One of the open secrets of Shirley Franklin’s eight-year tenure as mayor of Atlanta was her night-owl addiction to local political blogs.
Sometimes under the sobriquet of “Millie Lou,” sometimes under her own name, Franklin would answer critics in detailed fashion — or weigh in with late-night, unfiltered observations on the issue of the day.
It was enough to give any press secretary heartburn.
One year after leaving the mayor’s office, Internet opinionating has a stronger grip on Franklin than ever before. Last week, she launched her own Democratic-oriented political website, Blogging While Blue.
“I come to my own conclusions. There are people who say, well, if you have positions that the governor or mayor or someone doesn’t like, it’s problematic. I just don’t see it that way. I think that public dialogue and discussion of the facts is valuable,” Franklin said over an iced coffee at her neighborhood Starbucks.
Her first self-assignment: Prepare metro Atlanta for the 2012 election. She has already commissioned her first poll — which says 53 percent of metro Atlanta voters would support a sales tax for education in metro Atlanta.
The question is, Franklin said, whether that sentiment could also apply to next year’s vote on a transportation sales tax for the region.
If you are reading this in the print version of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, there’s a chance that you might find it difficult to fathom why an ex-mayor’s “delightful venture” into the World Wide Web is worth talking about.
But the Internet has become the incubator of political speech in America — not to mention northern Africa and places beyond. As a whole, Republicans in Georgia have been better than Democrats at adapting to the possibilities offered by Twitter and Facebook.
Then there’s the fact that Georgia Democrats took a historic drubbing in November — and are struggling to regain their voice. Several Georgia-based Democratic blogs already exist. But Franklin’s high profile, her connections and her often sharp tone could quickly make her website one of the key places Democrats go to sort themselves out.
Time is not a problem. Franklin said her endowed position at Spelman College requires her to teach one course a year — allowing for other pursuits.
One project has been the assembly of a videotaped oral history by members of the Maynard Jackson administration — of which she was a part. “That led me to think, ‘How do you use electronic media?’ “ Franklin said.
“I believe that Maynard Jackson, were he alive today, would be blogging and tweeting. The ability to shape, to research and to shade ideas — and then to put them out for public debate? He would love that,” she said.
(The image is startling. Atlanta’s first black mayor was a formal, imposing figure who never appeared in public in anything less than a three-piece suit. It would be difficult to imagine his lips forming around the word “Twitter.”)
Blogging While Blue is the product of Franklin, her former communications director, Beverly Isom, and the former mayor’s son, Cabral Franklin.
The ex-mayor vows that the website won’t be a vehicle for any return to public office. “I’m a happy 65-year-old. This is not a re-entry into politics,” she said.
But clearly, aggressive writing could occasionally put Franklin at odds with her successor, Kasim Reed — whom she backed in 2009.
Last week, in an interview with a TV reporter, Franklin expressed disappointment that Reed had decided not to fight a new state law permitting those with concealed weapons permits to carry their weapons into unsecured areas of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
“Every person has to take his own stand. And he is a lawyer. I’m not,” Franklin said Friday. “He was very clear in his statement that he wished it were not so but that he would follow the state law. It’s just a different approach.”
Otherwise, Franklin expressed no complaints about Reed, a former state senator who has developed extraordinary ties with Republicans in the state Capitol.
“I think he’s done fine. It’s a hard job. I’ve always known he’s had good contacts with the state. That’s not news to me. It played out all during my term,” Franklin said. “He was the person to whom I went and said, ‘This is our agenda.’”
But should her blog catch on, Franklin and her website could become a focal point of debate on several hot-button issues.
For instance, a penny sales tax levied by the school systems of Atlanta, Decatur, Fulton and DeKalb Counties – which representing $1.5 billion in construction – is up for renewal next year.
The morning after our talk with Franklin, word broke that Reed might like to see it expire, to encourage voters to pass that regional transportation sales tax.
On Saturday, Franklin said the idea of abandoning the school construction sales tax had been broached before – though she had no position on the matter. “I do think we have to balance what the infrastructure needs are,” she said.
Then there is the transportation tax itself, to be voted on next summer. Does she support it?
“I don’t know. I’m already paying a tax for MARTA. I would like to see some recognition of that in the referendum,” Franklin said. “And the limits placed on MARTA funding are troubling. But a lot of it will depend on what the final referendum lists as projects. For me and a lot of other folks.”
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider