On September 12, as part of its fiftieth anniversary celebration, Atlanta magazine invited every living mayor of Atlanta to come together for a discussion of the city—where it’s been and where, amid the challenges of a dismal economy and a battered public education system, it’s going. From Sam Massell to Kasim Reed, every mayor accepted. (Shirley Franklin, unfortunately, had to bow out at the last minute.)
The roundtable, held at the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead, was moderated by Douglas Blackmon, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Slavery by Another Name and senior national correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. Previously, while at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Blackmon covered City Hall during the late Maynard Jackson’s second administration and Bill Campbell’s first term.
Nothing was off the table, and over two hours, the mayors spoke at length about their legacies, their priorities, and the “Atlanta way” of getting things done. What follows is a transcript of the discussion, edited for length and clarity.
Photograph by Gregory Miller
Douglas Blackmon Mayor Massell, you were the city’s last white mayor and you served one term, but that was also at a point when Atlanta’s population in 1970 was about half a million, essentially the peak of the population of the city. Through the seventies and the eighties, there was a tremendous decline in the population of the city—even though there was a facade of great success and growth—and the schools went into a kind of prolonged crisis, ultimately. How would you play it differently?
Sam Massell This was the transformation of Atlanta. This was the time when Atlanta changed from a majority white population to a majority black population—the time when Atlanta changed from white business control of the government to a black political control of the government. This was a time in Atlanta that had never happened before and will never happen again. And it took tremendous effort from everybody involved, and you know, the leadership of Atlanta is what makes Atlanta great. It’s not the mayors; it’s all of those behind us [on] whose shoulders we stand and those with whom we’ve worked. To overcome fear and hate, to change the attitudes and opinions of the public—to get through that period of transformation was, you know, the challenge and the charge for the mayor, who happened to be me at that time.
Blackmon Ambassador Young, you inherited a city government where Maynard Jackson had come in as the first black mayor and had a tumultuous time, in terms of his relationship with the business community. Your thoughts on the city that you inherited when you became mayor?
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Andrew Young I inherited the city, in some measure, because Sam Massell appointed me as cochair of the Community Relations Commission when I left the SCLC. That kind of made me respectable, coming out of the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement. And so I’ve always been grateful to him for that. Sam was probably the first one, with Jesse Hill, that negotiated the affirmative action agreement on MARTA, and that was what set the pattern of affirmative action. The difference was that Maynard took it to a new level. So instead of just 20 percent of contracts, 25 percent of each and every contract had to be done as a joint venture, so that everything that has been done almost since then was done black and white together, economically. Charlie Loudermilk tells the tale of taking me to visit a group of bankers when I was running for mayor, and they asked me why did I want to be mayor. And I said, “Because I just think the money is drying up in Washington, and we’ve got to find a way to become a part of the global economy.” And I said, “Atlanta’s already an international city; we just have to find a way to institutionalize it.” And Charlie said that when I left, somebody said, “Damn, Charlie, where’d you get that nut from?” It’s always been a creative tension, but black politics can’t really control anything by itself without the business community, and the business community can’t do anything by itself. So we’ve really had a happy marriage.
Blackmon Mayor Campbell, pick up the chronology a little bit. When you became mayor, it was a rather different city. The obvious civil rights struggles were past; there were a different set of challenges on the table. You went into the mayor’s office with probably the most racially diverse group of people in key positions at the top of city government.
Bill Campbell Well, I was, I think, unique in the fact that I had served on the City Council for twelve years, so I had a lot of sort of inside information about the government and how I thought it should run. The most important thing was the Olympics coming to Atlanta [in 1996]. When I was elected in ’93, I was a relatively unknown council member. And there was no one that was anointed, which of course happens an awful lot in black politics, but was not the case in my race. There were three prominent African American people that were running. But the Olympics sort of overshadowed it all. I’ll never forget that Maynard came to my house Saturday morning and said, “I’ve decided not to run for reelection.” It was such a cataclysmic announcement. Because this was one of the people who really had been the most dominant figure in Atlanta politics over the last forty years. Mayor Hartsfield and Mayor Ivan Allen played a great role in shaping the city, but Maynard was such an outsized personality that really made Atlanta. The modern Atlanta is really a byproduct of so much of what Maynard did, and what Maynard said, and how Maynard presented himself. I came to Atlanta because of what Maynard had done for Atlanta. So taking up the challenge of trying to prepare the city in ’94 and ’95 for the Olympic Games in ’96 really required an enormous coordination.
