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The insider 

You may not know the name Shirley Franklin, but get used to it. She may very well be Atlanta's next mayor.

Shirley Franklin's greatest personal pleasure is a movie marathon. She might see several movies at a stretch, spending the day in the dark anonymity of a theatre. Sad movies make her cry. Her laughter, always easy, gets full reign at comedies. It's a nice break from her usual self-restraint. She can relax, watch the actors play out plots that will have no real impact on anyone. She can be herself, eat her popcorn, walk out blinking into daylight and no one knows who she is.

You probably don't know who she is, either, but Franklin, that African-American woman with white-blonde hair who drank in "Erin Brockovich" a couple of Saturdays ago, is the odds-on favorite to become Atlanta's next mayor.

In fact, Franklin, as CL went to press, was expected to resign from her position as vice chair of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority at its board meeting April 12 so that she could kick off her campaign in May.

No one was more startled by her decision to run than her own family.

"I'm actually really surprised about the mayoral campaign because she's a really private person," says her 26-year-old son, Cabral. "She really enjoys being behind the scenes. But for the past couple of years, all anybody has said to her is that she should run for mayor. I think people have said it so much that she believes it."

Franklin's ex-husband, airport concessions mogul David Franklin, finds it particularly amusing and yet inevitable that she's running. Atlanta's black power structure has been urging her to run for several years. She helped them run City Hall for more than a decade. Now they are helping her — by pushing her toward the office she used to support.

"To have Shirley Franklin running for mayor is just so delicious because it's the first true draft I've ever seen," says David Franklin.

Councilman Rob Pitts, who is also running for mayor, was surprised too. Last year, he asked Franklin, whom he considers a friend, if she was going to enter the fray and, he says, she told him no. "Apparently she changed her mind," he says. "There are people who probably convinced her to run."

Who those "people" are is all you need to know about why a woman who has never run for office is likely to be the next mayor.

Two names: Andrew Young. John Lewis.

One more name that has not been linked with any candidate yet but has been politically linked to Franklin since 1973: Maynard Jackson.

It was with Young, Lewis and Jackson's help that City Councilman Bill Campbell became Mayor Bill Campbell in 1994. They make up a well-connected gang-of-three who don't always agree with each other but who share the loyalty of the city's largest voting bloc, Democrats. Black or white, even in a non-partisan election like the mayor's race, the city's Dems flock together and they are usually herded by Young, Lewis and Jackson.

And they all owe Franklin.

She campaigned for Maynard Jackson in 1973. At the time, David Franklin was Jackson's law partner.

When Jackson was elected he formed an ad-hoc committee on cultural affairs that was headed by Michael Lomax, a teacher at Spelman College. Lomax says Shirley Franklin was fiercely involved in the ad-hoc committee which would eventually become the city's first Bureau of Cultural Affairs. In his second term, Jackson again offered the directorship of the bureau to Lomax, but Lomax deferred to Franklin. She campaigned for Congressman Lewis who now says enthusiastically: "Shirley Franklin would make a wonderful mayor. I would be happy to support her."

When Andrew Young was elected mayor in 1981, Franklin's star continued to rise. Young appointed her as chief administrative officer, a position that would allow her to run the city's daily operations while Young flew around the world shoring-up Atlanta's international business relationships.

"The truth is, I was traveling a lot," says Young. "Shirley ran the city."

When Young left office, Franklin remained busy. She has been at the heart of almost everything major that's hit the City of Atlanta since 1990.

The Olympics. Franklin served as senior policy advisor and managing director for local government and community relations for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. She was an official with the Equal Economic Opportunity Program for ACOG as well.

Water privatization. Franklin, through her consulting company, Urban Environmental Solutions, represented U.S. Filter, one of the companies vying for Atlanta's private contract. (Her client lost out to United Water, but there are apparently no hard feelings: United Water's public relations representative, Phyllis Fraley is now volunteering as a PR rep for Franklin.)

State control of metro sprawl. Gov. Roy Barnes appointed Franklin as vice chair of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority in June of 1999.

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