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Brookhaven Maybe!

I’ve lived in the Brookhaven neighborhood since 1978.  In that span of time, a lot of changes have happened, changes that made Brookhaven a better place to live.  Now, there is talk of cityhood for Brookhaven, and it is an interesting question.  I’ve written about it before, but here’s my latest take on the issue:

Background

This all started with Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and others.  From there, things have branched out, but Sandy Springs, located in Fulton County, serves as the original model.

To quote Wikipedia:

Debate over incorporation [of Sandy Springs] began in the 1970s when the city of Atlanta attempted to use a state law to force annexation of Sandy Springs. (Buckhead had joined Atlanta in 1952.) The attempt failed when the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that the law was unconstitutional. In response, the Committee for Sandy Springs was formed in 1975. In every legislative session since 1989, state legislators representing the area introduced a bill in the Georgia General Assembly to authorize a referendum on incorporation. Legislators representing the city of Atlanta and southwestern Fulton County, who feared for the tax revenue that would be lost, blocked the bills using the procedural requirement that all local legislation be approved first by a delegation of representatives from the affected area.

Note that the process of founding the City of Sandy Springs effectively began in 1989, but actually started much earlier.  Things finally came to a head in 2005, sixteen years later, with a referendum vote by those who would be within the limits of the new City of Sandy Springs.  94% of those voting approved of the measure, noting:   Many residents expressed displeasure with county services, claiming, based upon financial information provided by the county, that the county was redistributing revenues to fund services in less financially-stable areas of the county, ignoring local opposition to rezoning, and allowing excessive development.

Two years later, other Fulton County municipalities, Johns Creek (formed in 2006), the City of Milton and the City of Chattahoochee Hills (both formed in 2007), all came into being under similar circumstances.  By 2008, the city formation movement moved across county lines into DeKalb County, with the formation of the City of Dunwoody.  As with the Fulton County cities formed in the early 2000’s, voters massively approved the idea.  And, as with the new cities in Fulton County: “Critics claimed that incorporation of Dunwoody, as in the incorporation of Sandy Springs in 2005, would take away a great deal of tax revenue from the rest of the county, leading to shortages of services, tax increases, or both for everyone else in the county, as has happened in Fulton.

What is a City?

When you Google that question, you get a variety of responses, but here’s a decent answer:

A city is a place where you live, work, go to school and play. A city is a place where you carry on your day-to-day life.

That said, a city is unique unto itself.  You’ve got Paris, France and Newark, New Jersey.  The restaurants are better in Paris.  Not that there aren’t good ones in Newark, but you get my drift.  But you have to wonder just a bit about what form a City of Brookhaven will take.

Brookhaven City Limits

Now there is a proposed City of Brookhaven, and unlike previous efforts to create independent cities in metro Atlanta, a possible City of Brookhaven is somewhat different because there is not as clear a citizen mandate as there has been with the earlier cities which are its precedent.  Further, the push for a City of Brookhaven is not centered in an area that people presently call “Brookhaven”, but in an area considerably to the north of that location.  This is because the central personalities of the City of Brookhaven movement are generally clustered in an area north of Oglethorpe University, far from “downtown” Brookhaven.  And it is with this issue that this discussion will center.

Geopolitical Spheres of Influence – Defining what constitutes “Brookhaven” is a little vague.  The same issue comes up with “Buckhead“; the real estate people periodically describe a house in Brookhaven as being in “Buckhead”, because there’s a nice cachet to being in Buckhead.  And higher real estate prices, too.  But is Lenox Square in Buckhead?  Piedmont Hospital?  Chastain Park?  The same problem happens with “Vinings”, another high dollar area.

In any case, my view is that “Brookhaven” is south of the Ashford community (Ashford Dunwoody Rd at Johnson Ferry Rd), east of the DeKalb County line with Fulton County, and west of Clairmont Road (and maybe not even that far).  “Brookhaven” certainly does not continue up into Chamblee and it doesn’t continue that far south of Cross Keys High School.

One clear definition of Brookhaven could be derived from the Livable Communities Initiative for Brookhaven, which limits the notion of the community to the area around the MARTA station, with a stretch up to Oglethorpe.

After several iterations, a proposed “final” City of Brookhaven appears here.  One of my concerns is that the boundaries of this “city” are being driven by forces in which my Brookhaven neighborhood does not seem to have a voice.  There have been meetings to be sure, but the actual boundaries of the proposed city are being formed by people from the area around Perimeter Mall, not around the Brookhaven MARTA station.  Continuing “Brookhaven” up to I-285 and down to I-85 seems a stretch, but it is a logical line of demarcation.

This is Brookhaven – Say what you will about one of our neighborhood activists, he does have a canny way of hitting the mark on some things.  Like when he stood up at a Brookhaven Community Connection meeting, pointed down to the ground and said “THIS is Brookhaven”.  And, in a quite odd way, he was exactly right.  The building that Hudson’s Grill (where the BCC meets) currently occupies has been a part of Brookhaven since before my time.  When I moved into the neighborhood from Butthead in 1978, the building housed a Davis Brothers cafeteria.  And, it was something before that, back when it was still the town of North Atlanta.

Saying those things does express the notion that Brookhaven, while not having defined geographic boundaries, does have a state of mind.  And, that state of mind does have some sort of image with the typical Atlanta resident.  They may not know exactly what it is, but it certainly centers on the area around the MARTA station.  As such, this area called Brookhaven doesn’t have a whole lot to gain by creating a City that encompasses so much of what isn’t Brookhaven.  If “Brookhaven” is a brand, those who currently live in other nearby areas benefit from Brookhaven’s presence more than Brookhaven benefits from theirs.

Brookhaven – The Bedroom City – One of the attendees at a Brookhaven Community Connection meeting observed that the “City of Brookhaven” shown on the map is almost exclusively residential.  And, as pointed out by Jerry Cooper, “single family neighborhoods “lose” money from the taxation perspective”.   That is, it costs more to service a community of less dense development because the cost/benefit ratio is different than area of high population density.

Also, we don’t have a nice steel mill throwing off tax revenue.  Yet, the Carl Vinson study of a proposed City of Brookhaven fleshed out the details.  In theory, a City of Brookhaven is possible.

Brookhaven Yes!

There are some good reasons to form a City of Brookhaven.

DeKalb Governance – DeKalb County has a form of government unique within the State of Georgia.  In recent years there has been some tweaking, but overall, the governing structure shows continued signs of internal conflict.  Consider this recent news article “Power struggle heating up in DeKalb“.  To wit: “A battle that goes to the heart of control in DeKalb County government is heating up, with one official talking about hiring an outside attorney.

This matter has been brewing for years and it costs DeKalb County money.  The current CEO used to be a mere County Commissioner; during that period, he was constantly locking horns with the CEO at that time.  Now that he’s the current CEO, he has taken a liking to the powers of being CEO.  So, the power struggle continues.

The final reconciliation of this power struggle will have to take place with the DeKalb County delegation to the State of Georgia General Assembly, which is currently in session.  It was this delegation that originally formed the DeKalb Chief Executive Office form of government that we currently enjoy.  To wit:

In 1986, DeKalb’s delegation in the Georgia General Assembly created a unique chief executive officer (CEO) position, which is the chief elected official.[4] The local legislation that authorized the position made it unique among Georgia’s 159 counties, all of which have a standard county commission or a few still with a sole commissioner. As a result of this legislation, all county employees report to the CEO rather than to commissioners for day-to-day operations. Then, the CEO served as the chairman of the seven-member county commission, but did not vote except to break a tie. In 2008, the Georgia General Assembly amended the act to allow the DeKalb County Board of the Commissioners the authority to preside over meetings of the county commission and to set the agenda for meetings of the county commission.

