Atlanta’s Future Depends on a Coalition

I am sharing my recent response to a reporter who asked me to describe my relationship with the state and Governor Perdue when I was mayor and what advice I would offer the next mayor.

We had a good relationship in the sense that we shared information and ideas from our first meeting. Our agreement was to talk directly to each other instead of using third parties to intercede. The Governor and state legislators were unfamiliar with how large water/sewer systems operate and are funded. After they were briefed, they offered to help with loans and ultimately with the MOST (municipal option sales tax) for water and sewer. Then Cobb Chairman Sam Olens was very helpful as was the Democratic leadership including States Senator Nan Orrock and State Representative Calvin Smyre. I urged the Governor to be aggressive in funding water infrastructure planning and to consider long-term water planning.  He started some of this work.

I offered to help find funding solutions to pay for the NASCAR museum but he declined the offer.

We had a generally good relationship for eight years.

It is hard to compare the types of relationships men and women have to same-sex relationships even in high levels of government. Models of leadership in most of American industries and in public/private sectors remain defined by how men relate to each other.

Now politics is much more complex at every level – Tea Party, establishment Republicans, Trump Republicans, loyal Democrats, AltRight, and newcomers. There are many new challenges with the added complication of social media and technology.

We have entered an era of Coalition, not party or race, politics in Atlanta. Leaders who succeed will be collaborators, good listeners, and honest brokers not merely charismatic and well-spoken politicians. Atlanta Maynard Jackson remains the best model of a superb coalition politician. His coalition of black and white voters, young professionals, neighborhood and faith leaders, when Atlanta’s population was predominantly white, catapulted the city and him to the national status. From here to tomorrow the prospect of the city’s future success depends on a coalition of committed engaged Atlantans.

Who you going to believe—me or your lying eyes?

If you want to know a person’s true character, pay attention to what they do not what they say. A person’s actions tell the real story of their values, their principles and their truth. Today’s Atlanta Journal Constitution story on Atlanta City Council members who received transportation campaign funds challenges the core principles public servants take the oath to honor.

The story is one of the most interesting of this local campaign season. The Citizens for Better Transportation 2016 was funded to advocate successfully for passage of the city’s T-SPLOST. Businesses large and small heeded the Mayor’s call for funding that ponied up $1.2 million. The Committee was established by a respectable Georgia lawyer, Robert Highsmith, who has close political ties to the Mayor and to the Georgia Republican Party. Highsmith served as the Committee’s treasurer. The Committee relied on seasoned campaign staff including the mayor’s brother, Tracy Reed, to manage the campaign. The referendum passed and all was well except instead of spending all of the $1.2 million, the team spent less than it raised. Now the integrity test is what do you do with the funds that were not spent. Should the Committee adhere to the law and return the funds on a prorated basis to the donors, donate to an IRS approved charity or create a slush fund? It seems as if the Committee decided on the latter.

Integrity is what you do, when no one is watching. The Committee decided the donors wouldn’t care if they returned the funds back to them. After all, big corporations have more than enough money to spare in the robust economy City Hall has created. And there aren’t any worthy charities that are struggling to fund their social or educational services for the sick, unemployed, students short of college funds or seniors in need of help to pay their utility bills. I guess the homeless are all sheltered and the hungry can do without a meal for the night. The Westside Future Fund must be fully funded. So is United Way of Greater Atlanta and Hosea Feed the Hungry. All the children who want to attend early learning centers and schools must be accounted for. Grady Hospital must have all the money they need for indigent patients and the Atlanta Police Foundation has funded all the houses necessary for police and firefighters.

According to today’s AJC, the Committee decided it was best to use the extra $700,000 for political campaigns and not the needs of Atlanta’s residents. That may be a moral dilemma but choosing to fill out the required state disclosure form in a way that indicates there were no remaining funds, is a question of character.

This case is similar to the actions of Councilmember Michael Julian Bond whom I have known for many years and I am an admirer of his parents and grandparents.

Bond accepted a contribution for the maximum amount allowable by the law from the Committee, and is rumored to be receiving additional financial help in the form of anonymous mailers and other campaign services. This shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone who’s paying attention, since Bond accepted $12,800 from a city contractor that has been ensnared in the ongoing federal corruption probe, and before that he racked up 300 ethics violations for which he promised to pay a $45,000 fine — the largest in Georgia history!

Bond has yet to make the first payment…and if he’s able to hold onto his council post, I wonder if the Citizens for Better Transportation committee can find a legal justification for covering his debt.

You decide. Is it a mere oversight and a lapse in judgement? Or is it an intentional illegal act to gain power and influence no matter the law?

It all reminds me of the punchline from comedian Richard Pryor’s joke about him getting caught cheating on his wife and he says, “baby who you going to believe—me or your lying eyes?”

You know you have crossed the ethics line when …

By Gary S. Cox

You know you have crossed the ethics line when you return to public office in 2009 and rack up over 300 ethics violations and $45,000 in ethics fines, the largest in state history according to the Government Transparency and Finance Commission. You have really crossed the line when the Democrat Commission Chairman says, “I think [with] this level of violation, you don’t belong in office.”

Just this week, Michael Julian Bond was up to his usual dirty tricks. Bond filed a campaign disclosure ( www.gaeasyfile.com ) that revealed only his total contributions, his total expenditures and total cash-on-hand. The entire form omitted who gave him money and how he spent the money he received. Knowingly filing an inaccurate financial disclosure is the basis for a new ethics violation.

Why would Bond resort to such tactics? Bond accepted money from Jeff Jafari and George Reynolds of The Prad Group, Airport Concessions Group and their cadre of relatives. The Prad Group is the firm recently raided by the FBI. WSB Investigative Reporter Richard Belcher confronted Michael Bond about accepting what could conceivably be tainted campaign cash. Bond publicly promised to return the money. However, since the financial disclosure contained blanks, he avoids the scrutiny of the press that was examining who contributed to his campaign and how those funds were spent. More importantly, Bond still has not returned the campaign cash as promised.

Michael Julian Bond exemplifies the current “culture of corruption” that permeates Atlanta City Hall and the Reed Administration. In a recent WSB poll, transparency in government and corruption was very important to 51% of the people surveyed. It should be important to 100% of Atlanta voters. It is time to vote unethical politicians like Michael Julian Bond out of office on November 7th. Remember, early voting starts Monday, October 16th. Monday is your first chance to say “No” to corruption at Atlanta City Hall.

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.