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.

Tuition Free College Offers More than Hope to Students

NY Governor Cuomo and Bernie Sanders at recent news conference

Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled a proposal to make public college tuition free for low and middle-income students. At a recent news conference he said, “New York state is going to start this year the Excelsior scholarship: if you come from any family earning $125,000 or less, you are going to get free tuition………It’s the first program like it in the US… and it should be a wake-up call to this nation.”

It would be a great kick off to 2017 if Georgia’s graduating high school seniors could get a similar deal. Georgia families deserve the same opportunities as New York students – the unfettered chance to advance their post secondary education to compete in a world economy. New York Governor Cuomo gets it. His initiative is worthy of state funding because the state budget reaps the benefits of the higher income of its residents and a highly educated workforce is the foundation of economic development.  While Georgia’s HOPE scholarship serves a record number of middle-income students, recent studies have found Georgia students from the lowest income families are underserved. Let’s improve education at every level simultaneously – improve K through 12 public education, fund research universities, and high performing students and invest in the children and the families who need it most- those with the lowest wages from working families who can support themselves but don’t earn enough to save for college. Let’s put hope and opportunity back into Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship program.

All I want for Georgia is bold leadership that sets high standards and seeks to support all Georgians especially our youth. Go Governor Cuomo! Cheers and good luck! Here in Georgia, we’re pulling for your success hoping that Governor Deal might follow your lead.

Bullying Weakens our Democracy

Dan Rather supposedly posted the following regarding Donald Trump’s distracting reaction to the Broadway play Hamilton cast member response to Mike Pence who attended a recent performance.

“Bullies are often thin-skinned, quick to overreact when challenged, and undone when people are no longer afraid to speak truth to their face. Great prhamiltonesidents are almost always the opposite in all those categories. Reflecting on Donald Trump’s complete overreaction to a statement made at the end of a performance of Broadway’s Hamilton: An American Musical, I couldn’t help but think – doesn’t this man have more important things to worry about? Hasn’t the theater long been a stage for political art? And isn’t this a man who broke so many norms as a candidate, insulted so many people – individually and as groups – that he now has the nerve to demand an apology when he never gave one himself?

I know there are many who say that this incident shouldn’t be blown out of proportion. Yes, when compared to cabinet posts or paying out $25 million in a fraud case against “Trump University,” a Tweet maybe might not seem that important. But being president is to have every word you utter scrutinized. And these words are intimidating and unfitting of the office of the presidency. But more importantly, they show a real weakness of vanity and small-mindedness that our enemies abroad will likely look to exploit. I can also imagine that Trump’s political foes at home are noticing – once again – how easily he can be rattled.

I imagine this is not the last we will see of these kinds of incidents.”

As someone with a enhanced appreciation of the arts and politics, I could not agree more with Rather. Trump’s campaign of hate and fear was an unfortunate winning combination for him. But I have long believed that resorting  to name calling, personal attacks or “low blows” should not be standard fare nor acceptable because Eugene Clarke, my dad, made it clear to me that those who did so were displaying the limits of their intelligence and knowledge of the topic at hand.

I have debated contemporary issues publicly and privately my entire life, as an opinionated youth and an appointed official who challenged Maynard Jackson on criminal justice solutions and airport management or Andrew Young on education reform programs and public art or among my friends and relatives on discussions from Pan-Africanism to nonviolent political activism.

Seven years into the administration of Atlanta mayor Reed, I have marveled at the personal attacks I have garnered from him when we either disagree on the facts or hold different opinions. My son, Cabral and I developed Reed’s winning election strategy in late August 2009, when his top campaign advisors and he were befuddled, flat footed and losing his first mayoral election. Yet, he routinely smears me and disparaged Cabral unnecessarily. We ignored Reed’s bullying tactics to exercise our freedom and independence in politics and in business. Cabral masterminded Atlanta Councilmember Andre Dickens’ first campaign against Reed’s candidate Lamar Willis and he advised Teach for America, Atlanta Public School candidates on how to gain four Board seats (more than any other school board in the country at the time). We never started a fight, Cabral would walk away more than I would or do but neither of us ever felt intimidated by bully tactics regardless of who was bullying.