While this system may have worked well when Manuel Maloof was CEO, the effectiveness of the CEO position has been consistently more expensive for the County in passing years.  There is periodic discussion in the DeKalb delegation about changing this situation, but it never seems to get resolved.  Presumably, the formation of a City of Brookhaven might provide them with the motivation to correct the problem.

County Spending – At the same time, the loss of County tax revenue that would occur if a City of Brookhaven forms would be significant.  I keep hearing the number $25 million, but who knows?  In any case, a reduction of revenue would force DeKalb County to bring its financial books into balance.  One sure way is to cut spending.  Another is to raise taxes, which brings us to……

Certainly the recent 26% increase in DeKalb County property taxes should draw popular attention, especially when the bills arrive in homeowner’s mailboxes.  At the same time, there is a strong ground level sense that more government is not necessarily better.  The generally alert voter has already seen the significant increase in governmental presence in their lives.  You can’t turn around without running into another regulation or law that wasn’t there ten years ago.  Or five years ago.  Given that healthy distrust of government, it is hard to make a compelling case for even more, no matter how good the intentions might be.  The matter comes down to local control of spending.

As with Sandy Springs, decades earlier “Many residents expressed displeasure with county services, claiming, based upon financial information provided by the county, that the county was redistributing revenues to fund services in less financially-stable areas of the county, ignoring local opposition to rezoning, and allowing excessive development.”  It’s déjà vu all over again.

In any case, DeKalb County seems to have a hard time controlling its spending.  This was fine when times were flush, but with the continuing recession, money is tight everywhere.  This is further complicated by the structure of DeKalb’s county government.  The spending goes hand in hand with the uncertain governance issue.  The Commissioners enact spending cuts, the CEO circumvents them.

I Am Somebody – At the same time, there is a compelling argument for a City of Brookhaven because of the issue of representation, a fact which is frequently used in promoting such a City.  This is because our current representation at County level is simply a matter of numbers.  That is, when we contact our elected County representatives, we are just one of about 40,000 people.  With a City, our representation levels would put us at about 10,000 people per council member.  Of course, just who represents us will be a matter of how each city council district is configured, a point which is currently in dispute with people in my neighborhood.

Zoning & Development – “single family neighborhoods “lose” money from the taxation perspective” –  There is a notion at the County level that denser development is more desirable from a taxation perspective.  That is, when you have the choice of a single $400,000.00 house sitting on 1/2 acre or three $250,000.00 houses sitting on 1/2 acre, there’s not much choice if you’re interested in tax revenues.  But it goes beyond that, for apparently utilities also lose money in less densely populated development areas.  So, there’s a financial incentive for dense development.

In our immediate neighborhood, there have been two denser developments which replaced less dense housing built in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  In both cases, tax revenues increased because of this increased density.  One side effect, however, has been that denser development also requires wider roads and more parking spaces.  It’s a trade-off.

For the moment, redevelopment in the area called “Brookhaven” has largely come to a halt, but it won’t stay that way forever.  You need look no further than down N. Druid Hills Road to the area near the intersection with Roxboro Road.  There has already been one higher density redevelopment in the vicinity, and there has been one proposed redevelopment for even higher density.  For the moment, this most recent redevelopment has been put on hold, but the developers are sure to be back.

Currently, any proposed redevelopment would take place at the DeKalb County level, and would have the best interests of the County at heart.  Regardless of how the neighborhood might feel about it.  To be sure, there will be public meetings and such, kabuki-like affairs where people stand in line to vent their opposition.  And after the public commentary segment is over, the County goes ahead and does what it planned on doing all along.  With few short-term political consequences to those doing the voting.

Denser development on N. Druid Hills Road will eventually result in that road becoming four lanes instead of the current two.  And maybe denser development is inevitable.  You might not be able to fight City Hall, but it would be nice if your voice was heard more clearly.

Parks –  While the parks in our vicinity seem to struggle with funding, parks at the southern end of DeKalb County seem to be different.  Did you know, for example, that DeKalb County has a water park?  It’s the Browns Mill Family Aquatic Center, located at the southern end of the County.  Likewise, at the other end of DeKalb County, we have the taxpayer funded Porter Sanford III Performing Arts & Community Center.  You don’t hear much about the $17 million Sanford Center because it is apparently underutilized.  In both cases, these facilities cost a great deal to build and consume County resources to continue their operation.  Meanwhile, we can’t get Briarwood Park’s pool opened and Brookhaven Park is hidden away from public view.

One of the proposed functions of a City of Brookhaven is “Parks”.  Based upon the map which has been circulated, this would include Murphey-Candler Park (which DeKalb County Parks & Recreation lists as being in “Dunwoody”), Lynwood Park, Brookhaven Park, and Briarwood Park, not to mention a number of neighborhood parks and green spaces (Ashford, Blackburn, Clack’s Corner, Parkside and Skyland).  These are currently maintained or sponsored by the County.  Yet, the promoters of a City of Brookhaven only mention Murphey-Candler Park and Blackburn Park, which are located in their neighborhood.  We’re not even a City yet and they’re already ignoring us.  Oh, the irony!

Brookhaven No!

Something Must be Done! – At the January 17, 2012 meeting of the BrookhavenYES group at Oglethorpe, there was discussion about how a City of Brookhaven would save the taxpayers money, but as the evening wore on, this notion was quickly offset when the subject of Buford Highway came up.

One of the panelists who lives in the Drew Valley neighborhood got the ball rolling.  A real estate agent, this individual complained that the presence of Buford Highway was a drag on real estate values, noting that houses which back up to Buford Highway sell for “40% less than houses across the street”.

It’s hard to argue with the fact that Buford Highway is an eyesore, but it has been an eyesore for decades, if not longer.  I’ve lived in Atlanta long enough to remember when the Buford Highway was two lanes of asphalt and four lanes of compacted gravel.  If you go up the highway to the Chamblee area, you will note that streetlights, sidewalks and pedestrian crossing lights have been added.  Yet, on each side of these improvements, the ugly commercial structures remain.

For our neighborhood, there is little question that Buford Highway needs work.  The poster child for this work is visible for those who drive to Buford Highway on Briarwood Road.  As you wait at the traffic light, your eye is drawn to an apartment complex near the corner.  The structures are run down, hallway doors hang wide open, windows are boarded up.  It’s ugly.

So, the compulsion arises that something must be done about this.  I  have no doubt that numerous telephone calls have been made to DeKalb County officials about this neighborhood eyesore, yet it remains.  One of the attendees at the January 17th meeting got up and complained about the state of Buford Highway, and a lot of people, myself included, thought of this apartment complex.

Fixing something like Buford Highway calls for significant spending.  This at a time when finances are tight, and the proponents of the City of Brookhaven say that the taxpayers will save money.  Something doesn’t add up.

The Shared Experience – In many ways, the proposed limits of the City of Brookhaven echo DeKalb County itself.  The “Brookhaven” of those who are in the Murphey-Candler Park neighborhood (who are promoting the formation of a City) have very little in common with Buford Highway.  In fact, they have very little in common with the good people of Brookhaven itself.  There is no established connection of any consequence; no common thoroughfare, no shared market place, no common experience, no common lives. It’s just not there.

