Jan. 26, 2003: Good Riddance: Bill Campbell is Leaving Town

Whether you live in Atlanta, Attapulgus or someplace in between: Rejoice! Bill Campbell is moving to Florida. Good riddance. The last thing our state needs is an arrogant, mean-spirited, race-baiting politician like Campbell, the former mayor of Atlanta. Florida can have him and can add him to their list of other embarrassments, such as hurricane season, Janet Reno and the University of Miami football team.

Campbell announced recently that he will take his bad attitude to Stuart, Fla., and join the law firm of Willie Gary. In case the name Willie Gary doesn’t ring a bell, he is the flashy dude who flits around his personal jet suing large corporations, most of whom don’t have the guts to fight him and end up instead settling for large sums of money. I assume Gary has become so successful that he now can afford to hire Campbell instead of that Doberman Pinscher he had his eye on.

Campbell was elected mayor of Atlanta in 1994, two years before the Centennial Olympic Games and most everybody in town seemed pleased, including me. I thought him to be an energetic and personable person and felt he would represent the city well when the world’s attention focused on Atlanta during the Olympic Games. I was wrong.

Somewhere between running for mayor and being sworn in, the man had a hostility transplant. While in office, Campbell and his sycophants whipped out the race card like it was a six-shooter, whenever his policies were questioned or criticized. He intimidated the Atlanta business community – admittedly not a hard thing to do – and as a result, no one would dare utter a peep at his freewheeling administration, lest Campbell brand them racists and sic a bunch of bullhorn-toting black preachers on them.

The Atlanta media gave Campbell a free ride throughout the entire planning period for the Olympic Games, choosing to focus on such burning issues as the Atlanta Olympic Committee’s woebegone mascot, Izzy, instead of the spate of wrongheaded decisions that spewed out of City Hall like water from one of the city’s innumerable broken sewer pipes. Because of the reticence of the media and the business leaders to challenge City Hall, Atlanta blew a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, one the city will never have again.

People who tuned in during the 1996 Games expecting to see an example of the vibrant new South instead saw a city that looked like a flea market on steroids. The sidewalk vendors program was a brainstorm of the mayor and one of his buddies. The result of that disaster was a bunch of tacky shacks that lined Atlanta’s streets, creating needless traffic jams and causing financial ruin for a lot of starry-eyed vendors who thought they would make a killing during the Games.

As he hauls the chip on his shoulder down to the Sunshine State, Bill Campbell leaves behind a city with a crumbling infrastructure, a high crime rate and a downtown that turns into a ghost town at dark. You should know that Campbell says this broken-down shell of a city is the “engine that drives the state.” If you find the state wheezing a little, now you know why. In addition, the feds are continuing to look at how the city of Atlanta did business while Campbell was mayor. To date, charges have been filed against 10 former officials and contractors, and the investigation isn’t over by any means.

But, let’s not quibble. Bill Campbell is leaving Georgia, and for that we can all be grateful. The question is how long will he stay in Stuart when he finds out that the town is named for Homer Stuart, some old white guy who lived back in the 1880s? If I know Mayor Bill, that fact is bound to offend his well-honed racial sensitivities. Let me suggest to the city fathers in Stuart that before the black preachers change the batteries in their bullhorns and pay you a visit that you don’t want, consider changing the name of the place to Boondoggleville and construct some tacky plywood shacks on Main Street so that your new resident will feel right at home. Bill Campbell is all yours.