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I’ve always felt, in my administration, a real obligation to make certain that whatever happened, that we were proud of it, but also that it was a lasting legacy for the people of Atlanta. After the games, there was sort of a collective sigh, but the city had to go forward, and we had to make certain that we were able to do other things that pushed the Olympic legacy forward. For us in government, the most important task that we faced was public housing. Atlanta had more public housing per capita than any other city in the country. And not only did we have more, we had some of the worst public housing. It’s hard to imagine just how dreadful the conditions were. We were not only in the bottom, but HUD was getting ready to take over the Atlanta Housing Authority. The conditions were dismal. There was [an eight-month-old] child who choked to death on a cockroach in Perry Homes, and it was such a horrible, horrible death. And I went to this child’s house in Perry Homes, and this young girl answered the door, and I said, “I’ve come to express my condolences.” And this child couldn’t have been more than thirteen or fourteen, I don’t know, and she said, “Well, I’m the mom,” and that sort of represented the horrendous conditions and everything that was bad about public housing. And I said to my administrators at that time, “If we don’t do anything else, public housing has to change.” And we did so. And we went from being the worst public housing to being the best public housing.
Blackmon Mayor Reed, so Sam Massell put us on the path to the racial equilibrium that we’re on today. Andy Young got the Olympics for us. Bill Campbell took care of public housing. Shirley Franklin attacked the sewers, the water problems. So what is left for you?
Kasim Reed Every mayor saw something that they had to take on, or the city that we know today would be a far different place. And for me—I’m about twenty-two months in office now—it was pension reform. Because when I came into office, we owed a billion and a half dollars in pension liability that, if we had the same financial performance that we’ve had over the previous ten years, would have become a $4 billion liability. And Atlanta doesn’t have a solution for a $4 billion problem in the general fund—there is none. When you can’t pay your pension liability, the first thing the state does is take their sales tax, and the second thing they do is take your charter. So the consequences are very clear, and I campaigned on that. That was my challenge. And it was the nastiest, roughest, worst thing that I could have gone through, but I think that that’s the contribution to the city.
I really don’t view my time in office in the way that I think that my predecessors did, because I think that my time in office really is for somebody else. Let me tell you why: In 2008 the general fund budget for the City of Atlanta was $640 million-plus. My budget that I just passed was $547 million. So we’ve experienced a $100 million contraction and have to work through that. So I really believe that another mayor, probably not me, is going to inherit a city that has cash reserves up. We’ll have taken on pension reform, we’ll have finished the construction of a water and sewer system, we’ll not have raised property taxes, and then at some future time the budget will get back to about 2008 [levels], and that mayor will have 100 to 110 million dollars in unencumbered cash. And I think they will be in a posture to really do things that few of us have ever had the opportunity to do. So I view my job as a job of finishing things that others started. We will finish the Civil and Human Rights museum, we will finish Hartsfield-Jackson Maynard H. Jackson International Terminal, finance the debt of $1.5 billion, we will finish the water and sewer work. All this work was related to my predecessors, so when I’m leaving, I’m leaving it done.
Young We’ve never had a relationship with the state government like the one we have now. I think I had a very good relationship with [former] Speaker [Tom] Murphy, and in my time, that was enough. Kasim had to count on relationships with the Republican state legislators to get all those things done. The other thing that he has is a personal relationship with President Obama. That’s one of the reasons why I’m very hopeful about the Savannah port—which again is an example of Atlanta’s vision. The Panama Canal is going to be widened. The supertankers that come through there don’t have anywhere to dock on the East Coast. And the first port that expands to make way for the supertankers is going to be the port that generates the development on the East Coast.
