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Winning isn't everything 

But for southeast Atlanta, ditching Dorsey a good start

Councilwoman Sherry Dorsey's 20-point Election Day shellacking at the hands of Natalyn Archibong was a political pulverizing with a point.

It was a vindication for Archibong's most ardent partisans, who coped with four years of Dorsey's backward-looking leadership. The tactics Dorsey used to try to consolidate her support while on council -- exploitation of racial tension, including re-drawing her district's lines to thwart white constituents -- backfired as District 5 neighborhoods went with Archibong.

"It reaffirmed my faith in humanity," says Sean Casey, a Kirkwood resident.

Archibong, an East Atlanta lawyer, beat Dorsey in seven of the district's 10 precincts and lost only in precincts dominated by public housing projects -- Capitol Homes and Grady Homes. The third Dorsey precinct had only two voters.

But the across-the-board victory suggests that legislative ineffectiveness and general ineptitude in meeting the growing needs of her constituents had as much to do with her loss as her racial tactics.

In retrospect, with Archibong ready to take office in January, Dorsey's missteps and missed opportunities seem legion and near-comical.

Here was a councilwoman who set up a housing program, Operation Facelift, that was supposed to benefit seniors. But it actually used inmates from husband Sidney Dorsey's jail to do work on the homes of political supporters. Sidney Dorsey, then DeKalb County's sheriff, lost his re-election bid in August 2000. He is currently the target of a DeKalb grand jury investigation and was accused of stealing campaign signs during his wife's acrimonious re-election push.

But Sherry Dorsey's misdeeds don't end with the fix-it program. She helped set up competing neighborhood and business organizations when the boards of existing groups weren't stocked with her supporters. She seldom advocated for new businesses that could have improved her district, because supporters felt threatened by them. And even when all she had to do was the right thing, as was the case with a race-baiting incident in Kirkwood, Dorsey stayed silent. The list goes on and on and on.

Dorsey did not return phone calls from CL.

For Archibong, the easy part -- winning -- is over.

She faces great opportunity in a community where the suspicions run deep. True, Archibong will accomplish a lot in the eyes of many of her constituents by simply responding when someone in her district has a concern. She'll make progress just by attending the council's committee meetings, which Dorsey skipped nearly half the time.

But Archibong also must try to get projects that Dorsey delayed or derailed in near-perfect economic times back on track during what some economists are predicting is the beginning of a recession. Possibly her most difficult task will be to mend the racial divisions within her community.

Ahead of Archibong are four important projects in two of the districts most often at odds with Dorsey -- Kirkwood and East Atlanta -- that seem like no-brainers to promote the area's revitalization.

  • The construction of a new library for East Atlanta. Dorsey butted heads with Jim Buzbee, co-owner of East Atlanta Ace Hardware, who had a piece of property that could have been used for a new library. The current facility is undersized and doesn't have any dedicated parking.

    In exchange for the property, though, Buzbee wanted to convert the current library's location into retail space. To do that he needed a parking variance, and Dorsey wouldn't back him. She wanted to build the new library in a park.

  • The implementation of the East Atlanta Village study. From February to October 1999, the city spent $10,000 to do a study of the East Atlanta business corridor -- the heart of the neighborhood's commercial district along Moreland and Glenwood avenues and Flat Shoals Road. It calls for cleaning up and reducing the cluttered streetscape along Moreland, and among other suggestions, the construction of clothing stores and art/design galleries. In short, it's a blueprint for making the commercial artery what it could be.

    The study makes clear that it wants to retain a level of usefulness for the community and not devolve into the Little Five Points-style faux-hipster gentrification typified by expensive boutiques and homogeneity of culture.

    But under Dorsey, the plan has languished on the shelf without any official push to take the actions the plan suggests. In fact, City Council President Robb Pitts had to intervene to convince Dorsey to relent in her opposition, says Tony Rutherford, president of the East Atlanta Business Association and co-owner with Buzbee of the Ace Hardware.

  • The redevelopment of the Madison Theater. Atlanta zoning regulations dictated that the Madison's developers would have to build a 90-space parking lot, a virtual impossibility in the close spaces of East Atlanta. Again, Dorsey wouldn't push for the variance so that the $1 million project to renovate the 70-year-old and currently shuttered landmark could move forward.
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