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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Life in the bunker

click to enlarge PRESSING MATTERS: Shirley Franklin, seen here in her final City Hall press conference as mayor, never enjoyed dealing with reporters.
  • PRESSING MATTERS: Shirley Franklin, seen here in her final City Hall press conference as mayor, never enjoyed dealing with reporters.

Talk to many voters or scrutinize poll results and you'll likely find that people are wary of smooth-talking career politicians. They yearn to elect someone genuine who understands the concerns and challenges of average folk. They want a real person.

The problem, however, with electing a real person – that is, a nonpolitician – is that they have real emotions and real frustrations. And, if pushed hard enough, they drop the politician's smile, they stray off-message and they can get real pissy.

At Shirley Franklin's final press conference as mayor three weeks ago, those characteristics were on full display. She was argumentative, combative and not afraid to show her disdain for a press corps that she perceived as having treated her unfairly.

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

That Shirley – the prickly and confrontational one – had become a familiar presence during the waning days of her tenure, especially as she weathered frequent attacks on her administration from mayoral candidate Mary Norwood.

But Norwood's criticisms – that crime is out of control, that city finances are in disarray, that public services are a joke – wouldn't have gained the traction they did if many of them hadn't already been accepted as common knowledge by a dissatisfied electorate.

It's been a remarkable reversal of fortune for a mayor who, only four years ago, had appeared on the cover of Newsweek as a national model of female leadership, and had been named by Time as one of America's five best big-city mayors. Could this be the same woman whom U.S. News & World Report called one of the "Best Leaders of 2005"?

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(Photo by Joeff Davis)

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