Massell Kasim has definitely given us a great asset by having this relationship with the state. And you might not even know this, but it was 1905 the last time somebody from the legislature of Georgia was elected to the mayorship of Atlanta. But I also wanted to defend the state a minute. When we created MARTA in the early seventies, we had to go to the state to get a means of financing it. It was my idea that we would try to finance it with the sales tax, which everybody said was impossible to do because nobody had a sales tax for the state of Georgia. No city had a sales tax, no county had a sales tax, no school board had a sales tax, no authority had a sales tax, and we were asking for the right to put on the sales tax of 1 percent in order to fund MARTA. And the state agreed to it.
Young It was the Lester Maddox government that agreed to it.
Massell Well, he was in control, so he’s the one that made us reduce the percentage of that sales tax and reduce the operations, and that was unfortunate, but that was a trade-out we had to make. But the House incentive passed that opportunity. So there have been times when the state has come forward to work with us, and it behooves us always to build on that relationship.
Blackmon Mayor Reed, I was in Washington not all that long ago and I heard a story from someone at the White House about you coming to visit the White House and you bringing with you Governor Deal and some of the other legislative leaders. At some point [Obama adviser] Valerie Jarrett pulled you off to the side and said, “Why the heck did you come up here with these crazy white Republicans?”
Reed That was a $270 million trip. We got a $270 million TIFIA [Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act] loan—one of eight states in the United States of America—and it was largely because Governor Deal and I went together. My view is this: If we’re really going to break down the two Georgia divides, you gotta show it. When we show leadership as a capital city and go and help other municipalities and governments, that really moves this conversation about two Atlantas to a different place. And then it makes it much easier when Atlanta has a challenge. I think that Governor Perdue, Mayor Massell, and I worked tirelessly on the Georgia 400 toll. I mean, almost nobody knows about it, and the AJC didn’t know about it until the day of the vote, but we worked tirelessly to pass a resolution that now will use half of the money from the Georgia 400 toll to fund $63 million in infrastructure improvements for Buckhead. And we’ve been trying to get the exits in Buckhead fixed for how long?
Massell Twenty-four years.
Reed Twenty-four years. The point is that Governor Perdue, Mayor Massell, and I, and a small group of other people, made an agreement passing the continuation of the toll. If that toll had to come off, it would’ve been horrible for Buckhead. Traffic would have gone up in Buckhead by about 18 percent, and on top of that, you’d have had a bunch of people driving through Buckhead just looking around and who don’t know where they’re going. That kind of cooperation really delivered concrete results.
Blackmon The most pressing anxiety in Atlanta is not just the cheating scandal with Atlanta Public Schools, but the larger questions about the future of Atlanta Public Schools, the leadership of Atlanta Public Schools, the partnership between the business community and the public sector around schools. A lot of things that people assumed were reliable and on the right path have proven to be in doubt. I’ve been involved in a lot of school reform myself, and my personal view is that Atlanta Public Schools, for too long, was too focused on a very narrow vision of trying to provide better education for the poorest African American children, which is of course perhaps the most important objective of the APS over the last thirty years, but too narrow of one and actually led to a ghettoization of the public schools, in a sense. My personal view is that it’s time for the mission of Atlanta Public Schools to serve a much bigger, broader, more diverse, eclectic population of people in the city, but I’m not sure how that can be accomplished.
Young Well, let me say you’re wrong. The putting together of the Atlanta Public Schools system—black and white together, under the leadership of Judge Griffin Bell—this is probably the only place in America where the federal judge let the plaintiffs sit around the table and decide what is it that they wanted. And then he wrote that as the court order. And so what we wanted was high-quality education for all of the citizens of Atlanta. And to do that, we had to have a desegregation not only of the student body, but we had to have desegregation of the administration. And that was the Atlanta trade-off. We wanted an integrated school system, but we wanted everybody to participate in the vision and curriculum development. I think that worked extremely well. And I’ll get in trouble for saying this, but I think that what happened was we lost confidence in the teachers and administrators who had grown up here, and brought in people from outside to run the school system. Coming out of New York [where former APS superintendent Beverly Hall once worked], you had an adversarial relationship between teachers and unions in the community. We never had that. The teachers, by and large, ran the school system and the politics in the city of Atlanta. And we produced good students. We were taking kids from the projects, from the housing projects, and we were sending them to the finest schools in America on scholarship. So the school system was working. Now, the testing mechanism might not have been working, but I’ve never passed a test in my life, and I have often wanted to challenge the Journal-Constitution staff and the state legislature to all sit down with me and let’s all flunk this CRCT. And let’s throw the CEOs in there, too. We miss what public education’s value is: It’s that you learn to get along with everybody. And you learn to appreciate the diversity around you. Kasim Reed’s leadership didn’t begin at Howard University; it came out of Atlanta schools, and it came out of Atlanta churches. He says that I came and—
Reed Messed up my hair—
Young Messed up his hair when he was ten years old. And I think what I said was, “You got your hair fixed; you better get your head right.”