Reed’s bullying outbursts are not much different from those we have witnessed these last 18 months in president-elect Donald Trump’s despicable behavior. If such behavior and tactics are acceptable by any high ranking elected or appointed official, as Americans we lose because the guarantee of free speech won’t matter. If everyday folks and leaders are intimidated by the possibility of retribution and verbal or physical attacks by their leaders, then fewer will exercise their freedom of speech. When we lose civility in politics and accept bullying from our President or our Mayor, our human rights are weakened.

Women’s Equality Day-Friday, August 26th 2016

WDWhen passing a Resolution establishing Women’s Equality Day in 1970, the House of Representatives of the United States Congress acknowledged the fact that women, “have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled the full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens” over more than four decades women have made enormous strides and yet significant challenges remain.  Today Georgia ranks number one in the nation for the fastest growth in the number of women-owned firms contributing to a growing economy. Turning to the political front, the fact that there are no women holding statewide constitutional offices  suggests that there is more work needed to fully flatten the playing field.

Women are the majority of registered voters in Georgia but women have never experienced the full collective power of the women’s vote.  The standard assertion that gender should not matter seems to function as an invisible barrier for women preventing a much broader coalition that could result in leadership that prioritizes issues and solutions of concern to women and their families.  As women work to establish businesses access to capital and contracts remains limited.  As women run for office at the local level statewide offices remain out of reach.  Electing a woman president of the United States can break through the glass ceiling and usher in an era of equity for all women regardless of race, religion, orientation or even political affiliation.  As women pause to commemorate the signing of the 19th Amendment some 96 years ago let us come together realizing that we are not as different as we are disconnected.  Georgia women are stronger together.

Rita Samuels    

Women Flying High, LLC       

Women Flying High will join Georgia Democratic women lawmakers to host a Women’s Equality Day roundtable conversation at the Georgia Capitol on Friday, August 26, 2016. The event will commemorate the signing of the 19th amendment to the U. S. Constitution giving women the right to vote in 1920.

 

Every political race and every vote counts!

voteTomorrow is election day in Georgia. No, it isn’t a Super Tuesday presidential primary or the election to determine who will lead the country but it is an election that can and will determine who makes decisions that impact our everyday lives. There are Public Service Commission candidates who, if elected, will cast their votes for how much we pay for electricity. There are candidates for solicitor general and judges who will decide which cases to prosecute or investigate. There are county commission members who decide everything from property taxes to how public health services are provided. There are state representative candidates who either fight under the Gold Dome for expanded human rights and healthcare coverage for all Georgians or who will hide under a rock when major public policy issues are debated. There are candidates who are known for their integrity, hard work, intelligence and compassion and those who are known for their greed, self-aggrandizement and lust for power and the limelight.

The decisions that every elected political figure makes can….and should matter to each of us.

Some polls and political pundits say African American and women Georgians hold the numbers in registered voters and the power to decide most elections in Georgia. Others say we are too divided on the issues and squander our power in search of one political savior. Every political race counts and so does every vote. Tomorrow, in every county the election results will write Georgia’s history.

We stand in the shade of a tree planted by others

DFranklin2DFranklin2 1Born and educated in Atlanta, David Franklin loved Atlanta and all the possibilities it offered for all Atlantans never expecting African American economic opportunities would come without controversy and lots of public debate. Rarely did he speak in public settings but he had lots to say in hundreds of conversations and to political allies.
This is one of the few letters found in his desk when he died a few years ago. The letter to Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Jack Tarver along with a Hosea Williams campaign poster, a Maynard for Mayor button and a copy of a 1974 New York Times article about Atlanta politics along with family photographs were worthy of saving as prized possessions.
Forty-one years ago David and a small group of black and white leaders joined Mayor Maynard Jackson in pushing open the doors of economic opportunity in public and private business sectors. Such courage was demonstrated by few but many have benefitted. The biggest beneficiary is the city itself whose economy has grown by leaps and bounds over four decades.
This week was David’s 73rd birthday and it reminded me of a familiar phrase. We stand in the shade of trees planted by others. Thoughtful, grateful people know so and are thankful for the opportunities afforded them by the actions of others. Only fools think otherwise or worse, believe that they stand alone as champions for their or the city’s success.

A super highlight of a super-man in New York Times voter feature

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At Antonio’s 2010 Lincoln University graduation in Jefferson City, Missouri is Lincoln University SGA President Antonio Lewis and Dr. Carolyn Mahoney, Lincoln University President.

