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'Bridge building' - the crucial skill for Atlanta's new mayor

By Robert M. PressStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / October 23, 1981



Atlanta

This city's next mayor, to be elected in a runoff Oct. 27, will have to be a bridge builder if he wants to govern successfully. In Atlanta, which prides itself as being an example of black-white cooperation, the hometown of the late Martin Luther King Jr., and a bustling economic star of the Sunbelt, there are some troubled waters.

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If Andrew Young, President Carter's one-time United Nations ambassador, is elected, he will have to convince a skeptical white business community here and potential investors elsewhere that he can work with them. Many local business leaders were so tired of the ''confrontational'' politics of incumbent Maynard Jackson, also black, that they searched long and hard for a white candidate of their liking.

If veteran state legislator Sydney Marcus, a white, wins - in what most anaylsts would regard as a come-from-behind upset in a city where 56 percent of the registered voters are black - he will face skepticism on the part of many of the city's low-income blacks.

A memo circulated among business leaders, which has been obtained by the Monitor, complained that a philosophy of ''what's good for business is good for Atlanta'' became (under Mayor Jackson, the city's first black mayor) one of ''what's good for business is good for Atlanta - if it is good for blacks and doesn't bother my neighborhood.'' The memo, whose author has requested not to be identified, went on to urge business leaders to organize early around a candidate of their choice.

The search for a candidate included an offer of business support to former Carter White House aide Jack Watson, who declined. The author of the memo told the Monitor that Mr. Watson thought Mr. Young, a personal friend, would run, and he did not want to run against him. Meanwhile, Mr. Marcus built up commitments on his own and eventually won solid backing of the mostly white business community here.

Young has gotten very little business community money and has had to rely, in part, on money raised out of state. He stresses his experience as a UN ambassador and in Congress as a representative from the district which includes Atlanta. Young, a former minister and a close confidant and assistant to the late Dr. King in the turbulent civil-rights struggles of the early '60s, is known for his ability to bring opposing sides together.

He may need all of that diplomatic skill if he is elected.

He will have to ''quiet the fears of downtown business,'' says Robert Brisbane, chairman of the political science department of the predominantly black Morehouse College here. Many businessmen are known to mistrust Young because of his controversial statements as UN ambassador.

''If we get a nonbusiness or antibusiness mayor, we will lose our competitive position with other cities like Dallas and Houston that are going great guns,'' says Dan Sweat Jr., president of the Central Atlanta Progress, which represents downtown businesses. Both Young and Marcus have pledged to work closely with business and other interests.

In an interview, Mr. Sweat charged that Mayor Jackson has ''fought'' business. He added that the next mayor must make crime reduction the No. 1 priority, followed closely by working with the business community to increase jobs. Atlanta, he said, has a high number of unskilled blacks, but while high technology and skilled office jobs are coming into the city, many low-skill jobs are being moved out. This is not a problem limited to cities with black mayors, however.

One of Mayor Jackson's close friends, Atlanta lawyer David Franklin, says the confrontations with the business leaders were necessary. If Young becomes the city's second black mayor, his task will be easier, Franklin predicts, because many of the ''first lumps'' have been given.

Marcus stresses his years as a state legislator and work on behalf of Atlanta. With his nuts and bolts experience, he says he will do more for Atlantans than can someone whose most recent contribution has been overseas diplomacy.

Young and Marcus (who won 41 and 39 percent of the vote, respectively, in the first round) have taken care not to make the campaign one feeding on racial predjudice. Each needs the support of both races to win.

Some middle-class blacks are backing Marcus, says Dr. Brisbane, as a way to encourage white business investments and avoid further white flight. And some whites are backing Young, whose former congressional district has a substantial white population. But in precincts mostly white or mostly black, voters overwhelmingly supported the candidate of their race in the first round. Fulton County (which includes most of Atlanta) Commissoner A. Reginald Eaves, a former Atlanta police official and a black, won nearly 16 percent of the vote, and now backs Young.