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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Shirley Franklin: Print what you want, I'm outa here

click to enlarge Shirley goes all Philly on the press
  • Shirley goes all Philly on the press

The mayor's final press conference had been going so well — decent crime stats, good news on city spending, heart-warming sustainability numbers — right up until someone actually asked Franklin a question.

Then came the train wreck. And it was brutal.

Granted, that first question came from WGCL-TV's Wendy "Tough Questions" Saltzman, who asked why, if violent crime was down, do Atlanta residents "feel less safe now than they ever have."

"I thank you for your question," Franklin shot back. "Next!"

Things went downhill from there.

For the next fascinating but cringe-worthy 15 minutes or so, the TV news folks threw questions at the mayor — some confrontational, others substantive, but most of which were brushed aside by a visibly perturbed Franklin, who grew more combative as the conference went on.

How does she view her legacy? "I choose not to speak on that; the record speaks for itself," replied Franklin, who singled out Saltzman in saying, "You will not be able to discuss my legacy with me."

Did Chief Pennington get a bad rap? "I'm not going to make those judgments." Is she satisfied with sewer service? Don't wanna answer. Looking back, would she do it again? "I'm on record as saying I wouldn't do it again," Franklin said dryly. You can watch the entire press conference here.

At one point, just to lighten the mood, WABE's Charles Edwards asked, "Is this an example of you getting all Philly with us?" But the mayor didn't hear him.

"I'm sorry this isn't what you wanted," Franklin said at last. "You get the real deal. Here I am."

Here's a pastiche of the mayor's final thoughts: "I showed up to work, I worked hard, I was honest, I made some tough decisions…I didn't run for office to be popular…I know when it's over and it's time to move on…I'm satisfied that I finished the race."

Asked what she thinks of her relationship with the local media, Franklin wouldn't take the bait. Instead, she invited reporters to pose their questions to her successor, Kasim Reed: "You'll have new, fresh meat soon."

Obviously, it was not a particularly auspicious post script to a mayoral career that began with great promise and earned Franklin early accolades, including a place on the cover of Newsweek as one of a generation of new women leaders.

But it seems only fair to note that while this kind of public testiness isn't what we expect from our politicians, Franklin never was a politician. Not really. Instead, she was an executive who'd worked in the public and non-profit sectors and wasn't accustomed to dealing with an aggressive press corps.

I'm not saying she isn't smart, articulate and well-spoken, but she readily admits that speechifying isn't her strong suit and she never gained the patience and thick skin needed to deal graciously with a hammering from reporters.

Voters often claim they want to elect a non-politician. One reason Mary Norwood appealed to many people was her apparent authenticity, her lack of sound-bite polish. But those types of politicians rarely last very long in office — or they don't get re-elected because they either can't or won't finesse the media in the way viewers have come to expect.

History will judge whether Franklin was a good mayor, but one certainty is that she never got the hang of managing public relations (and she got little help from her execrable director of communications, Beverly Isom).

Two years ago, when CL and other publications began covering the criminal charges against her ex-son-in-law and, later, her daughter, Franklin became more defensive toward the media, spurning interview requests and criticizing news articles in late-night e-mails. The relationship deteriorated from there to her current bunker mentality.

It's a shame. It's political suicide. But you can't say Shirley hasn't kept it real.

More photos from the mayor's final press conference

(Photo by Joeff Davis)

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