What Works? Some Things Do.

Atlanta needs real change.

For a city that claims to stand for change, the stagnation in leadership is pretty astonishing.  I lived there for 20 years, and during that time, other major cities learned from their mistakes and transformed themselves, raising the quality of life for their residents.

Atlanta, meanwhile, remained mired in the same old cycle of top-down corruption, old-school politics, and studied disinterest from whichever mayor was busy picking people’s pockets from City Hall.  Young, Jackson, Campbell, Franklin — all four treated the mayor’s office like an ATM or a launching pad to bigger and better patronage checks (patronage, patronage, ATM, patronage).  All four ignored demands to improve city services, with utterly disastrous results that will be felt by taxpayers for decades to come.  Franklin ran as a reformer, and many believed that she was one despite clear signs to the contrary.  Now, I’m guessing, most people understand that she merely exploited the concept of reform.

I don’t live in Atlanta anymore, but my new and old tax dollars still live there, as do many people I care for deeply.  And when I hear about multiple houses being broken into in my old neighborhood, and people being attacked on the street while walking their dogs, and being woken up by somebody kicking down their door or breaking their window, it enrages me.

Of course, this type of thing happens everywhere.  But what doesn’t happen everywhere is the contemptuous reaction of the Mayor and the Chief of Police (and now the District Attorney) to crime.

Crime may exist everywhere, but in many other cities, residents at least know that their mayor and their police chief are on their side.

It isn’t much to ask.  But when leadership is perennially corrupt, expectations diminish.  Being a taxpayer in Atlanta is like being involved in an abusive relationship.  It wears you down, until you simply stop expecting to be treated like a person.  The metro area I live in now is far from perfect, of course, but when I call a government office, somebody bothers to answer the phone.  Then they make an effort to solve my problem.  After 20 years in Atlanta, I’m still adjusting to this: you get used to it not happening.  I am still waiting for the refund the City of Atlanta water department owes me for over-billing me several years ago.

I keep that bill in my open business file and call them occasionally, just to remind myself of what I’m not missing.

So I’ve got an electoral-therapeutic recommendation for the upcoming mayor’s race.  Give yourself permission to imagine having a mayor and a police chief who act as if public safety — your safety — matters.

Imagine a police chief who shows up for work, answers questions, and does his job.  Imagine a mayor who expresses outrage at crime, instead of blaming the victims and twisting the facts.

Imagine a district attorney who draws a line in the sand and vigorously enforces the law.  Imagine a district attorney holding a press conference to announce that, in his city, no victim will be denied his or her rights and no criminal will allowed to get away with his or her crimes.

Imagine judges who treat offenders like offenders.  Imagine judges who follow the letter and intent of the criminal code.  No, really.  It could happen.

Imagine accountability and transparency from the courts.

Imagine civic optimism blooming from the energy and self-esteem of hard-working citizens who have taken their city back.  For the rest of the week, I’m going to offer some examples of cities that do work.


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