Those results, however reliable they might or might not be, have surely brought smiles to the faces of T-SPLOST foes. They've made clear that tax supporters, including the business community's multi-million dollar PR campaign, have their work cut out if they want to avoid watching the measure go down in flames.
And that appears to be starting to happen. In the last two days, we've seen Mayor Kasim Reed, one of the measure's most vocal champions, take a much more aggressive posture in defending the tax he personally lobbied for under the Gold Dome in 2010. Though always a T-SPLOST champion, it's now, in the crucial final stretch of a campaign when more voters take notice, that Reed's seriously speaking out to pass the measure.
First, the mayor's office on Monday gave the OK for his senior transportation policy adviser to respond to longtime business columnist Maria Saporta. Saporta, in a column posted hours earlier, partly blamed the mayor and DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis for some of the transportation tax's difficulties finding support with African-American voters. "Ms. Saporta’s column is simply the latest attempt to throw stones at an effort that would create jobs, keep our region competitive and safeguard Atlanta’s position as the leading city in the Southeast," wrote Tom Weyandt.
A few hours later, after 11 Alive published a poll showing low support for the transportation-tax measure, the mayor's office released to the station a more favorable, internal poll commissioned by the business community's campaign to pass the T-SPLOST. That survey, originally not for public consumption, found that support for the tax was within the margin of error of a dead tie.
Yesterday morning, Reed stood at City Hall alongside members of the Atlanta Business League, one of the city's oldest minority-owned business organizations, to announce the group's endorsement, address the haters, and reaffirm his support for the tax. He challenged opponent Reporteth Jeremiah McWilliams, City Hall habitue:
"Take it from somebody who knows how to win," Reed said. "You have to excuse me for not being nervous when [the polls say] we're behind. It was always going to be close."
In the same speech, Reed pleaded for help from the overwhelmingly African-American crowd, citing a double-digit jobless rate among local African-Americans. He said the T-SPLOST needs the support of minority business people in Atlanta and Fulton and DeKalb counties, which have promised to incorporate small, minority and women-owned firms in their procurements. He urged the crowd to text, tweet, call friends and publicize their support on Facebook.
"I need you all," Reed said.
State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, one of the T-SPLOST's most vocal opponents, noted in a press statement released after the ABL's endorsement that African-American-owned businesses in Georgia have had little success landing transportation contracts in the last two-and-a-half years. "For state GDOT contracts, African-American companies received 1.1 percent," Fort said. "The 'good old boy' system of doing business is alive and well in Georgia." This followed a two-church tour on Sunday to discuss his opposition to the referendum.
Afterward the mayor sat down with Jim Galloway, telling him the tax's passage would send a message to Georgia's competitors and the nation that, along with improving our water supply, the dredging of the Savannah Port, and the new international airport terminal, the state's tackling transportation. Later that evening he followed it up with a visit to 11 Alive's studios to discuss the tax. By many accounts, the mayor does not sleep, so he probably then sat down for a live interview via satellite with Chinese TV reporters to discuss the tax.
Reed's a political machine and is fascinating to watch because he genuinely seems to love campaigning. He's competitive, well-versed in the art of messaging, and relishes debate. ("I believe in the Winston Churchill model," he said at the ABL event. "I smile when I fight. I love to fight.") Whether his vocal support and dogged work ethic is able to convince the "nays" and win over the undecideds less than two weeks before the vote remains to be seen. But it's gonna make this final stretch much more interesting to watch.
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