Alternatives? – In part, my questions about the possible City of Brookhaven center on the motivations of those who want a new city.  In looking at the map, you have to wonder why this northern area of the proposed City of Brookhaven wasn’t annexed by Dunwoody or Chamblee.  And, some of us are getting the sneaking suspicion that the northern sector of the proposed City of Brookhaven, which is where the push for a City of Brookhaven is centered, wanted to be annexed by Dunwoody but were turned down.  And, there’s the sneaking suspicion that Chamblee isn’t good enough for them.  Just a guess……

I Want to be Romanced – As “Brookhaven”, we’ve got apparently very little to gain and potentially a whole lot to lose by becoming a City.  So far, there’s been no compelling reason to make this jump.  Yes, to determine our own course of action is fine, but at what costs?

In short, what the real Brookhaven seems to want, or at least what my Brookhaven wants, is to be romanced a little bit.  To be told that we’re wonderful and that good things will come from a relationship.  We haven’t heard that in all the rush.  To create a City with a sense of being “there” takes time, more than has been allotted.

What’s the Rush? – The pro-City of Brookhaven types are in a big hurry about this.  To be sure, this is partially directed by the legislative schedule environment, which requires that certain things be done in a certain way.  At the same time, DeKalb County officials are expressing concern about the speed of the process, even seeking to have a moratorium on the formation of new cities.  Why shouldn’t they?  They’re facing a significant loss of revenue while still trying to figure out who’s in charge of the government.

To me, however, things are going too fast, especially in light of the fact that nobody seems all that interested in my little neighborhood of 750 homes.  And, I am reminded of a quote from a Hollywood movie, Operation Petticoat.  Lieutenant Nicholas Holden, played by Tony Curtis, heads out from the boat with a crew to “requisition”  items necessary to get their submarine out of port before the enemy attacks them again:

Lt. Cmdr. Matt T. Sherman: Where is Lt. Holden?

Lt. Watson: When the air raid started they took off. All he said was “in confusion there is profit.”

I am concerned that the rapid pace of the City of Brookhaven movement is also an opportunity for legislative mayhem.

Trash Talk – The other thing that I am concerned about is the negative talk that is associated with the City of Brookhaven proposal.  There is a tendency in modern politics to make it personal; the same stuff happens in sports.  “Your mama’s so old that her memories are in black & white“.  So, both proponents and opponents of the cityhood proposal have taken to commenting on some of the politicians.  Granted, this is an old American tradition.  And there’s more than a little anecdotal evidence to support that talk, but in the larger sense, it is a distraction.  Rather than concentrating on the possible merits of a City of Brookhaven, we’re focusing on the people involved.

One of the classic problems with the current state of American politics is that everybody hates Washington and Congress, but they like their own elected officials.  Well, I personally can’t say that about several of our former Congresspersons, but I think you get my drift.  I actually like our two County representatives; they work hard in a difficult environment.  Not that it’s perfect mind you, but I have found them to be engaging and cooperative.  Their challenge is that their position is framed by the fact that they must represent a larger number of people than just our neighborhood.  And that is the core of the discussion about the City of Brookhaven.

The Wave of the Future?

I’ve attended several meetings about the City of Brookhaven proposal, often with a friend.  It’s helpful to do that because you can debrief each other afterward on the way home.  For a while, his opinion was “Maybe it is time to lessen the power of DeKalb County.  Maybe its era of dominance is over“.   That idea is currently popular around the world.  Even Scotland is thinking about declaring its independence from England.  The discussion always seems to center on the nature of representative government.

My friend has since changed his opinion, now believing that a City of Brookhaven is not a good idea, but knowing him, he is also still thinking about the issue.  If things come to pass in the General Assembly, he and I will have six months to think this matter over before a vote in July.  So do you.

My Conclusion on the City of Brookhaven Movement

It’s too soon to vote on the matter, but it’s a great way to get the DeKalb delegation to the General Assembly to actively work on DeKalb County governance issues.  We have time to discuss this before we vote on it.

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This is from the 2010 campaign cycle.  In 2012, Murray is again running against Jacobs now running for mayor of the City of Brookhaven.

In this case, “late hit” refers to 11th hour allegations and actions that are supposed to affect elections.  And, in DeKalb County, Georgia, politics can be rough and tumble anyway, so experiencing a late hit is not foreign territory.  Consider this from a much earlier blog about the 2002 Democratic primary, where Cynthia McKinney was trying to get renominated (and thus reelected):

In the week prior to the primary, our published telephone line had been constantly ringing with recorded messages from political candidates encouraging us to vote for them on primary day. Some of the calls were live, and a source of great amusement for me. One earnest young thing called and launched into her prearranged script. “Joe Blow is involved in a heavily contested race for Dog Catcher….” I stopped her and asked: “Who’s running against Joe Blow?” “What?” “Who’s running against Joe Blow?” “I don’t know.” But without a doubt, the real motivator came with The Phone Call.

This one featured a VERY authoritarian recorded voice saying: “Attention Republicans! It is against the law to cross over and vote in another party’s primary…. Observers will be at the polls to insure that only those qualified to vote in a party’s primary will be able to do so. Etc.” Of course, it was classic late-in-the-campaign dirty politics; by the time that the truth actually emerges, the primary election will simply be a memory. But The Phone Call caught the 4th on fire, and those who might not have planned on going to the polls suddenly were penciling in an appointment.

The media has made much of the fact that The Phone Call was directed to Republicans, but, in fact, it appears that all voters in the northern end of the District were contacted. The tone of the call was intimidating, and voter intimidation is a felony in the State of Georgia. Technology being what it is, the perpetrator of The Phone Call will eventually be discovered. In all likelihood, it originated with the McKinney campaign…..

We now move to July 19, 2010, the day before the primaries.  As in past elections, this period included a noticeable increase in robotic telephone calls urging us to vote.The big problem was that these calls were coming in on the phone line which my wife uses for her business, which began making her angry.

Not a good situation for Mr. Bear, but the calls continued on into the evening; I began fielding the calls.  For instance, I heard from Andrew Young, whom I did not know was still in Atlanta, much less still in politics.  He instructed me to vote for an individual.  This proved to be quite helpful for me; I made a mental note and voted for the other candidate.  Sorry, but I still remember “Smart Ass White Boy”, which helped to define my identity.

In any case, the highlight of the evening came with a recorded telephone call concerning the Democratic primary for the 80th Georgia State House seat.  One of the candidates for this position is one Sandy Murray, whom I have met on occasion.  This is not to say that I am a supporter, but it is my tendency to vote in the Democratic primaries because that is where the action is.  Not that I’m a Democrat or such, but I digress.

This version of The Phone Call featured a woman speaking in an agitated voice, complaining about Sandy Murray, saying that “she had found out some things about Sandy Murray, and that we should Google “Sandy Murray 2010””.  Of course, inquiring minds want to know, so we checked it out and the first Google entry pointed us to this site:

The web page was located on “sandy2010.com”, which is hosted by GoDaddy, famous for $1.99 / month websites.  What followed was one long page about Sandy Murray:

So, there you have it, your basic ad hominem political attack.

Who did this?  Being an inquiring mind, I set about to research who was responsible, since nothing was posted on the web page.  Caller ID pointed me to a telephone number that was not in service.  An Internic ID lookup turned up only the GoDaddy provider information, nothing about the website author or owner.

In short, whoever did this appears to have slipped off into the night.  So, the perpetrator of this might have been anybody, for any reason, and because of the anonymity, we are not able to assess the validity of the claims nor their intentions.