Reed I’m still mad about that. [laughs]
Blackmon But it’s also true that in 1970 there were about 100,000 children in Atlanta Public Schools, and today there are fewer than 50,000. Of course, the primary—
Young Stupid parents—
Blackmon —explanation for that was massive white flight, or at least—
Young No, no . . .
Young The black middle class left the schools, too. It’s not just racial.
Reed The first thing we had to do was to work through the crisis. Because we could not have a board where the chairman could change on any given day with a simple majority. So we couldn’t have attracted the best-in-class superintendent, because no superintendent was coming under those circumstances. And now, I believe, Chancellor Erroll Davis is the right person to stabilize the system and to prevent us from losing our accreditation. That would have done so much damage that it would have been very difficult for us to continue our reform. The positive outcome as it relates to the cheating scandal is that all of the future progress and reform is going to be real, because nobody is going to believe it and they are going to fact-check it a thousand times. So we’re never going to have a child harmed in the way that they were being harmed before. I also don’t think you’ll have another superintendent that stays as long as Dr. Hall did, and I think that is going to be healthy for the system to have new superintendents who come in who are constantly challenged. And I would also add this: When we implement these series of reforms, I think you’re going to see an unprecedented amount of investment in the APS system in radical reform. But in Atlanta we’re not going to make the mistake that they made in Washington, D.C. And by that I mean, with all of the real progress that they made in other areas, we’re going to treat people well all the way down the line. We’re not going to perp walk teachers out of school and fire teachers in droves, and do all of these draconian things that reformers in other areas are going to do. We are going to do reform the Atlanta way, and there is serious philanthropy that’s going to get behind the reform in Atlanta, and it’s going to be checked, checked, and checked again, and because of that, we’re not going to see the kind of harm that has been done to our boys and girls. We’re going to make these investments, and we’re going to get through this together.
Campbell First of all, it’s a structural problem. No Child Left Behind is a terrible piece of legislation. We’ve focused on this incredibly absurd notion of teaching the test as opposed to teaching the students. The Atlanta Public Schools system functioned tremendously well for many, many years before Dr. Hall came. And it was this preoccupation with testing—and unfortunately it was treating teachers very poorly during her administration, and not listening to teachers, who are the backbone of the institutions—that really allowed things to go awry. We have to go back to the notion of allowing teachers to teach and not having this mindless preoccupation with the notion of 84 percent this year, 87 percent this year. Anybody knows that if you take rats through a maze, if that’s what you tell them they have to do, some way, shape, or form—especially when bonuses or promotions are tied to that—they are going to find a way to do that. And unfortunately the way that they found in many of the schools was not the proper way. From Dr. King to Kasim Reed, Atlanta Public Schools have produced tremendous leaders, and they will again if the teachers are allowed to teach.
Reed I want us to correct, but I don’t want us to overcorrect. I don’t want to run away from tests. Now, I agree with you about No Child Left Behind, but this testing is what it is. If tests are the measure, I believe our kids can test and meet and match up. I just want the improvement to be real.
Blackmon Should Atlanta do what New York City has done, and have the mayor of the city have a much more powerful level of influence?
Reed I don’t want it, but I’ll tell you what, I don’t think we can stand by and let it fail. If you look where we were in this last fiasco involving the board, if we had not gone to the Georgia legislature and gotten authorization to remove the board, we’d still be going through the kind of controversy we had. I think that the systems that have had a strong mayor that’s accountable to the voters outperform those that don’t. Everybody knows who the mayor is. They hold him accountable. Less than 15 percent of the people in the city of Atlanta can name two school board leaders. I think if we don’t see significant improvement that places children at the heart of our culture, then our mayor should take the system.
