Jan. 21, 2002: Welcome to Shirley Franklin, Mayor of Atlanta

A question I am asked quite often these days is what I think of Shirley Franklin, the new mayor of Atlanta.

The answer is, I think she is terrific. She and I worked together at the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. We both reported directly to Billy Payne, ACOG’s CEO. We both were impatient, opinionated and outspoken, and we got along famously. As we say down South, she is good folks.

A more important question that people should be asking is, if you don’t live in within the city limits of Atlanta, why should you care about Shirley Franklin or the city? The short answer is that the Atlanta she has inherited is in a state of chaos and financially unable to fix its own problems. Enter the State of Georgia and your pocketbook.

Thanks to inept management by the administration of Mayor Bill Campbell over the past eight years, the city has almost ground to a halt. Hartsfield International Airport is a mess. So is the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. So are the city’s roads and sewers and water and air. Atlanta can do little to address these issues in the near future because the city is also some $85 million in debt. Increasing taxes won’t cover this shortfall because the city is too poor. The idea of taxing commuters who come into the city will never see the light of day. But you can bet Aunt Ellie’s calf that the State of Georgia will find some way to provide financial support to Atlanta – with your tax dollars. The city is too important to the state and to the Democratic Party to do otherwise.

What Atlanta needs as much as state support is leadership. Currently the city is devoid of any leadership of any kind from anybody. No one in the business community had any influence with Bill Campbell, primarily because they were afraid of him and the race card that he would play anytime it suited his purposes, which was often. But, of course, the local moguls would never admit their fear. One CEO dressed me down in front of a group of colleagues for even suggesting such a thing. Ironically, his company is now very much in disfavor with the city. So much for influence.

Perhaps most culpable for the city’s lack of leadership are the local news media. Now that Bill Campbell is out of office, they have finally decided that maybe he didn’t do such a good job as mayor. Duh! During the planning period for the 1996 Games, I urged the newspapers to use their influence to see that the city was ready for the billions of people around the world who would be watching us during the Games. Instead, they preferred to second-guess the Committee and spent countless column inches on such flaming issues as our woebegone mascot, Izzy. As a result, Atlanta looked like a cheap flea market during the Olympics. The Games were good. The city was not. The media are largely to blame.

Mayor Shirley Franklin can provide the leadership that has been missing in Atlanta. It won’t be easy. She must address some serious questions beyond the city’s financial and operational problems. First and foremost, what role will former mayor and current bond lawyer Maynard Jackson play behind the scenes of a Franklin administration? The new mayor makes no apologies for her friendship with Jackson, whom she credits as her mentor. Whether he will exert his considerable influence in the city’s business remains to be seen.

How will she handle the enormous racial divide that grips the city? The politically potent Concerned Black Clergy has little to gain in seeing the city become whiter and more prosperous. Such a move would seriously diminish their power, and they aren’t about to let that happen.

Can Franklin improve the quality of life in the city? If so, she is going to have to face down the do-gooders who are more concerned with protecting the rights of the homeless and the panhandlers than in assuring people they can go downtown without being harassed or threatened.

Clearly, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Clarke Franklin has her work cut out for her. I wish her all the best and I suggest you keep an eye on her progress no matter where you live in the state because your tax dollars might be needed to help her succeed.