Our best legislative minds have set about to make political campaigns open and honest, but as has been noted in these pages before, for every good defense, there is a perfectly good way to get around it.  So, while you have earnest politicians standing up in front of the cameras saying “I’m Joe Blow, and I approved of this message”, you have others who seek to cause mayhem and use the weaknesses of technology to get away from it.

And, by the way, today, July 21, 2010, the sandy2010.com site looks like this:

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With the end of May comes what I used to call The Silly Season.  That is, it is the start of political campaigns for primary elections, which then lead to run-offs, then ramping up to the big election in November and culminating with the court challenges afterward. It is an unending series of campaign meet & greets, baby-kissings, promises-made and, on occasion, lies-told.  It is the time of political slogans and promises.  Interestingly, the slogan “A chicken in every pot” is wrongly attributed to Herbert Hoover; it is much more of an evergreen, going back to Henry IV of France.  Some things in politics never change….

Given the serious condition of our Great Republic these days, it seems inappropriate to call this one the silly season.  Even though one Democratic candidate for Governor is calling for mandatory negotiations for those about to lose their homes and the hiring of more teachers and giving them more pay.  Clearly a populist play, it must be music to the ears of the Georgia Association of Educators; more members and higher wages, too.  Yet, as pointed out in some of my earlier posts, there is a serious concern about in our land.  And a concern that solutions be reached to address the problems that beset us.  The electorate is restive.

Toward that end, there are a number of candidates running for the U. S. Congress position in the 4th District of Georgia, both Republican and Democrat.  Presumably, the Socialist Workers Party will be fielding a candidate, too.  In any case, there are four people running in the Republican primary to be the anointed candidate.  Cory Ruth is one such candidate.

The District

For a series of years, the 4th Congressional District was represented by one Cynthia McKinney.  This, of course, provided me with a great source for political writing.  McKinney obviously satisfied the political yearnings of some voters of the 4th District, but not at this end of the District.  It was rare to see her in this area, and usually she was there just long enough to have her photograph taken with white people in her vicinity for a campaign brochure before she returned to the fortress of the south end of the 4th.  Over the years, the 4th District has been gerrymandered in such a way that it is a “safe” seat for Democrats, but given the uncertainties of this election cycle, that may not remain the case.

In any case, our end of the 4th District does not see its elected Congressional  representative very often.  The current occupant of the 4th District seat actually appeared in our area on at least two occasions, but one does wonder what the south end of the District thinks about us since we are this white bastion in a largely black District.  I’m sure that there must be some cutesy name such as Indian Country or the DMZ, but I choose to call it the Brookhaven Free State, a name which is not likely to catch on because it requires too much explanation.

The Meeting

On Tuesday, the 25th of May, I sat in at a Cory Ruth meet & greet at a nearby coffee house.  Library Coffee has become the place for such political gatherings since they are conveniently located, serve good coffee and good food and have a large table in the center of the room which acts like the kitchen table in a private home.  It’s an interesting venue, although the acoustics are miserable, which make hearing the candidate’s words often a difficult process.  This may actually work to the candidate’s advantage.

This gathering was attended by nine people from the 4th District.  Several were neighbors of mine, people I know, while others were from other places in the District.  These nine people are also an indication of the general problem with the electorate, an absence of interest in the political process.  They are the small core group of people that are interested in the primary election and were actually willing to come out on a Tuesday night to be informed.  This is probably just as well, not only because of the room’s acoustics but also the small number of people allowed all to actively participate.

It is common currency in some quarters to describe the electorate as being stupid, but you would never know that based on the discussion.  Not that there’s not plenty of anecdotal evidence to support that opinion, but the people gathered that night were thoughtful, sincere and interested.  It was a lot closer to Rockwell’s painting Freedom of Speech than a SEIU demonstration.  But it always comes down to what questions to ask.

The late Cathy Bennett, who was a jury consultant, had the well considered opinion that you could ask a specific question during the jury voir dire process that would tell you everything which you needed to know about a potential juror’s state of mind as it related to your legal case.  She would study the case and come up with the appropriate questions.  The big question could be something as simple as “Which would you choose, vanilla ice cream or Neopolitan?” and the answer would give you a reasonable idea as to how a juror would consider your case.  The political vetting process is not nearly so well developed, but there are some common questions.

The Questions

As Mr. Ruth was enumerating his background and qualifications, I found myself wondering just exactly how does one go about shopping for a new Congressman?  The voters’ guides from the League of Women Voters and other sources mostly detail the biographies of the candidates and note any prominent events (good or bad).  There is no eBay feedback, there is no Consumers Union to extensively test the candidates in a laboratory environment.  The standards of truth don’t necessarily apply to political speech, no matter how hard Congress tries.  In short, obtaining the correct Congressman is a difficult process, one that is further complicated by the fact that what I would like is not necessarily what you would like.  It all comes down to a question of voter volume, so it is the potential Congressperson’s goal to say as much as possible about as little as possible.  You say a lot of words so that you have people’s rapt attention while saying as little as  possible so that you do not become ensnared in controversy.  Certainly questions of background experience are worthy, and the questions from our little group were thoughtful.

When asked about his abilities to conduct the people’s business, he fell back on the successful businessman model.  That is, “I enhanced production by 20%” sort of stuff that sounds impressive until you realize that government is a not-for-profit operation and that we should have it no other way.  Consider it in the same context as to why we do not pay police officers commissions for issuing traffic citations.  However well intended such an idea might be, it opens up a gamut of unintended consequences.  Likewise, our governments don’t necessarily operate like business in the first place.

On the other hand, the subject of the National Debt came up and $13 Trillion is pretty hard to ignore.  At one side of our gathering, the daughter of one of the participants played with a doll.  As we talked about the debt, I wondered what sort of world we were creating for her.  As someone who often measures things by examining a balance sheet and profit & loss statement to gain a measure as to how effective an institution is, I again realize just how abstract things have become.

Viewing governments by private enterprise standards sets you up for depression.  Not only does government ignore GAAP whenever it feels like it, it keeps things off the books and hides them in a variety of ways that, if they were private individuals, would get them under the RICO statutes.  Also, we expect things from government that we would never reasonably expect from any private enterprise entity, not at least without paying substantially for it.  And in the Norman Rockwell world, government serves as the referee for our Great Republic.  At least until things get so out of balance that the voters have to intervene.  As it is today.

Certainly the responses to our questions were also meant to show off the candidate’s conservative credentials and skills.  Consider the group he was addressing.  The subject of abortion came up, as it inevitably does, and with the usual result.  This topic is so hot, and it is so closely held on a personal basis by just about everybody, that discussion of the subject is moot.

You can talk about it all you want, but changing other people’s minds on the subject is an entirely different matter.  It is an emotional subject, and discussion about it is an effective way to end discussion about a lot of other things.  In the case of Alan Keyes, his single mindedness on the subject served to move him to the political periphery.  Not only did he lose political traction by this, but the United States also lost an eloquent conservative voice.  He’s still around, of course, but how many people are listening?

In point of fact, conservatism has lost several voices in recent years, most notably William F. Buckley.  What has remained are the echos of the past.  It is not helped by the fact that when two or more conservatives gather together, they find themselves sputtering about a time when the Republican Party held both houses of Congress and the White House, all at the same very time.  All this did was set the stage for even more profligate spending by the Tax & Spend Party; of course, these days, how can you tell?  For the moment, the Republicans main claim to fame is that they’re not the Democrats, which serves to explain the Tea Party Movement, which has filled a political vacuum.