Blackmon Transportation is a big topic that almost all of you have referenced already, and made your careers on, in some respect. Now we have before us the continuing dilemma of transportation. It sounds a little bit like the kind of talk from your era, when MARTA was being created. But what’s your view, Mayor Massell, on the transportation tax—number one, does it have any chance of passing? A lot of people here are saying no. And should it pass? And number three, if it did pass, would it actually make a difference?
Massell Well, first of all, I whole-heartedly support anything that will improve the needs and methods of transportation. Mobility is like man’s fifth freedom. Without that, people are imprisoned in their neighborhoods and can’t get to work, to school, to church, to shop, or any other amenity that are part of our normal quality of life. The regional approach is positive and one that we should support. The Buckhead Coalition is on record as endorsing the proposed 1 percent sales tax. I don’t want to answer that part about whether it will pass.
Blackmon Sounds ominous. Mayor Young, what is your suggestion?
Young Well, the MARTA referendum passed largely because the most delicate and comprehensive negotiation that has ever been held in a city was held in this city. Mayor Massell led that and we—two counties, Fulton and DeKalb—we only won by 400 votes. So it’s not easy to do. But the sensitivity that was shown in putting that referendum together is what got it passed. I give Hartsfield credit for putting that together, that you can’t have enough progressive people of any one race to move a city forward. So you’ve got to get all the visionary people together, regardless of race, creed, or color, and get them behind a single agenda. If we run this election like we know how to run elections, we can make it—we have to make it pass.
Reed The $3.5 billion in hard construction under Mayor Campbell, preparing this city for the Olympics, drove close to sixty to seventy billion dollars, verifiable, in economic development. You go to London today, they are spending $9 billion for the Olympic Games in preparation. If we pass the regional transportation sales tax, it’s not just about what it’s going to do for mobility in a ten-county area, it’s what the region needs to get out of these very tough times. Everything we’ve done that was big was hard. Mayor Massell talks about MARTA. People ignore the fact that MARTA was up [for a vote] in five counties—but only Fulton and DeKalb accepted it. It was one of the worst things that has ever happened to the region. You talk about do-overs? And that was when the federal government was funding infrastructure eighty-twenty. So we would—if we had had a different electoral outcome—all five counties would have had infrastructure funded 80 percent by federal government, and Fulton and DeKalb have it now because of Mayor Massell and Ambassador Young’s leadership. It was 400 votes. I mean, my point is, everything—Georgia 400 was hard, he got killed for Georgia 400.
Massell I went up in a helicopter over the expressway with a bullhorn, saying, “You want to get out of this mess? Vote yes.” In the Bible Belt, they thought God was telling them.
Reed All I’m saying is, it is hard. But let me tell you what the prize is: The prize is $9 billion in infrastructure investment. $9 billion that’s being spent in a ten-county area of metro Atlanta. We’ve never had that before. If we pass this referendum, we would have more economic activity occurring in metro Atlanta than anywhere in the United States of America. And Atlanta thrives when we stop playing small ball. If anybody thought this was going to be easy, they haven’t been to the Atlanta History Center to listen to the mayors. I mean, it’s going to be tough and all these people are going to say all these horrible things, but you’re going to have to get on a stage like this and tell me what your plan B is for the 57,000 [unemployed] construction workers who are home. You don’t have a plan B.
Blackmon [to Campbell] Earlier, you talked about when the Olympics were coming, one of the major goals of your administration was to make sure benefits of the Olympics were distributed out across the city, and Mayor Young talking about the importance of affirmative action. Has Atlanta changed enough, has our society matured enough in ways that affirmative action—is it time to start backing away a little bit from some of the necessities?
