reversed his vote after public pressure mounted.
On the other hand, Mitchell's deliberative approach to governing stands in sharp contrast to some of his colleagues' more reactionary natures. He appears genuinely dedicated to sifting through all possible alternatives in arriving at a policy decision. As an at-large member, he must represent the entire city rather than a narrower district constituency. So Mitchell's sometimes plodding style may be preferable to the other extreme.
Which brings us to Dwanda Farmer, a fiery community activist. While she's well-informed on many issues facing the city, such as public transit and gentrification, she often seems more interested in stirring things up than in offering workable answers. City Council has a bad history with volatile attention-seekers.
Oddly enough, Farmer also spends much of her time mouthing the positions of the Fulton County Taxpayers Association on privatization and cutting taxes. Those issues deserve more considered attention than that loopy group is able to give them.
The remaining candidate, Stephen Hull, brings few qualifications or ideas to the table.
During recent debates, Farmer has criticized the city's Beltline discussions as secretive and rushed. But Mitchell, who heads City Council's Community Development Committee, actually slowed down the process, demanding more work sessions than Franklin wanted.
For those who value a steady, responsible hand on the ship of state, Mitchell's the man.
Includes downtown, Cabbagetown, Old Fourth Ward, Inman Park, west Midtown.
Al Caproni (attorney/accountant), Benjamin Fierman (engineer), and Kwanza Hall (engineer).
After being represented on Council by Debi Starnes for the past dozen years, it looks as if District 2 is about to luck out again. Two of the men running to replace Starnes are superbly qualified.
Either longtime neighborhood leader Al Caproni or civic activist Kwanza Hall has the experience, know-how and energy to hit the ground running. The third candidate, Benjamin Fierman, is funny and smart but not a serious candidate.
Choosing between Caproni and Hall is a tough call. Caproni has a long history of community leadership, serving at various times as president or chairman of the Freedom Park Conservancy, the Inman Park Neighborhood Association and Neighborhood Planning Unit-N. During the late '90s, he drew upon his training as both an attorney and CPA to chair a mayor-appointed committee to oversee the city's general obligation bonds.
There's little doubt that Caproni is equipped to grapple with complicated financial and zoning matters, and that he's well-versed in the issues facing his district. Coming from a strong business background, he has compelling ideas about spurring small-business growth and leveraging business partnerships in support of local schools.
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