The Wrap-up

I begged off from the meeting after about and hour and a half.  I have not decided to vote for Mr. Ruth or any others, if for no other reason than the fact that for the last forty years, I have voted in the Democratic primary.  This dates back to the halcyon days of Bo Calloway and a time when there was little if any action in the Republican primaries of the 1960’s or 1970’s.  These were also the days of “Jimmy Who?“, but I digress.  Of course, now things are decidedly different.

In addition to the four Republican candidates for the 4th District Congressional post, there are three in the Democratic primary, too.  Hank Johnson is the incumbent, the one who finally ejected the combative Cynthia McKinney.  Connie Stokes is there, too, along with the former Mr. CEO, Vernon Jones.  I know Vernon Jones, believe me, I know him.  So, it becomes a question as to where my vote is best cast.

Corey Ruth did ring my chimes a few times:

  • Mr. Ruth pointed out that his goal was not to make government more efficient but to get government out of our lives.  His motivation is that a massive government presence in people’s lives interferes with their ability to be successful.  Needless to say, this is a major tenet of conservative thought and a worthy one.  The more dependent we are on government, the more its power grows and with that growth of power comes more interference in our day to day lives.  The person who pays the piper calls the tune.  In other words, we have focused on program efficiencies at the loss of individual autonomy.
  • Corey Ruth lives in the south end of DeKalb County, the heart of political power in the 4th District.  By being there, and attending churches there, he believes that he is well connected and aware of community issues.  In many ways, this is a call-back to the earlier days of political governance in 1960’s Atlanta, where the white majority politicians governed with the consent of the black minority.  Now, of course, the shoe is on the other foot, but it is interesting that he seeks input from the northern end of the District.
  • Mr. Ruth grew up with computer technology.  He came of age “When Windows 95 came out“.  I’ll leave judgment of whether or not this is a good idea for another time, but that’s the way of the future regardless.

Mr. Ruth’s manner is relaxed and informal, but one thing bothered me initially.  From time to time, his words were awkward and he would back up a word or two and then re-speak.  After a while, I began to realize that the problem that I was having is the popular expectation that our political candidates should be like polished television anchors.  This erroneous notion confuses clear speaking for clear thinking.

In recent memory, we have had at least two smooth talking black men elected to office, one at the County level and the other at the National level.  In both cases, their words have been calm and self-assured, leading the voters to believe that the candidate was qualified for the office.  As it turns out, what was promised was different from what was delivered.  People have the expectations of complete control by their elected leaders, and the smooth talk assured them.  But when the rubber meets the road, their governance has not been nearly as smooth or polished.  It was yet another example of political candidates being marketed as a box of soap rather than as a real human being who wants to control people’s lives.

Cory Ruth calls Asbury Park, New Jersey as his hometown, and describes it as being “pretty rough“.  I called a friend who is from New Jersey to verify that claim, and he said that it is “pretty true in several areas“.  I hung up and he called back a minute later, telling me “Of course, that’s where Bruce Springsteen got his start.

Given the rough & tumble character of DeKalb County politics, maybe we’re on to something here.

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It has been opined that “It’s not over until it’s over”. It has also been observed that there are two types of people in this world, those that divide people up into two groups and those that don’t. In that vein, we come to a local news opinion television program called “The Georgia Gang“.

I’m a fan of the program, as is my lovely bride. I have caught her yelling at the television on occasion when Georgia Gang is on. I’m largely over yelling at the TV, but if I were to do so, the Georgia Gang would probably be the target. The program is rarely boring, and on occasion, quite interesting. The format is largely the same each week, and there are four panelists; their demographics and political persuasions can be sliced and diced in a variety of interesting ways. There are some hardened positions about certain matters, and in that way, the program can be quite predictable. Predictable should not be equated with boring in this case, because periodic fire fights break out over interesting things.

Today’s program (4/26/2009, Confederate Memorial Day) was no exception and things exploded over events that largely happened in the 1860’s. Yes, you can’t live in Atlanta without discussing Atlanta’s first urban renewal program, which was instigated at the direction of a certain General Sherman. And, that matter is part of a larger matter, a certain war. Atlantans can’t even agree upon the right term for the war that started in 1861; there are those that use the term Civil War, while others, usually those who have been educated in The South, often use the term The War Between The States. A few use the euphemism The Recent Unpleasantness. People can’t even agree upon the names of many of the significant battles of the War. To quote a website The troops of the North came mainly from cities, towns, and villages, and were, therefore, impressed by some natural object near the scene of the conflict and named the battle from it. The soldiers from the South were chiefly from the country and were, therefore, impressed by some artificial object near the field of action. Thus you have the battles of Pittsburgh Landing and Shiloh Church being fought in the same place.

Regardless, one would think that for something that had ended officially at Appomattox Courthouse (or Clover Hill, if you wish) in 1865, that hostilities would be over and done with. Of course, that’s not the case, and an interesting rapid fire discussion broke out on The Georgia Gang today between two panelists.

At the center of things is Loren Collins, who is an interesting character in his own right. In the most recent state-wide election cycle, Mr. Collins was an official write-in candidate against Hank Johnson, of the 4th Congressional District of Georgia. Johnson ran without opposition by the Republican Party, a legacy of Congressional gerrymandering in recent decades. Mr. Collins felt that this was inappropriate for a country such as ours. Of course, another point of contention would be over the manner in which we describe our form of government; Republic or Democracy. In any case, Mr. Collins had virtually no chance of success, but did manage to garner 159 votes in the election. However, we have not heard the last from Mr. Collins, and a recent example appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on April 24th; please see here.

The Georgia Gang ends each week’s broadcast with Winners and Losers, and our Mr. Collins became the center of an embroiled discussion between two panelists, one Caucasian-American and one African-American. More heat than light was generated, but this little tiff is yet another example of things that never seem to conclude. And, that if it hadn’t been this particular subject, it would have been another. My point is that if we are to continue as the dynamic society that we have been in the past, this is the sort of discussion that will occur.

So much has been made of trying to maintain civil order, and a lot of institutions have gamed the system to their advantage. Congress has used computer technology to fix elections so that we have reached a point of stasis. Expression of conservative thought on college campuses appears to be a thing of the past. While the automated telephone support systems tell us that “Your call is important to us”, we know better.

Yet, if we are to be a free society, accommodations have to be made to opposing opinion. Accommodation is not the same as agreement. A lot of people assume that because they express their opinion, this should also include the squelching of opposing thought. There are euphemisms for this, but at the heart, it’s just arrogance and then using whatever clout they can deliver to silence any possible opposition. If we are to remain a dynamic society, there has to be freedom of expression and freedom of thought. To do otherwise is to slowly grind our society down into a bland and shapeless mass of mediocrity.

A startling number of politicians, at all levels of government, have reached office by the slimmest of majorities.  It is no longer sufficient for a politician to simply play the numbers and say that because they won, they have the right to do anything that they want.  Regardless of who voted for them, they have the obligation to serve, as best they can, every citizen of our Republic.  Because the reality is that in recent years, almost half of the people that voted didn’t vote for them.

One of television’s lasting legacies for our society is that we expect problems to be concluded in 60 minutes, less time for commercials, but life doesn’t work that way.  The reality is that some things are never over and that we need to reach a sense of accommodation and acceptance.

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A word of explanation: I reside in the Fourth Congressional District of Georgia, which has been represented by several different Congress people over the years of my residence. In recent weeks (January, 2007), we have seen the departure of a tumultuous figure, Cynthia McKinney. Presumably, McKinney has moved on to the world of the academia, where fractious and outrageous behavior is a necessary part of any complete Curriculum Vitae.

