Olympics Rush at Atlanta's New Mayor
ATLANTA — ATLANTA Mayor Bill Campbell, the self-described son of a janitor, swept into his chrome and glass office at City Hall promising to take a no-nonsense approach to government.
Unlike his high-profile predecessors - Maynard Jackson and Andrew Young - he vowed to make efficiency and delivery of much-needed services a hallmark of his administration.
Now, nearly a year later, the youngish Democrat is finding out how difficult it can be to translate plans into programs.
Though he has launched initiatives on crime, wooed the business community, and reached out to neighborhoods, he has inherited a city beset with problems as it steps into the international spotlight.
Despite Atlanta's reputation as ``the gateway of the New South'' and host of the 1996 Olympics, it is fraught with high crime and poverty rates. The population of the central city is dwindling, the tax base shrinking, and the infrastructure crumbling. Moreover, even though the Centennial Olympic Games are less than two years away, preparations are behind schedule.
Still, Mr. Campbell, a black who came into office backed by a strong biracial coalition - one of a new breed of big-city mayors -
is pushing ahead with pluck. As he likes to put it: ``Being mayor is the greatest honor that could be bestowed on someone whose father was a janitor and whose mother was a secretary.''
While Campbell promised to ``hit the ground running'' and get more police on the beat even before he was sworn in in January, his first 100 days in City Hall were marked by crisis intervention. First, there was a $30-million budget deficit to deal with. Then several water mains burst.
Later, the mayor had to cancel a $149-million bond referendum for pre-Olympic repairs on streets, bridges, and sewers because of technical errors made in legal notices - an embarrassment to his administration.
Despite the rocky start, Campbell is settling into office with a nuts-and-bolts approach and hands-on style. He has initiated a community-based police program with mini-precincts located in inner-city neighborhoods and the business district. He has put officers on bicycles and installed crime boxes in urban neighborhoods for residents to relay tips.
The mayor recently named Beverly Harvard, a 21-year veteran of the force, chief of the city's police department. She is the first black woman to head a major police department in the country.
Campbell's appointment of Ms. Harvard as well as his efforts to control crime, however, are receiving mixed reviews.
Joe Hamilton Jr., who has chaired several local crime commissions, felt the city needed someone from the outside with lots of street experience and a strong record. ``She's never distinguished herself one way or the other,'' he says. ``I've never known anything she's done.''
Civic leaders also are concerned about police morale and a state investigation into reports that police altered 1993 statistics to lower the city's crime rate.
Still, Campbell, who describes himself as a ``synthesizer,'' has scored points with the business community. He has actively courted the city's power barons and established a strong relationship with the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG). ``Bill came in with energy and freshness,'' says Gerald Bartels, president of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. ``He's accessible and he's got a well-balanced team in place.''
The Olympic touch
Campbell has gotten Corporation of Olympic Development in Atlanta (CODA), a nonprofit agency that revitalizes areas outside Olympic venues, on track and brought in new leadership. While city leaders were frustrated with the lack of preparation for the Centennial Games, CODA is now focused on rebuilding key neighborhoods and Olympic corridors.
``The games have been a godsend for the city,'' the mayor said in an interview. ``We'd be stupid not to use the event to leverage private funds, federal dollars, and money from other interested groups who want to help Atlanta to be a success.''
Campbell, with an endorsement from Robert Goizueta, the chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola, and Turner Broadcasting Systems mogul Ted Turner, pushed the infamous infrastructure bond issue through in July - the first bond to pass here since 1968.
``If we do nothing else, the fact that we could take aggressive steps to fix the infrastructure will distinguish our administration...,'' the mayor says.
Now Campbell is eyeing what he considers an even bigger prize for the city: a federal ``empowerment zone.'' He hopes the influence and lobbying power of local business leaders, along with the Games, will land Atlanta close to $250 million in economic development programs and social services over 10 years.
Some neighborhood leaders, though, are concerned about his close relationship with the business community and ACOG.
``The mayor and city leaders seem to be forming a cheering section for the Olympics,'' says Anita Beaty, director of the Task Force for the Homeless. ``The poor and homeless are being pushed off the streets and swept into jail.''
Campbell recently recommended that City Council double the amount of Community Development Block Grant money allotted for low-cost housing, transitional housing, and emergency shelters. He asserts: ``My agenda includes all of the people of Atlanta.''