Campbell Absolutely not. One of the great legacies of Maynard Jackson is the commitment to affirmative action. It really has come to define, I think, the greatness of Atlanta, the richness of our diversity, but also the inclusion of all the people who want to move ahead economically. I believe it’s been fundamental to not only the progress in Atlanta, but to the progress in our nation. If you look at the airport as an example, or the infrastructure projects that occurred under virtually every administration that’s represented here, you’re talking about thousands of businesses that were created. You’re talking about hundreds of thousands of young people that went to college because their parents finally have an opportunity to do business with the City of Atlanta that they could not have anywhere else. Or the building of stadiums where they had no opportunity to do that anywhere but Atlanta. So the richness of our heritage is intertwined with affirmative action. And it is necessary now, as it was then, as it will be in the foreseeable future—regrettably, the foreseeable future—and I’d certainly love to be able to say that I don’t think we need it anymore, but it’s sad that we do.
Reed Atlanta is an intentional city. People put a lot of thought into how this city operates and functions. It’s not by mistake that you have different layers of economics in the city that are represented through and through. It’s because there was an intentional effort and drive to weave this tapestry, and it is the reason that businesses invest here. Show me a major American city that has done better on issues of race and cooperation than the city of Atlanta. Show me an American city that has more entrepreneurs of diverse backgrounds starting businesses—that’s not me talking; that’s Forbes magazine talking four months ago.
Blackmon Tell us about the BeltLine.
Reed I think people ought to feel terrific about the BeltLine. In the plan that we’ve passed—the regional transportation $6.1 billion—there was $600 million in that plan for the Atlanta BeltLine. When I got elected, I said I wanted to make the BeltLine a reality faster. Because I don’t like twenty-five-year projects. If you look at what we did by putting $600 million in for it, holding that level of funding, I think that that’s a serious statement. So if you pass [the transportation tax], then you’re going to fund the BeltLine in an unprecedented way. I think the sale of City Hall East is very important for the Atlanta BeltLine. It has a 2 million-square-foot building, and all that was vacant and damaging the Ponce de Leon corridor, damaging the BeltLine; that’s now in the hands of an outstanding private company that’s done buildings like it in New York and in Seattle and in other places. That’s going to be extraordinary. The capital campaign for the Atlanta BeltLine, I think, is $40 million into a $60 million capital. We’re going to continue to use it to expand greenspace. We will achieve the goal of 1,100 acres. So all of the different marks we’re actually expediting, and in a terrible budget year. We put in money to make sure that the greenspaces associated with the BeltLine were funded through the parks department. So on every front that relates to the BeltLine, we’re making rapid progress, and I’m completely committed to it.
Blackmon Bill, you took some hell from people when you were mayor. What was your biggest legacy and your biggest achievement, and what did you learn from them?
Campbell Well, I was honored to be elected mayor. You know, I once was riding in a car with President Clinton and he said, “The best job, the best political job in America, is being a big-city mayor.” Because if you see things that need to be changed, you have the ability to make that change instantly—if you can build community centers, as we did within Adamsville and Washington Park, or you can make certain that Downtown is stabilized, as we did with the tax allocation district. And keeping Philips Arena in Downtown, which is essential for the progress that we’ve seen and making Atlanta a really great, livable city. We also paved sidewalks and streets that had not been paved in many, many years. There’s macro, which was public housing, of course—the transformation there and the Olympics. But it was also the small things that really were the most intimate. Our Senior Citizens Ball with 6,000 seniors crowding into the Hyatt, all dressed and being a part of the city. I know Mayor Reed is following that great tradition. It was a Dream Jamboree that my wife did, of course, with Valerie [Jackson], and with Andy’s wife—these are the things that make a real difference in the day-to-day lives of people. And when you get a chance to see something that needs to be changed, and do it, it allows you to feel as though you’ve really accomplished something. There’s a phrase that is, “We live in cities that we did not build,” and it means we have an obligation to give our children a better world than what we inherited.
Blackmon Well, you can’t claim a legacy yet, Mayor Reed. What have you learned from these men tonight?
