History will Judge Atlanta Mayors

It isn’t true that I punch pillows or walls or smash mirrors when enraged by public pronouncements about my years in public service. It is true however, that I follow news about public policy at the local, state and national levels as I have done since my early teens in the 1950’s. I have learned along the way to stay focused on long term goals and to avoid the skirmishes.

As a student of public policy and government, I was an early adopter of the principle that I heard characterized in a saying frequently used by long time Georgia state representative Calvin Smyre. “When you see a turtle sitting on a fence post, you know he didn’t get there by himself.”  You see I grew up in a duplex apartment located on a busy three lane street in the inner core of one of America’s big cities. The closest grass or fence was miles away and I saw my first turtle in a zoo exhibit. But the saying, “he didn’t get there by himself” is worth remembering no matter who you are.  The truth is all of us have benefitted from the expertise, hard and smart work and sacrifices of others whose names we may never know.

As I follow local politics now, I am amazed by the complete and utter dismissal of the contributions of others that I have seen recently in the press and other public announcements from the city’s communications office. It is as if no one – not Hartsfield, not Allen, not Massell, not Jackson, not Young, not Campbell or I ever contributed to the significant growth of the city, ever made a smart and visionary public policy decision or ever solved a tough problem on behalf of Atlanta’s residents, businesses, or visitors.  Atlanta mayors for a very long time have made some darn good decisions to move Atlanta to the forefront of American cities. Each had unique skills and talents to apply in tackling the challenges of their day. The best among us had an extra dose of humility and compassion for the people they served. Mayor Reed has his accomplishments which will be judged by history and not by press releases, official pronouncements or political polls. All of us have that same fate.


  1. Claire McLeveighn says:

    This can be filed under the heading “Truer Words Were Never Spoken (Written).” The refusal or inability to recognize the “others” who assisted the turtle in its ascent seems epidemic. Whether it stems from absence of historical perspective or humility is a curious question. But the judgments of history and true legacies of lives saved and improved are unwavering in their equalizing effect. Thank you for this blog post.

  2. @claire Like every one else I have to be reminded the world doesn’t revolve around my, my needs and desires.

  3. I absolutely love history. This city in particular. Know that I at least appreciate the very real day-to-day hurdles that must be overcome at the same keeping the real goals, the real vision at the forefront not to be obscured by clouds of the moment. A centered person that can accomplish that even half the time is a true and fine captain. Atlanta has been blessed with some of those captains. I pray we are blessed again whether we appreciate it properly at the time or even deserve it. History is really the only way to gain that perspective and please know that some do appreciate and did at the time!

  4. I’m not surprised at all at the lack of acknowledgment of previous Atlanta administrations. This latest group of mayoral and city council candidates are the most self-absorbed I have seen in quite some time. Unfortunately, the good ones end up forced to contend with and jump into the fray of what is shaping up to be an unnecessarily nasty political campaign about Atlanta’s future. I will say this, I think we need fewer male politicians because as of late all too many of them have done is turn these political races into p*ssing contests that are best left on school playgrounds but should have no real place at City Hall.

  5. Beth Schapiro says:

    Many of us discuss your years in public service in ways that would bring a smile to your face. Sure, we mention potholes and sewers, but we also talk about a mayor who set a tone of honesty, integrity, and inclusiveness. You promised us “if you elect me mayor, I’ll make you proud.” You indeed did make us proud; that you were Atlanta’s first woman to serve as mayor makes many of us doubly proud. History will judge you well.

  6. Melita Easters says:

    Your legacy will stand the test of time beautifully. You are a great role model for so many!

  7. Shirley was never impressed by what sparkled rather she cared if she could help
    others find their true calling in order to make Atlanta a better place for all. She was always
    thoughtful and diligent. Atlanta is a better city because of her and those that came before her.
    Years later I can still say she was one of the best people I have ever worked for.

  8. Can someone pull the mayor back from his hysterical actions to make all available property owned by the city of Atlanta, APS or on the Beltline to be sold to support affordable housing. The majority of these properties are located in SW, SE(not Grant Park) and NW(not Buckhead) where there is already almost too much affordable housing. These area need an increase in population with people that have higher incomes than what is here now. I say this as a 66 year old 30+ year resident of SE Atlanta. The only thing that would make me move from the area is a continued decline in quality of life that continues despite the promise of the Beltline. I believe this is true for most neighborhoods south of I-20. I don’t need this mayor’s protection. I need to any new mayor to address the real needs of SE Atlanta neighborhood which is quality of life and lack of economic activity. not more affordable housing.

  9. Clair Muller says:

    Beth is right. Shirley’s campaign statement, “I’ll make you proud” was a great one. She did!

  10. Phil Lunney says:

    Without the action of Mayor Franklin Atlanta would have a water/sewer crisis that would put Flint to shame. Being a ‘suburbanite’ Mayor Franklin had me at her 1st shovelful repairing potholes not quite ‘on her own’.

    • Burroughston Broch says:

      And whatever became of the Pothole Posse? As I remember, it shut down quietly after the PR flurry.

      • Some 6,000 potholes were repaired in approximately 5 months and the Pothole Posse and hotline remained open for citizen referrals. Press is one thing, another is another. We agree on that. ,

        • “action is another”

        • Burroughston Broch says:

          5000 potholes was a mere gesture against the larger issue of tens of thousands plus more developing every day. Your team fixed part of the problem, declared total victory, and moved on to something else. There are now more potholes than ever before.

  11. Mayor Franklin, expertly expressed. Now allow me to quote your advice to me a few months ago: “Politics is a blood sport. Observers should be careful not to get bloodied for less than the most important issues or those which are their passion.”  — Mayor Shirley Franklin