NYTimesThis is a super story about a super young man in the New York Times, Of the People feature. It highlights Antonio Lewis, one of the Mayor’s Youth Program (MYP) students during my term as mayor. He  graduated from Atlanta Public Schools and earned a scholarship to Middle Georgia, which he lost after the first semester. While he was on winter break, he visited me as mayor and asked for my help in attending a local community college. Instead, I called our local Lincoln University-Missouri alumni contact who arranged for a partial scholarship that was matched with MYP funds. Four years later Lewis graduated with honors as Lincoln University student body president. The following year he joined the Obama field team and the rest is history. This happened hundreds of times during the six years of the program at the City. His success is the result of a village of people like, Deborah Lum and the staff at the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency, who supported him. I am happy that we caught him before he fell through the cracks like far too many of our young people, unfortunately, have done.

Demographics haven’t shifted elections in Georgia, yet!

Vinson Institute-UGAAs more and more people become engaged in the presidential campaigns either as voters, caucus members or active campaigners, news articles and columns are speculating about which supporters are best positioned or angling for appointments and VIP statuses the new administration.

There is talk all over Atlanta about who will get the nod for which positions in which administration. Ambassadorships and Cabinet appointments are among the most mentioned. Hopes are high in political circles that at least a few Georgians will follow their predecessors – United Nations  Ambassador Andrew Young, White House staff person Rita Samuels, Director of Presidential Personnel Veronica Biggins, Ambassador Gordon Giffen or Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates are among the host of other Atlantans who have served among a President’s most respected and trusted advisors. Even as those considerations are being entertained, most voters and most polls expect Georgia to remain a red state in November. The growth of Georgia’s population over the last decades and the demographics – young, black, brown and international have changed the “color” and “culture”  of the state’s residents,  but we have yet to see a change from “conservative and right leaning” political philosophy in statewide or Congressional elections.

Last year Cabral reminded me about having thousands of qualified registered yet seemingly uninterested voters move to the state or the city doesn’t automatically change election outcomes. Even massive voter registration drives like Georgia House Minority Leader and State Representative for the 89th House District Stacey Abrams’ New Georgia Project in 2012 haven’t moved the needle much. The population of Georgia might be browner and more left leaning but so far election results haven’t shifted.

Before anyone starts packing for Washington, DC maybe we should ask them to focus on a few of the issues that face at least a million Georgians. Those who live on limited or fixed incomes have the greatest needs but all Georgians suffer when we “play politics” while Georgians face social and political obstacles to improve their everyday lives. From the LIMITED accessible, affordable, clean public transportation, affordable housing, healthcare and mental healthcare options, affordable post-secondary and higher education, funding for medical research, support for technology incubators, business retention and expansion incentives,  business opportunities for small, minority and female businesses to HIGH rates of incarceration and recidivism, high school, community college and college dropout rates, family and child poverty and persistent and growing high levels of homelessness in both cities and the suburbs, Georgia officials and civic leaders, all of us, have a lot of work to do at home before moving up the ladder to national leadership.

I count myself as responsible to do some of the hard work too. Whether Georgia is red, blue or purple in the November elections, we should choose the road less traveled and double down on getting Georgia on the right track for those who are most in need.

VOTING MATTERS: Shame on any Georgian who doesn’t register to vote OR vote!

voteFrom time to time we will write a case that exemplifies why who gets elected might matter to the thousands of our neighbors and friends who haven’t registered to vote. Voting matters because whoever gets elected can impact your life in ways you would never expect.

Take the case of a friend who supports himself doing special projects while going to school. He has a chronic disease which is managed by his doctor’s close attention to every detail about his wellbeing and a collection of prescription drugs which keep him well.  With the reelection of Georgia Governor Nathan  Deal it wasn’t clear he was at risk of losing affordable access to his prescription drugs, but that is what happened. His monthly deductible jumped from $26 to $1395. What working person can afford this change? Only the rich!

Here’s the full story…..

