Why did Mayor Shirley Franklin take part in a controversial campaign ad linking Republican candidates for the Fulton County Commission to a potential rollback of Civil Rights-era gains? The short answer is political payback.
The mayor's vigorous endorsement of Democrat John Eaves on billboards, radio spots and during campaign appearances was widely seen as the primary factor that pushed Eaves, a previously little-known Peace Corps manager, to double-digit victory over Lee Morris, a former two-term city councilman.
But Franklin's newfound enthusiasm for Eaves struck many observers as odd, considering that, during last year's city races, she had endorsed his opponent, incumbent Councilman Jim Maddox.
According to sources close to the mayor, her change of heart over Eaves had its roots in stump speeches made by Morris during the 2001 Atlanta mayor's race on behalf of Franklin's opponent, then-Council President Robb Pitts. Morris used the speeches, and at least one constituent letter, to describe Franklin as a cog in the same political machine that produced the corrupt administration of Bill Campbell.
Morris acknowledges that recent attempts to bury the hatchet with the mayor haven't worked, but says he declined several talk-show invitations to criticize the radio spot.
"The ad was certainly inflammatory, but I think the rhetoric needs to be toned down, not expanded," says Morris, who adds that he was particularly hurt by the participation of U.S. Rep. John Lewis, because "John Lewis has always been one of my heroes."
In the recording, Lewis warned that allowing the GOP to take over the Fulton Commission could prove even more disastrous than "fighting off dogs and water hoses in the '60s."
Franklin's voice followed with another warning: "The efforts of Martin and Coretta King, Hosea Williams, Maynard Jackson and many others will be lost."
Contacted after the election, Franklin said she wants to put the campaign behind her. "It was not my intention to offend anyone and I have apologized in e-mails and in person to those who may have been offended," she said.
The Eaves episode does demonstrate that Franklin has the political clout to boost a local candidate to victory. Atlanta's next mayor will probably be the candidate who best takes this lesson to heart.
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