Those in the northern area of DeKalb County who remain are quietly relieved, but last summer, in July, 2006, I could not leave well enough alone:

*****

Over the years, DeKalb County has developed a reputation for rough and tumble politics. There have been exceptions, such as the modestly liberal Elliott Levitas, who represented DeKalb in the U. S. Congress for ten years, but overall, DeKalb’s political representatives have been flamboyant. They also have periodically been controversial. The steady Levitas was replaced by Patrick Swindall in 1985, showing the power of getting out the church vote and by catching Levitas flat footed late in the campaign. Swindall would then flame out spectacularly after four years, leading to the election of television star Ben Jones, who also served for four years. After Jones, conservative John Lindner did his four year tour in the 4th Congressional post.

In 1996, the 4th district was redrawn in such a way that a “safe” district was created for a black congress person. It is in that environment that Cynthia McKinney was elected. Given free rein, McKinney has taken flamboyance to an entirely new level and there have been collateral damages from her political stance. To her supporters, who are numerous in certain areas of her district, she is bold and unbowed by the political power structure. To her detractors, she is an irrational radical more concerned with her own agenda than that of the voters in the District. There are few middle of the road opinions about McKinney.

But an inability to work and play well with others has its consequences, as many tax payers in the 4th District can tell you. Her outspokenness has garnered vast coverage in the national media, making her one of the Republican Party’s most effective fund raisers. It has also earned her a seething dislike in certain areas of the congressional district. Her blatant political stance results in unanswered requests from 4th District constituents who happen to live in areas where she does not have political support. In an attempt to ease this situation, the map of the 4th District has been repeatedly adjusted to bring voters into other more friendly districts; Dunwoody and the Emory area are two recent examples. Yet, there are still others who remain in limbo, paying taxes but getting no representation; and not seeing their tax dollars spent in their District. To further exacerbate the problem, McKinney’s controversial positions have resulted in her general political ineffectiveness. It is unlikely that she could get a resolution declaring National Peach Week passed in Congress.

McKinney is not invincible. Four years ago, the seething dislike in the electorate bubbled over, resulting in her defeat by a relative political unknown, Denise Majette. Majette had quietly been attending neighborhood meetings, showing that there was a moderate alternative. The campaign was classic DeKalb, culminating with what many refer to as The Phone Call, when a series of unsolicited telephone calls were made to potential voters. This call, sponsored by an unknown party, featured a very official sounding voice telling voters that it was against the law to cross over and vote in a primary other than that of their own party. It was a classic example of dirty political campaigning, untrue and meant to deceive the voters. But it also had an unintended consequence, for many otherwise Republican voters soon discovered that they could indeed cross over and vote in the Democratic primary. It also alerted Democratic voters that there was an upcoming primary. In this primary, Majette defeated McKinney. Although there was extensive research at the behest of the McKinney camp into the impact of crossover voting, there was the reality that even if you removed all of the possible crossover votes, there still were enough truly Democratic voters to have made the difference. There could be no denying that the voters of the 4th District wanted McKinney out and Majette was their vehicle for that message. Two years later, for reasons unknown, Majette decided to attempt a run for the United States Senate, an apparent act of political hara-kiri. And, McKinney was back at home in her congressional seat again.

Now two controversial years later, McKinney is again facing substantial opposition. It is in that environment that the disenfranchised voters of north DeKalb gathered to meet their candidate, attorney Hank Johnson. As with Majette, Johnson is attractive because of whom he is not. He is not Cynthia McKinney, which may be enough for more than a few voters in the 4th District. That is also substantially unfair to Johnson, who has earlier been a representative on the DeKalb County Commission, another venue for rough and tumble politics. That experience has given Johnson political exposure on a lower level, and he has become a known political entity in the District. And, there is more.

McKinney’s support has eroded in the community and there is little reason to detail her vibrant position on certain issues. Anyone who is within the reach of television, radio, print media or carrier pigeon is already well aware of her views on geopolitical issues. A look at the career list of McKinney’s donors reads like the Cairo telephone book. Because it is a career list of donors, it is impossible to tell who is currently giving her campaign money, but sprinkled amongst these donors are some interesting names such as Jane Fonda and Danny Glover. Also appearing in this list are names such as City of Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and Marvin Arrington, presumably not current supporters but a reminder of the fact that McKinney was once well regarded in the Democratic Party.

Her campaign style in this election cycle has been a deafening silence, which more than a few consider to be a blessing. The campaign strategy has been to avoid media contact lest she say yet another thing out of school which the media would pounce upon, landing her in further trouble with the electorate. In the initial primaries, she refused to debate with the other candidates, but with an impending runoff, she has finally agreed to debate Johnson. It should make for morbid television, with the pundits waiting impatiently for yet another controversial statement. There should be plenty of opportunity.

At McKinney’s primary night “victory party”, Cindy Sheehan and Medea Benjamin, two doyennes of the antiwar left, were in considerable presence. Sheehan is already a familiar face, but the lesser known Benjamin is a great fan of Dr. Castro and presumably these two ladies were meant to enhance the stellar character of the primary night event. But no amount of loud music and television klieg light could change the fact that McKinney had drawn fewer votes than necessary and was headed into a runoff. And several parts of the 4th Congressional District realized that McKinney could, once again, be defeated.

The effect has been electric. The Atlanta Journal Constitution has been absolutely breathless about the race. Not a day goes by without an article about the contest, with front page coverage in one instance. Local talk show host Neal Boortz has spent years pointedly razzing the voters of the 4th District for continuing to vote for Cynthia McKinney. Now, with the prospect of her repeated loss, he has withdrawn from comments on the election, which may be a blessing equal to McKinney’s silence on the issues. The media are keenly aware that change is afoot.

The excitement among certain parts of the electorate is palpable, and flurries of e-mails have been exchanged about the matter. As part of the effort to rid the 4th of McKinney, a Meet Hank Johnson event was held on the patio of a north DeKalb restaurant on Wednesday, July 26th. Normally prayer meeting night, the event was filled with perhaps 300 enthusiastic individuals. There were more than a few political lights present also, who could be immediately recognized since they were wearing suits and ties, inappropriate attire for 90 degree weather. Periodically, jet aircraft would taxi by on their way to the hangers at DeKalb Peachtree Airport. Standing under a tree, Johnson quietly spoke about his desire to represent all of the people in the 4th District. Of course, he was preaching to the choir, but it also was proof that a possible victory was near at hand. Liane Levitan spoke and then walked around the crowd with a red Hank Johnson campaign hat, collecting checks and cash from the assembled supporters. It is hard to tell if their enthusiasm was more for Hank Johnson or for the eviction of Cynthia McKinney, but there were loud voices of support.

It is inevitable that there is a racial component in the 4th District Congressional run-off race because the McKinney camp has posited it for years. It’s impossible to ignore but difficult for many people to discuss. Regardless of who wins the run-off and the general election in November, the 4th District will be represented by a black person. But because the McKinney camp has taken such a radical view of the voters based on racial identity, it also leaves her in a position of possibly narrowing voter support. For, in quiet moments, more than a few voters who have previously supported her must consider her ineffectiveness in Congress, a problem which draws across racial lines. And in that moment, a voter coalition is born. The proof of that possible coalition will occur on Tuesday, August 8th, when voters from across the 4th District go to the polls.