In 2014, the state of Georgia decided to move all persons who have Plan D Medicare coverage and were participating in the no cost Ryan White Care Drug Assistance Program Part B, from this program and require them to utilize their Plan D coverage for their HIV drugs. Many of these individuals are on disability or individuals who returned to work and were able to maintain their Medicare coverage. For those working, they are the working poor. By making this policy decision effective 2015, Governor Deal’s goal was to shift the burden to the Federal government, claiming that this opened up slots for people in need of the Part B plan of Ryan White. In effect, this social policy decision placed an undue burden on the working poor, who already have a 20% co-pay under Medicare, by making these individuals subject to the infamous Plan D Medicare “doughnut hole.” Individuals, using Plan D to pay for their HIV drugs, if they don’t qualify for Medicare Extra Help, or non-profit grant assistance, are left with staggering out-of-pocket deductibles. The way this works, once you have spent $2,840 in Medicare for drugs, you then “fall” into a co-payment hole you have to spend your way out to the tune of $4,550, then your co-payments fall back down. This recently happened to my friend who did not qualify for any assistance. His HIV medications, which normally costs him $26.06 per month in co-payments, rose to $1,395 per month overnight. Those who are working and struggle, get buried in medical debt – this is but one example of who gets left behind when the cost effective measures to our health care social policy and make the working poor subject to outrageous co-payments. Governor Deal led the state to make it harder for my friend to get the medications  he needs and to add insult to injury the state didn’t notify him. He found out when he went to the doctor 30 days after the effective date of the policy shift.

A governor who cares about the well being of all Georgians could do something about this. Georgia has elected and reelected a governor who doesn’t care and who leaves hard working people to fend for themselves. Shame on Governor Nathan Deal and shame on every qualified Georgian who doesn’t register to vote or any registered voter who doesn’t vote.  If this story reminds you of someone in your family or your circle of friends, get registered and vote in November.

 

 

“If I Were Mayor”— A Young Student Explains the Job

Fifteen years ago in January 2001 a few friends, colleagues and I gathered in my living room to discuss whether my candidacy for mayor could be successful. We talked about the likely candidates, their years of public service and accomplishments; we had an honest discussion about whether I, as a first time candidate even with promised endorsements, could win a race against a seasoned politician and former City Council member. We talked very little about what I would or should do as mayor beyond continuing the legacy programs of previous mayors going back to William Hartsfield.ifIweremayor

Mine was a long shot candidacy and the voters proved the prediction true when the winning percentage of votes in the election barely tipped over the required 50 percentile.  At some level I longed to be in the public discussion about issues held dear to my heart as much as winning the race. Such is the value of democracy. Each of us can be in the public debate about issues we hold dear. Voting is only part of the equation.

During the campaign I found people had opinions about the city, what the mayor should or should not do. Time after time I was struck by the opinions of children.

Here is an essay  written by a Fernbank Elementary School student in August 2002 two months before the November election.

If I Were Mayor

If I were mayor, I would make bigger candy stores, more ice cream trucks, and better playgrounds. But wait a minute. What exactly is a mayor supposed to do? It sounds like a big job-so many things to be done, so many things to be fixed, so many expectations and responsibilities! Decisions, decisions, hmmm…what would I do?

I once heard a poem that said to put your big rocks in the jar first. Then you add the gravel, sand, and water. The big rocks symbolize one’s main priorities, and the gravel and sand symbolize other small projects. One big rock in Atlanta that needs to be put in first, is the task of decreasing air pollution and traffic. If I were mayor, I would change the minimum number of people in an H.O.V. lane to three instead of two; increasing carpool rates and reducing pollution. Then I would encourage the expanding of MARTA. Hopefully, this would reduce traffic. Finally, I’d develop highway clean up teams to keep our roads clean and safe.

Another big rock is the task of helping and caring for the homeless or needy. I, as mayor, would start a sort of “homeless hospital” which would provide good, reliable and cheap medical dental care for the needy. Also at the “hospital”, homeless could sign-up for job skills courses, where trainers would come in and teach certain skills they could use to get a job.

Now comes the gravel and sand. I would paint over graffiti, restore old buildings, improve schools, clean parks, and find good homes for the orphaned children. These and other small things help fill the jar.

Finally, another very important thing that every mayor should do is keep his or her promises. Citizens want an honest and trustworthy mayor who will make fair decisions and listen to the problems of the city. Our city deserves a good mayor. And who knows, one day, it could be me!

” Citizens want an honest and trustworthy mayor who will make fair decisions and listens to the problems of the city. Our city deserves a good mayor.” This young woman captures the expectations of nearly all the voters I’ve ever met.