Reed I’m always learning from them. I think that’s one of the things that we didn’t talk about was how they continue to care and continue to pour in. It’s just incredible the advice they can give. Because this is a job that unless you’ve had it, you don’t know it—the number of decisions you make every single day that are serious decisions that impact people’s lives. I view my most significant achievement thus far certainly as reforming the pension system, but doing so with a 15–0 vote and with the support of the unions, rather than the way people have done it in Wisconsin and Ohio. So to take on a tough crowd that was real, and that had really bad consequences for the city, but to do it in the Atlanta way, in a way that’s consistent with who we are, treating people with dignity and respect that they deserve, and to know that there is a senior citizen somewhere that is going to go and they’re going to get their pension check and they’re going to cash it—not fifty cents on the dollar, but the whole hundred cents on the dollar—that matters to me. Having that opportunity to be mayor as we build Maynard Holbrook Jackson International Terminal because of what Maynard meant to me just from an exemplar and somebody to look up to like him. When I’m out there reviewing the construction of it, knowing it’s being done in the Atlanta way, in a way that’s diversity inclusive, it makes me smile quite a bit. When I go to all of the recreation centers that we’ve opened, at every single one of them I see kids that look like me doing the stuff that I did. I feel like I’m making sure that this city has the kind of opportunity that allowed me to be the city’s fifty-ninth mayor.
Additional highlights from the roundtable
[Sam Massell on Mayor Bill Hartsfield]
Massell Roy LeCraw was only mayor for one year. LeCraw went off to war in World War II and thought when he came back, he should be given the job back, but Bill Hartsfield didn’t see it that way. Hartsfield was a mayor’s mayor: He was very clever, very intuitive; he knew his city, he loved it, he knew how to get things done. I remember he wanted to get mixed drinks, which was nearly illegal except within the city limits of Atlanta—Fulton County, all the other surrounding jurisdictions didn’t allow mixed alcohol. He wanted to have mixed drinks at the airport, which probably had to be contiguous to annex. It wasn’t in the city limits, so he annexed the highway. That made it contiguous! [laughs] Talk about mixed drinks, he did an even better job than that: He wanted the nice restaurants to be able to serve mixed drinks in Atlanta—this was before the airport deal, because then mixed drinks weren’t even allowed in Atlanta. He called in Herbert Jenkins, who was chief of police, pulled out his law book and thumbed through it, and said, “You see, the definition of wine is twelve percent.” And he said, “You let these restaurants put a shot of Scotch and pour water on top of that, and you call it wine.” And then Atlanta totally became legal! I don’t know why I know so much about these mixed drinks.
He loved the airport. He was the catalyst for us having the world’s greatest airport, because he convinced the then Board of Alderman, which he was a member of, to buy the old Candler Field, which is a racetrack down south of here, and start commercial aviation. Ever since then, he has considered that his baby as long as he was in office.
[Andrew Young on Atlanta Public Schools]
Young Let me express my paranoia. There is a determination to rid America of public education. They don’t want to invest in a public education. It’s part of a small government [movement]. They want everything to go back to the family. I just went up to the women’s prison in North Georgia. The 1,700 women up there, most of them are child-bearing age, and they probably represent 5,000 to 6,000 kids in our public schools somewhere in Georgia. Those kids are very hard to teach. What we have tried to do is we’ve taken all the problems of unemployment, of globalization, of technical advance, and everything that every business is going through, and they’re failing. The American economy right now is not up to the task of dealing with a global economy. And we want the students to pass the tests when the CEOs are not passing [their own] tests, the central bankers are not passing the test. Now to me, it’s the time for creativity; it’s the time for the emergence of new leadership, which I think we’re going to be able to create here in this city. I think it’s unfair to test our teachers and our students right now. I think this is a time for seeking and searching. And in Atlanta it has always been the business leaders working together with the community—black and white—that has come up with a new vision, and I think that I expect that to come out of our numbers.
[Andrew Young and Bill Campbell on the 1996 Olympics]
Young Chicago took the mayor, Oprah Winfrey, and President Obama to bid for the Olympics, and they got kicked out in the first round. Chicago is supposed to be a great city. But they didn’t use the Italian neighborhoods and the Irish neighborhoods and the Polish neighborhoods, and they didn’t mobilize the Jewish community and the Asian community. I get credit for knowing the people, but it wasn’t knowing the people. We were a volunteer organization that started out paying with its own money, and we didn’t ever ask for government funds. And nobody thought we had a chance to win. But every delegate that came here found somebody here who spoke their language, who was doing well, and who hosted them around the city. We had at least seventy of the delegates actually visit Atlanta, and when they came, they found somebody that looked just like them doing well.
