Friday, October 31, 2008

Musical chairs, City Hall-style

Posted By on Fri, Oct 31, 2008 at 9:17 PM

There's a parlor game going on these days down at Atlanta City Hall. Here's how you play: Imagine that President-elect Obama invites Mayor Shirley Franklin to join his administration; then figure out who might move over to take her place, and who'd take that person's place, and who'd take that person's place, and so on.

I'd heard about this swirl of speculation a couple weeks back, but decided it would be irresponsible to write about because it's so, well, speculative. But I've changed my mind because: 1) polls are predicting an Obama victory; 2) City Hall is still buzzing with this talk; and 3) the AJC has already jumped on board the speculation train.

So here goes: If Shirley heads to Washington next spring, then a special election would have to be called to replace her. The collective assumption is that City Council President Lisa Borders – who abandoned her campaign for mayor for personal reasons in mid-August – would get back into the race. In a campaign cycle lasting only a few weeks, Borders would have to be considered the front-runner due to high name recognition.

The other candidates would at least include those already running: Atlanta State Sen. Kasim Reed; Councilwoman Mary Norwood; Councilman Ceasar Mitchell; attorney Jesse Spikes; and, likely, Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts.

Councilwoman Clair Muller, a 19-year veteran of City Hall and the Council's leading technocrat – she helped persuade Franklin to undertake the city's massive sewer program – would, in turn, aim for Borders' job. She could expect to be opposed by Councilman Lamar Willis and maybe others.

And, of course, we'd see a group of new faces looking to slide into the seats vacated by Mitchell, Muller, Norwood and Willis.

All of this day-dreaming hangs on the premise that Shirley would accept a Obama job (and on the assumption that he'll offer one). However, I'm not sold on this scenario.

Earlier this week, when asked by the AJC if she might jump ship, she said: "My term as mayor continues through Dec. 31, 2009.” That may sound like a dodge, but more than once – and quite publicly – I've heard Franklin make more definitive statements on the subject, such as: "I will be here for the next 16 months" and "I'm not going anywhere."

The council members I've spoken with don't put much stock in those pronouncements. After all, they argue, no one could blame Shirley for answering a call to service from her president, despite what she's said in the past. But I'm not convinced. Regardless of how you feel about her as mayor, you must admit Shirley isn't in the habit of saying one thing and doing another. If anyone would turn down a White House appointment on principle, it would be Franklin.

We may soon get the chance to find out if I'm right.

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