Young: some Atlantans praise his style, but question substance

Six months into his first term, Mayor Andrew Young, former controversial UN ambassador and congressman, is making a hit in this city as a bridge builder - but not as a road builder.

Black leaders here give near perfect ratings on his performance so far; white leaders are more critical, praising his style but questioning his substance.

After two terms of confrontations between his predecessor, Maynard Jackson, the city's first black mayor, and much of the business community over various civil rights issues - mostly jobs for blacks - the gap between City Hall and the city's business suites was more like a canyon.

That is changing. With notable success, Mr. Young has been courting the city's business leaders - who overwhelmingly opposed his election. When invited to meetings with some of them, he shows up early. He is often on the phone with them, seeking their advice.

Another bridge he has been rebuilding is a short one - from City Hall to the gold-leaf-domed state capitol. When the Legislature opened earlier this year, he was there, to the pleasant surprise of members, offering his help, seeking theirs. He even came bearing a gift for the powerful state speaker of the House.

But Mayor Young has stirred up a dormant hornet's nest in trying to convince neighborhood activists to accept a four-lane, high-speed road through an open area they have long preferred be used for housing and a park. The road is being pushed in an effort to ensure that Jimmy Carter's presidential library will be built in the area, even though Mr. Carter as governor and Mr. Young as congressman opposed the road.

And when the mayor sent his City Hall reorganization plan just down the corridor to the City Council, they shelled it and have just shelved it.

As for his out-of-town speechmaking for various black causes, to support certain congressional candidates, and planned trips to Africa to try to establish trade ties for Atlanta, one civic leader suggests he first learn to run City Hall:

''If you're going to be mayor, you can't be UN ambassador,'' says Emmet Bondurant II, who helped draft the current city charter.

His impression is that the mayor ''has no game plan'' on running the city. He says the reorganization plan was not well thought out.

But Young may come back from African trips with needed investments in this city and buyers for Atlanta area goods, says Tyrone Brooks, a state representative of a mostly black district and former colleague with Andrew Young on civil rights campaigns of the 1960s.

Young's task in dealing with the business community will be easier ''because of Maynard Jackson's ability to break the ice'' on a number of issues, Mr. Brooks adds.

Although Atlanta has a black mayor, most of the economic power is in the hands of whites.

''So many of the those who really supported his opponent and felt he had horns because of his UN statements and liberal views, are pleasantly surprised'' at Young's performance as mayor, says Dan Sweat Jr., president of Central Atlanta Progress, an association of downtown business interests.

But, he says, Young ''wants to please everybody. That'll catch up to him sooner or later.''

Already some concern is setting in among the business community. ''Young's style is great - but the question of substance'' is being raised by some, says Mr. Sweat.

Atlanta, while spared the kind of higher unemployment rates of some cities, nevertheless faces the challenge of matching a large pool of mostly unskilled black workers with a continuing expansion of jobs usually requiring some skills.

Young's press secretary and longtime aide, Tom Offenburger, says Young sees his role as mayor as ''bringing other people together'' on controversial issues.

So far the mayor has had mixed results on this score.

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