Will work for votes 

Woolard in need of support -- plus other notes from the campaign trail

Cathy Woolard has grabbed most of the same endorsements in her race for City Council president as Shirley Franklin has landed in her race for mayor.

So far, she's picked up nods from Atlanta firefighters; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Georgia Equality Inc., a gay political action organization; the Chamber of Commerce-affiliated Committee for a Better Atlanta; and both of Atlanta's police unions.

"She's been such a voice for law enforcement," says Richard Straut, head of the local branch of the Police Benevolent Association. "I don't know how we could vote for anybody else."

The rest of Atlanta has yet to catch that vibe. Woolard has been trailing in the polls -- registering percentages in the low teens -- to Councilman Michael Bond and Councilwoman "Able" Mable Thomas, which is strange for someone who has shown herself to be a capable legislator.

During the recent Hartsfield dirt contract debacle, Woolard provided leadership in the face of a shady deal that was clearly being bungled by the city.

Her record includes introducing and passing legislation that makes it illegal for Atlanta employers to discriminate against employees based on sexual orientation. She also has secured tax refunds for Atlanta residents who live in DeKalb and were overcharged by the city. And everything she's done, she's done as an outsider on a council dominated by loyalists to Mayor Bill Campbell.

Part of the reason for Woolard's disappointing early returns is obvious -- the organizational strength of her opponents. The fourth candidate, Councilwoman Julia Emmons, has a base of support and an ingratiating style. Thomas, like Woolard, knows the issues, and she understands how to run a grassroots campaign. As for Bond, he's backed by a cadre of Campbell supporters and old political hands, including people such as Michael Langford, probably the best get-out-the-vote guy in the city. And even though his dad, Julian, lost a pair of Atlanta elections, his name, as well as Bond's record as Campbell's floor leader, is formidable.

To prove the point, in an Oct. 2-4 poll of 806 Atlanta voters by Cooper & Secrest Associates, commissioned by an unnamed business concern, Bond led with 23 percent of the vote to Emmons' 17 percent, Thomas' 13 percent and Woolard's 10 percent. The poll, though, used the name Mable Thomas and not "Able" Mable Thomas as it will appear on the ballot.

Woolard says she's unfazed by the polls. For one, they still show a huge percentage of people who are undecided -- 34 percent at last count -- and it won't take too many votes, less than 20,000, to get into a runoff.

She is right to have hope according to the Oct. 18 memorandum from Cooper & Secrest: "The vote is so splintered now that no one is likely [to] win a majority come Nov. 6."

As a one-term councilwoman from a majority-white district, Woolard's biggest problem has been generating support among black voters.

That lack of penetration is something William Boone, a Clark Atlanta University professor has been thinking about.

"The only thing possible is that [Woolard] is not that well known, to this point, in the black community and has practiced her politics on the other side of town," Boone says. Emmons, the other white candidate, meanwhile was trying to make contacts among black leaders long before the race started.

But Woolard claims she's going to turn out her support come Election Day, and she's going to have about $160,000 on hand to help make that happen.

"We expect to use all of that by the end of the election," she says.

If she does, it will far outdistance her closest rivals. As of the Sept. 30 financial disclosure, Bond had $24,711 in the bank and Thomas had about $8,900. Emmons, meanwhile, had about $45,000 available.

Overall, Woolard has raised $324,587 from more than 1,200 donors, the only candidate to have raised the kind of money pundits thought it would take to win the City Council president's race.

Interested parties
The mayoral candidates aren't the only ones paying for polls on the city's top races, and that news isn't necessarily good for Atlanta residents. A consortium of business interests, reportedly represented by former Campbell campaign manager Kevin Ross, recently tested Atlanta's political waters.

It's easy to see why. Companies have a vested interest in the outcome of the election and want to know who should be receiving their money. They don't throw their support behind who they like or dislike, says a former local elected official. "It's based on who will win," he says.

Usually in Atlanta, when businesses take polls, it's an underground affair. "If it's been done in Atlanta, it has not been known," Boone says about private firms taking polls.

But Alan Secrest, whose Alexandria, Va.-based company performed the poll for the businessmen -- a number of sources tell CL it's a group of minority contractors -- says it's a reality.

Cooper & Secrest Associates have worked Atlanta elections for about 30 years, but "this is the first time I haven't worked for a candidate, per se," says Secrest, who grew up in Decatur and did the polling for both of Campbell's campaigns.

It doesn't take a political scientist to figure out why minority contractors would like to know who to throw their support behind. They have a large enough stake in city business to warrant spending the $25,000-$40,000 it costs to take a poll.

Reports about the poll's findings are on the streets, but the numbers regarding the mayor's race could not be independently verified by CL.

The numbers
The latest poll taken by Washington D.C.-based pollsters Lake Snell Perry & Associates Inc. Oct. 21 for the Franklin campaign shows what many people expected: The battlegrounds of the election are in the in-town neighborhoods such as Midtown and Inman Park and in older black districts bordered by Cascade Road to the south, Bankhead Highway to the north and Northside Drive to the east. There, the numbers are close, but overall, Franklin has staked a significant lead 45-36 over Pitts. Gloria Bromell-Tinubu registers 3 percent.

The biggest change is the number of undecided, which dropped from nearly 30 percent to just 15 percent since Franklin's last poll Oct. 3. As Woolard suggests, people are finally paying attention to the race. But Franklin backers claim the shift might have something to do with former Mayor Maynard Jackson. A 60,000-voter mailing with Jackson's endorsement hit city households, as well as Jackson's radio spot attacking Pitts as a Republican, since the Oct. 3 poll.

Pitts' campaign doesn't put much stock in the poll, primarily because of Bromell-Tinubu's numbers. She's been out too long and gotten too much exposure, on top of taking 14 percent of the vote in the 1997 election, to show single-digit support, argues Liz Flowers, Pitts' spokeswoman. The poll is flawed.

As for Pitts, he's done polling of his own, but the numbers aren't in yet, Flowers says. The campaign has dropped The Mellman Group, which was doing much of the early polling, to go with a local firm, she says.

With the number of bodies Pitts had on the street this weekend, it's clear he's stepped up operations to make a final push for votes, but the question is whether it will be too little too late to get the win.

kevin.griffis@creativeloafing.com

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