Atlanta, the Metropolis of the South, has a problem. If not rectified soon, it will lead to a fight of the type not seen since the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
This past summer, most of America saw a remorseful Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell discuss the shooting rampage of day-trader Mark Barton on worldwide television. A quiet and reserved Campbell sang the praises of his police department and how well it worked with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the FBI to locate Barton after the massacre in the upscale Buckhead section of Atlanta.
What most of America did not see this summer, however, is another side of Bill Campbell - one that extolled residents to prepare for a "battle to the death" to protect a city policy under legal attack.
Former mayor Maynard Jackson created Atlanta's affirmative action program more than 20 years ago. Its admirable goal was to create equal opportunities for minority-owned firms bidding for city contracts. Recently, the program came under fire by the Atlanta-based Southeastern Legal Foundation (SELF).
SELF President Matthew Glavin has said Atlanta's affirmative action program under the current administration is nothing more than a glorified patronage plan shutting out anyone other than minority firms loyal to the local Democratic leadership from city contracts. Glavin has asked the city to scrap its present program and go back to the drawing board to create a new program that levels the playing field for everyone bidding on the city's contracts.
Campbell attacked SELF in general and Glavin personally, comparing both to the Ku Klux Klan. Campbell insists that SELF's plans are nothing short of a clear-cut case of legal racism. SELF has insisted it wants to support the rights of all Americans and is not out to discriminate against anyone.
Campbell has rallied many civil rights veterans to his defense, and used very emotional language to rouse the local populace. In the past, SELF lawyers successfully challenged similar affirmative action plans in other municipalities across the southeast - as close as Atlanta's neighboring DeKalb County. In Atlanta's case, however, the rhetoric from the mayor's office has been strong - with some people going beyond mere words and making death threats against Glavin and other SELF employees and supporters.
Both sides are preparing for a bitter court battle. While Campbell and his supporters have made lots of noise, they have neglected to check the history of such challenges. In the last ten years, not one challenge to a municipal, quota-based affirmative action plan in the United States has been allayed by a court challenge, and certainly not by a public official whipping his constituency into a frenzy and irresponsibly encouraging a "battle to the death."
Campbell should rethink his position and come sit at the negotiating table to hammer out a plan for city contracting that is fair to all members of the Atlanta business community. In addition, Campbell needs to stop the rabble-rousing that is certainly creating a divide among members of the community who only want to work together.
Atlanta's population is more than 75% black. In that sort of environment, providing a level playing field for all potential bidders is definitely in the best interest of everyone, as opposed to vicious rhetoric that says, "you got us for years, now it's our turn."
If Mayor Campbell and company find they cannot calm their emotions,
moving forward peacefully in Atlanta may not be as easy as some
would like it to be.
(Michael King is a member of Project 21 and an Internet and
radio broadcaster in Atlanta, Georgia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.
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