For the moment, Hank Johnson is “Mr. Right-Now” with many voters, simply someone who is not McKinney. Political representation is a two way street, and properly done, there is a true relationship between the voters and their elected representatives. Those who represent us can reflect our political concerns. While the racial component of the 4th District has changed over the years, the need for a hardworking middle of the road politician has not. The right person for that job is a moderate who is willing to serve all of his constituents; like former Congressman Elliott Levitas did thirty years ago. The map of the 4th District has changed over the years because of computer driven political tinkering, but the need for reliable representation in Washington has only grown. If you look at his positions on issues and his political roots in the 4th District, Hank Johnson may be Mr. Right.

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This is a copy of an email sent to a friend who teaches political science. It was written on the evening of August 21, 2002 and involves local politics in Georgia. McKinney would be voted out of office that year, but elected again two years later. Two years later, she was out again.

It occurs to me that I do have an unusual obligation to you. To wit, I have been right at the 50-yard line of the action in one of the country’s most interesting primaries, one involving Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. Ms. McKinney’s reputation precedes her, and this note will not address the validity of her statements. Rather, we will dwell on the race itself.

For ten years, Ms. McKinney has held forth in my Congressional district, most of which lies within DeKalb County. We don’t really see her all that much at this end of the County, since her political power base is located at the South end of the district. The district has changed over the years. Originally, DeKalb was a sleepy suburban county next to the City of Atlanta. It was marked by quiet streets and an almost rural nature. Cattle still grazed in several areas. Local politics also had a rural flavor, and the Congressman that was in office when I arrived back in Atlanta in 1972 was Mr. Elliott Levitas. A moderate Democrat, Levitas was Jewish and nobody in the County seemed to care very much about that fact. He was (and, I believe, still is) a decent guy who worked hard to serve his constituents.

That was to change with the arrival of Pat Swindall. What’s in a name? Swindall was a conservative Republican who overwhelmed the Levitas political camp by working the conservative churches, drumming out the religious vote. Of course, having a person of the Jewish persuasion in office made Swindall’s task easier in those confines, and Levitas was quickly swept from office. I quickly developed a strong dislike for Swindall, who was far more white bread and sacrosanct than the law allows. He and his plastic wife frequently were photographed in family scenes created for the benefit of his portion of the electorate. His enthusiasm for his wife was evidenced by continuing growth of the Swindall family. She seemed to be eternally pregnant. In fact, it was only Swindall’s being dispatched to prison on bribery charges that slackened that pace. And so, as Pat was led off to the Graybar Hotel, John Lindner entered the scene.

A conservative Republican, Lindner held office in the 4th District for at least two terms. They all blend together after a while. In any case, Lindner moved northward into another suburban county and into the vacuum came Cynthia McKinney. Like her father, Billy McKinney (another local politician), Cynthia played racist hard ball. Like Swindall, she worked up her supporters with a brew of “Us versus them”. She determined that she only needed the votes in a certain portion of the County, and could get elected and stay elected by only appealing to that portion. Until recent months, it was an extremely successful formula. But there always was a whiff of corruption; one of her strongest voting precincts usually showed a 95% participation rate. I don’t know of any community that can get 95% of its residents to do anything. There were charges of interfering with an election. And on.

As a consequence of her political calculus, we never saw her at this end of the County, which was particularly irritating. I make out checks to the U. S. Treasury four times a year, and with Ms. McKinney in office, I knew that I was highly unlikely to ever see any of those dollars back here again. In the same way, telephone calls and correspondence to her office on official matters went unanswered. Why should they care? They did not need us to get reelected. And so, the North end of the County seethed without recourse.

The matter was seemingly exacerbated further when the Georgia General Assembly performed its magic after the 2000 census. If Gerry had computers he could have done no better job. The state now has a new Congressional district, one that snakes its way along the West side of the state, encompassing an inordinately large number of Democrats. Not a big surprise since the General Assembly is dominated by the Democratic Party. Likewise, they structured the Fourth Congressional district in such a way that no Republican candidate could stand a chance of success. In this sense, the General Assembly’s changes had not been that radical in the 4th, since that had been that stasis which allowed McKinney to continue.

In the past, several Republicans had made a game try of it. One, a Ms. Sunny Warren, had some possible chance, being a black woman. But, largely, the 4th Congressional race usually was over by the primary. Not that there weren’t some moments. In one race, the Republican du jour was a Mr. Mitnick. Things got nasty early, and reached a political crescendo when Ms. McKinney’s father made some anti-semitic comments about Mr. Mitnick. Now, it was Republicans and Jewish people who were seething in the 4th. Yet, Ms. McKinney continued in office through hard ball politics.

One characteristic of the 4th’s politics is that local churches play a role in the action. Note that the synagogues don’t usually get into that game, a telling comment of the religion. In the 2000 Congressional race, the minister of one 25,000 member church made the mistake of supporting Ms. McKinney’s opponent in the race. The next year, Governor Roy Barnes budgeted $750,000.00 for a community outreach program with this church, but it was Billy McKinney who denied the church’s grant, saying that it was a waste of money. The minister learned his lesson, coming out and supporting McKinney in this year’s primary. Some people seem destined to bad decisions.

This time last year, things looked like it was going to be business as usual in the 4th Congressional District. And, of course, everything changed.

The first hint on the horizon was when a quiet Yale educated former County judge named Denise Majette showed up at our civic association meeting in May. She walked around and introduced herself, left some brochures and then went her merry way. Unlike previous victims, this woman was running in the primary against Ms. McKinney instead of running in the general election. She had been a County judge, running on the Democratic ticket. Her quiet resolve was interesting, but the oddsmakers at that evening’s meeting did not give her much of a chance. But there was this faint glimmer of hope, and we all held onto that.

Meanwhile, up in Washington, a Disneyland for politicians, Ms. McKinney was expanding her outrageous style. Her Congressional record has largely consisted of grabbing an aisle seat at the State of the Union so that she can try and slip her tongue into the mouth of the sitting President as he passes by on the way to the podium. Beyond that, her office has managed to get the Congress to deliberate on the benefits of declaring “Peach Week” and ribbon cutting at a local post office. But there were indications that her world was beginning to fall apart.

The McKinney family has always been prone to making statements which inflame, but Ms. McKinney was to really outdo herself with comments about George Bush the Younger having known in advance about the events of September 11th, and doing nothing about it because his business friends would benefit financially. Now the whole country was beginning to get twitchy about her, and a movement was born. Down on Marietta Street, the Atlanta Journal Constitution editorial board began to quietly grease the rails.

It soon became apparent that much of McKinney’s campaign money was coming from people with Arabic sounding names that resided in places outside the 4th Congressional District. Meanwhile, her opponent, Ms. Majette was quietly going about the County using words like “work together”. It was a siren call to the disaffected. It also open the floodgates of money coming from outside of the District into her campaign.

And, an interesting political matter arose. Unlike many states, Georgia has open primaries, which means that you don’t need to carry a party id card to get into the polls. And, given the generally weak nature of the GOP in the state of Georgia, it usually didn’t matter. But, again quietly, word began to circulate about Republicans coming to the polls and voting for Majette.

The icing on this cake came in a letter to the editor of the Journal. It said, in effect, that the General Assembly had configured the 4th in such a way that no Republican stood a chance of winning the election anyway, so what was wrong with Republicans going to the polls and trying to have some input in the election of their Congressperson? The disaffected breathed a knowing “Ahhhh”. And the race was on. Of course, in the backs of several minds was the memory of the last time that Republicans crossed over en masse to vote in the Democratic primary. Lester Maddox became governor because of that crossover vote. But Majette was a moderate, and played to a moderate campaign.

