Send the children from the room. Or at least have sense enough to cover their ears.
We’re about to have a debate over whether the formally non-partisan Atlanta mayoral race has been infiltrated – and possibly subverted – by closet Republicanism.
Each of the major candidates, seeking to rule over a Democratic town, admits to having Republican friends. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But none condone the GOP lifestyle, or admit to heavy Republican influence.
Last Thursday, three Democratic state lawmakers condemned mayoral candidate and Council President Lisa Borders for consorting with Fulton County Commissioner Lynne Riley, who will host a fund-raiser for Borders this week.
For the TV cameras, the complaint by the trio – all supporters of mayoral rival Kasim Reed – focused on Riley’s support for a movement to allow north Fulton to secede from the rest of the county, and form a new Milton County. Which Borders quickly disavowed.
The real but unspoken issue was the fact that Riley is a Republican. “That’s her right, I suppose,” said state Sen. Vincent Fort.
The Reed campaign points more forcefully to Borders’ campaign chairman and ex-employer, Tom Bell, the former CEO of Cousins Property. Bell was the chief fund-raiser for GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson, a lifelong friend.
Bell is also involved in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce effort to derail the Democratic health care reform effort. No, check that. Barack Obama’s health care reform effort. The Borders-Bell relationship “just reeks of Republicanism,” said Reed spokesman Reese McCranie.
During her employment with Cousins, Borders also handled distribution of Cousins’ campaign contributions. Many of the checks went to Republicans.
Borders spokeswoman Liz Flowers said her candidate merely pushed the paperwork and wasn’t part of the decision-making.
Borders spoke in her own defense. “At a time when my opponents are making up reasons to be divisive, the next mayor of Atlanta must be focused on how to bring this region together, on water, transportation and a host of other issues. We cannot afford to stand apart,” she said.
But just in case, the Borders campaign also noted that Reed has accepted $2,400 from former U.S. senator Alphonse D’Amato of New York, a once-powerful Republican.
“Should we now expect Kasim to change his political allegiance?” Flowers said. Several GOP state lawmakers, colleagues from the Legislature, have also given Reed cash.
And if Reed is such an unflinching Democrat, why, Flowers asked, did the former state senator vote for a resolution this spring that endorsed states’ rights – a cause that makes hardcore Republican hearts thrum? (The measure was “snuck” through, Reed campaigners explained.)
Then there’s the case of Councilwoman Mary Norwood, who describes herself as neither red nor blue, but short and purple. Yes, it’s true that Norwood was a delegate to the 1999 state GOP convention, admitted Roman Levit, her campaign manager.
But she was there for the best of causes – trying, unsuccessfully as it turned out, to steal robo-call business from Ralph Reed, the official bogeyman of the Democratic party. “Someone asked her if she would be willing to be a delegate, and she said yes out of curiosity,” Levit explained.
She was just experimenting.
Norwood “left that convention completely turned off to party politics,” Levit said. And did he mention that Norwood committed to Obama a full year before she voted for him in the Democratic presidential primary?
Moreover, Norwood favors gay marriage, abortion rights, and health care reform, Levit said. “She’s not having fund-raisers held by people who want to tear Fulton County apart.”
There’s no question that much of this debate over partisanship is a debate over race, expressed in only slightly more genteel terms.
And some of it is the bare-knuckled business of politics. Reed, backed by most labor unions, has the most to gain if the race becomes a Democratic primary. Borders may have the most to lose.
But there is more to the conversation than that. A flood of people that are changing the city of Atlanta into something younger, something a shade whiter, and something wealthier.
The question is whether that something is more Republican — or at least more tolerant of people with Republican friends. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
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