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Curious George 

What does a Rome bookseller have against Georgia's politicians?

George Anderson makes most of us wonder what the hell we've been doing with our time.

Anderson is proprietor of Booklover's Den, a labyrinthine bookshop in Rome, a small city nestled in the rolling hills of northwest Georgia. Last year, his store cleared all of $5,100. But, fortunately for Anderson, it is not his profession that defines him, but his hobby.

Scratch that. His obsession.

"If I had a successful business," Anderson says, "I couldn't do what I do."

What Anderson does is file ethics complaints against government officials. Not one or two complaints, or even a dozen, but 125 last year alone. Since 1997, he's filed more than 200. The second-place filer, Cobb Countian Patricia Fuller, wheezes in with a paltry 56.

In just one year, the State Ethics Commission's six-person staff saw the number of complaints it handles triple, from 65 in 1999 to 215 a year later. Teddy Lee, executive director of the commission, attributes the upward trend almost entirely to Anderson.

"He has increased our workload tremendously," Lee acknowledges.

On Jan. 31, for example, the commission will review 10 complaints brought by Anderson against state Rep. Bob Irvin, R-Atlanta, the state Republican Party and eight PACs.

The commission has even developed a new disciplinary mechanism -- the compliance agreement -- to accommodate the swelling number of complaints filed by Anderson stemming from minor infractions.

To Anderson, no faux pas is too small to highlight. Forgot to put a date on your campaign finance disclosure? He'll catch you. Is an address incomplete? He'll spot it.

"When you run for office these days, you almost expect George Anderson to file a complaint against you," says state Rep. Mark Burkhalter, R-Alpharetta, who has been the recipient of one of Anderson's minor complaints. "It's almost a prerequisite for running for office."

On Jan. 24, the day this paper hits the racks, Anderson will stand in front of the City of Atlanta's Board of Ethics for the second time in a month to press his case against Mayor Bill Campbell, a man who probably never dreamed he'd have to worry about a bookseller from Rome. Two weeks earlier, the board, acting on a complaint filed by Anderson, ruled that Campbell had violated the city's ethics law by failing to disclose more than $150,000 in speaking fees.

TV news crews camped out at City Hall and interviewed Anderson for the umpteenth time, the deep horizontal crevice at the bridge of his prow-like nose showing darkly on TV screens around the state.

That night, John Schroeder and his wife, Tracey, friends of Anderson's in Rome, were getting ready for bed when they saw him on the news. "What's George doing getting involved with the mayor of Atlanta?" Tracey asked. "He lives here."

When in Rome ...

Rome's bustling downtown is jammed with art studios that sell pottery and shops that sell Birkenstocks. Patrons crowd the coffee shop in the lobby of the Forrest Hotel, named for Nathan Bedford Forrest, one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan. (The hotel no longer rents rooms.)

Just down Broad Street, John Schroeder emerges from the kitchen of his cafe, wiping his hands on a dishtowel. He's known Anderson since first grade. He knows his family and its tragic past. He's torn between the need for candor and pangs of loyalty to his old friend. "A lot of people are embarrassed about George, but most are just puzzled," he says. "We don't necessarily understand why he does it."

Pierre Noth, opinions editor for the Rome News-Tribune, says Anderson, 47, is who he is because of his family.

Anderson's dad, George Robert Anderson, was a well-respected county attorney for more than a decade. In college, the senior Anderson was Gov. Carl Sanders' roommate. Anderson's older brother, Everett, became an attorney like his dad. Anderson grew up around legal briefs at a time when more open government was a battle cry.

"George came along at about the time of Watergate, or in its aftermath," Noth says. "A lot of kids who would have otherwise gone to law school saw what Woodward and Bernstein did and they decided to become reporters instead. Journalism became glamorous.

"I think with George, there's that same 'Gee,-I-want-to-be-a-Watergate-reporter' spirit."

Anderson even has a journalism degree from the University of Georgia.

But instead of joining the fourth estate after college, he took a job in Rome selling carpet. In 1980, he moved with his wife and three children to Anniston, Ala., for another sales job.

A few years later, in 1983, Anderson's father died. And three years later, a heart attack claimed Everett, just 38.

Sensing his mother's desolation, Anderson moved his family back to Rome. He began selling policies for American General Life Insurance. He had a knack for the work. Noth thinks he knows why Anderson was such a good "closer."

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