Campbell The most important thing that Atlanta has, and the thing that most attracted me when I came here, was these iconic figures that helped to shape the nation. John Lewis and Andy Young are two of the most incredible leaders that our nation has ever produced, and to have the opportunity to serve with both of them—John on the City Council of Atlanta and, of course, now wonderfully in the Congress, and Andy as mayor—we have a chance to talk to people who helped to craft the modern nation that we enjoy today. And this is like having a conversation with Thomas Jefferson. I must say, if Atlanta has a resource, it is these great leaders who have helped to shape the nation. And I think all of us owe them an incredible debt of gratitude to what they’ve done, not only for Atlanta, but for the entire nation.
[Andrew Young on why Chicago, and not Atlanta, produced the first black president]
Young I’m a cynic on this. One, I think that Chicago is a political organization that is run by a machine. It’s not democratic. And I think that they decided that, given the economy and given the state of the world, this was their best chance of holding on to some power within the United States. Now, again, I’m cynical. Or realistic, whichever. You realize that all of the Democratic presidents, since Lyndon Johnson, have come from the South. The South was taking over the political power of the Democratic Party in the nation. And as long as we had these heavy black votes in the South, we would determine who the Democratic nominee was, unless he was a black person from Chicago. Now, no other black person could have gotten elected statewide in any other state, I don’t believe, but Chicago controls enough of Illinois’s politics. And you had a phenomenal candidate. I mean, this is the best-educated, most American-educated president we’ve ever produced. He started in Hawaii, he went to Indonesia, he came back to California, and from California to New York, and from New York to Boston, and from Boston back to Chicago—I mean, he is an all-American boy with a daddy that came from Africa. I mean, he’s like a God-sent world leader. And if this country had any sense, we would get behind him, because it will be a long time before we will have anybody else as far as ability. He’s got the DNA that we need to develop a global socioeconomic order, and it will be a long time before we get somebody else with these kinds of credentials. And if we don’t have somebody else with these kinds of credentials, the world is going to fall apart economically.
[Sam Massell on his greatest accomplishment as mayor]
Massell My greatest accomplishment was getting elected! I’m proudest of MARTA, I guess, because it provides this mobility that means so much to the community. I mean, if you think about a city of this size not having any public transportation, it would be disastrous. It still needs more support. It needs to be expanded, it needs more money, it needs more friends in legislature, but it’s extremely important, moving thousands of people. But more important than that was having the opportunity of being at the controls during the transformation of Atlanta from white to black. And this was something that was coming whether I was there or not, but something that had to be welcomed and woven within the framework of our management, of our leadership, of our interests within the city, so that everybody still felt a part of this city. And I think it was the beginning of a very important time of our lives, and I think we handled it well. I can’t take the credit for it—it happened then, and I was there, and I was at the control, but we had a city council then, as we do now.
[Andrew Young on his legacy as mayor]
Young I was blessed to have been at the UN before I came here. And I was on the Banking Committee when I was in Congress. So I knew that there was no money in Washington, and that there was money in the money centers around the world. And being able to sell that notion to the Chamber and the business community, and organizing trade delegations with Governor Busbee and Governor Joe Frank Harris and others together going around the world, we brought in 1,100 companies from around the world to Atlanta. And it was $70 billion in private direct investment, and it generated a million jobs. Now, I caught hell from the newspapers and the black community, because the black folks said, “Nobody black is getting any jobs, and you were running all over the world.” And I started taking pictures of these high-rise buildings going up, and I had to tell people that when you put up a high-rise building in Atlanta, privately financed by money all over the world, it takes five to six thousand persons to build a fifty-story building almost four years. And then after you build it, it’s six to ten thousand jobs inside it. And just go around Atlanta and look at the food courts and look at the people who are riding up and down the elevators. And you will see—or go to the public schools—and you will see that this is truly an international city. And I think that that gives us a global reach that will keep us a world leader, particularly with the vision that our present mayor has to make this statewide.