The campaign leading up to the primary was classic McKinney. Truth may be the first casualty in war, but in this race, truth didn’t get much play from the McKinney camp in the first place. Somehow, Majette wasn’t black enough; McKinney loyalists began calling her “Tomette” for being too friendly with the white folks. As things heated up in the final day of the race, Ms. McKinney’s father was broadcast by local television stations saying that “The Jews own everything”. And, just in case nobody heard him say it, he spelled it out: “J-E-W-S”.

In the week prior to the primary, our published telephone line had been constantly ringing with recorded messages from political candidates encouraging us to vote for them on primary day. Some of the calls were live, and a source of great amusement for me. One earnest young thing called and launched into her prearranged script. “Joe Blow is involved in a heavily contested race for Dog Catcher….” I stopped her and asked: “Who’s running against Joe Blow?” “What?” “Who’s running against Joe Blow?” “I don’t know.” But without a doubt, the real motivator came with The Phone Call.

This one featured a VERY authoritarian recorded voice saying: “Attention Republicans! It is against the law to cross over and vote in another party’s primary…. Observers will be at the polls to insure that only those qualified to vote in a party’s primary will be able to do so. Etc.” Of course, it was classic late-in-the-campaign dirty politics; by the time that the truth actually emerges, the primary election will simply be a memory. But The Phone Call caught the 4th on fire, and those who might not have planned on going to the polls suddenly were penciling in an appointment.

The media has made much of the fact that The Phone Call was directed to Republicans, but, in fact, it appears that all voters in the northern end of the District were contacted. The tone of the call was intimidating, and voter intimidation is a felony in the State of Georgia. Technology being what it is, the perpetrator of The Phone Call will eventually be discovered. In all likelihood, it originated with the McKinney campaign, which also took to using old political endorsements from Robert Redford, Andrew Young, Ralph Nader and even ol’ Bill Clinton hisself; the Redford camp is “outraged” (these days, who isn’t?), etc. But, The Phone Call appears to be developing a life of its own, and I silently pray that it did, indeed, come from the McKinney camp and not from another party. For if it came from another party, the consequences are going to be unpredictable.

But as the sun rose on August 20, voters streamed to the polls with intent. The turnout at the polls was higher than usual in the 4th, indicating that The Phone Call might have worked in an unanticipated manner. Still using punch cards, vote counts were slower than usual, presumably in an effort to avoid another Broward County hoohah. My lovely bride and I finally turned out the lights late in the evening, hopeful that The Great Satan was going to be retired. In the morning, I collected the Journal Constitution from the inside of my shrubs, peeled back the plastic and was delighted to learn that Denise Majette had won. So, it was an interesting race.

And, there is one other loose end. Ms. Majette is not elected yet; she still has to face a Republican contender. Because of the low turnout and because of the presence of several candidates, there is a runoff in a couple weeks between two women for the Republican candidacy. Given that many who would have voted for these candidates under ordinary circumstances now cannot do so in the runoff, it makes for an unusual campaign. There were so few voters in the Republican primary that both of these candidates could visit with each voter individually, have a cup of coffee, perhaps send a fruit box from Harry & David…….. The results remain to be seen.

See you at the polls,

*****

Now that the dust has settled, it appears that about 12,000 to 15,000 Republican voters crossed over in the primary. Their crossover vote did not ultimately affect the outcome of the primary election. You always remember things after you hang up the phone; before Levitas were James Makay and Ben Blackburn. After Swindall and before Lindner was Ben Jones.

A few other vignettes were lost along the way. Opponents created the “goodbycynthia.com” site, devoted to that topic. At the McKinney campaign celebration party, a large group of homeless men who had been hired for campaigning purposes grew restive when a rumor circulated that they would not be paid. No word about the final outcome.

In the dust of the primary, a group of “concerned” black clergy met to discuss recent events. There was no condemnation of Billy McKinney’s comments. Indeed, one clergyman came out of the meeting and suggested to the media that the Jews owed black people an apology. Billy McKinney also finds himself in a political quandary; he is in a run-off election in two weeks for the Democratic nomination for his House district. There is also talk about eliminating crossover voting, but it seems unlikely. The freedom to crossover and vote in another party’s primary dates back to the Reconstruction.

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This is some neighborhood political stuff from 2006. The LCI Study (Livable Centers Initiative) in question involves the neighborhood center of Brookhaven, which is in the northeast sector of Atlanta. The LCI Study used $80,000.00 worth of Federal tax dollars and $20,000.00 worth of DeKalb County, Georgia tax dollars to determine what the residents of the neighborhood wanted their place to look like. The Study was promptly thrown overboard by a Miami developer who was pleading their cause before the DeKalb County Commission. The Commission helped toss the Study over the gunnels in exchange for greater tax revenues from the developer’s oversized project.  [The project is being built as anticipated by the developer; of course, all those residential units and retail spaces are going to have to be filled before there are any tax dollars of consequence.]

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Long before Dilbert came onto the scene, the concept of “slacking” was a part American cultural scene, perhaps even the world’s. That is, appearing to be doing something while, in fact, not doing something is a vital key to success in Corporate America. Put otherwise, a little hard work never hurt anybody, but why take chances? For politicians, there is a similar approach. When an issue arises, it is important to be seen as actually doing something about the problem. Consider a few modern day examples:

1). The death penalty for child molesters. It is, after all, the silly season, when the political consultants spit on their hands, look at the focus group results and push their candidate into posturing before the media, exhorting us to vote for them because “They are doing something about the problem.” So, we have a candidate for governor advocating public execution of those who even the people in prison hate; never mind that getting the death penalty actually applied is nigh impossible in these modern days. But, we’re doing something.

2). Cell phone usage while having an automobile accident. [DeKalb County made it illegal to be talking on your cell phone and causing an accident as a result]. There is a portion of the population that should not be driving, much less doing so while on the phone at the same time. Clearly, this is a compelling reason for the application of the death penalty, but the practice is so pervasive that enforcement of the law in that manner would decimate the voting population. Of course, short of having a time stamped video of the accident, it’s going to be hard to prove this one in a court of law, with things devolving down to “He said” and “She said”. Now gaining telephone records through the honored social engineering skill of call “pretexting” has fallen into disgrace, so proving this will be even more difficult. So, instead, we come up with some fancy signs and a press conference. But, we’re doing something.

3). The LCI Study. The focus groups tell the politicians that people are buzzed about losing control of their neighborhoods. It’s almost like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland; “Yeah! We’ll just do a study, right out there in the barn”. So, a bunch of people who actually care about Brookhaven get together to conduct a long series of meetings to arrive at what they want their neighborhood to look like. But, since this is a political animal, there are no enforcement provisions put in place, so it doesn’t matter what people came up with once a big developer with deep pockets shows up in the neighborhood. But, we’re doing something.

4). DeKalb Neighborhood Overlay Ordinance. This hot little idea came about when the Hillside neighborhood and others were under siege from the McMansion marketers. The idea was that the neighborhoods would determine what they wanted the houses being built to look like. I asked a politico “Who determines the limits of the neighborhoods?” Her answer was that the neighborhoods themselves determine that; which is really pretty vague. In my feeble mind, this would mean that Ashford Park could lay claim to Brookhaven Fields, telling us what they wanted. So, do you see a pattern developing here? But, we’re doing something.

Eventually the silly season will pass and we can all get back to whatever it is that we occupy ourselves with; but, we’re just another press conference away from another political “solution”.

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