Banking on blue bloods

Franklin and Pitts on different ends of the same boat

Saturday night in the big city at two very different events in two very different locations. The common thread: Politics.

One building reposes like corpulent royalty, even among the other well-born bricks of Sandy Springs.

The other structure squats on a city corner where the cars drone all day and the occasional entrepreneurial-spirited transvestite passes.

Wild mushrooms in a marsala sauce, served on top of a white corn cake, highlights the first menu. Entertainment is provided by none other than Lou Rawls, live and in person.

The other soiree features Popeye's fried chicken and biscuits. Musical entertainment consists of Bob Marley piped in through the speakers.

The occasions? One is mayoral candidate Robb Pitts' $1,000-a-head campaign fundraiser at Roundhill, Charlie Loudermilk's Monticello-dwarfing, Sandy Springs home. The other is the opening of candidate Shirley Franklin's campaign headquarters on Ponce de Leon Avenue.

The Pitts gig is an easy target compared to the DIY aesthetic of Franklin's mini-fete. Franklin's people, watching their candidate singing Marley's "Three Little Birds" with former Mayor Andrew Young, must have chuckled deviously at the possibility of a comparison.

The truth is, Franklin could open her new HQ precisely because she's already done what Pitts is still doing. After all, she didn't raise a million bucks by selling fruit baskets on Auburn Avenue.

But the two events show the very different points at which the two campaigns find themselves as they push toward the November election. Pitts hasn't raised the cash that Franklin has. Saturday night's gala, which according to Pitts spokesman Dana Bolden raised somewhere in the neighborhood of $275,000, should bring him closer to parity. (A third serious candidate, Gloria Bromell-Tinubu, lags well behind in fundraising.)

The feeling you get driving up to Roundhill is that Loudermilk, king of rent-to-own furniture, really wants you to know he's rich. The place couldn't be more ostentatious if he dressed the groundskeepers in gold lamé. Pictures of the host abound.

Such a fundraiser, Bolden says, is a "necessary evil. If we've got to do them, let's make sure people have fun."

And the people Bolden is referring to are the kind used to having fun in neckties and evening gowns. Easily half the men arrived in tuxedos — the kind they pulled from their closets, not picked up at the mall. Some of the wives, on the other hand, might indeed have just come from the mall — twentysomethings accompanying pushing-65 husbands.

Besides Atlanta city councilmembers, guests included big name supporters like Bill Dahlberg, chairman of Southern Co. spin-off Mirant Corp.; Robert Silverman, CEO of Winter Properties; former Democratic U.S. Sen. David Gambrell of Atlanta law firm Smith, Gambrell & Russell; and a handful of local preachers.

Pitts took the stage just before the bright blue-suited Rawls.

"Atlanta's a good city, but it's not a world class city," Pitts told those gathered under a white tent in Loudermilk's backyard. Leader-ship can change that, he said.

Pitts hit on issues — city services and public safety — that play well in upscale Buckhead. And he repeated a part of his mantra — he intends to be mayor for "all of Atlanta" — that amounts to an indirect jab at current Mayor Bill Campbell, who isn't too popular nowadays in wealthy, white neighborhoods.

But as the election creeps closer, it's gigs like the fundraiser at Chez Loudermilk that will make it more difficult for Pitts to appeal to "all of Atlanta." Almost assuredly, Franklin's campaign is going to paint Pitts as a black Republican. They'll have ammo. Pitts supported Republican Guy Millner in his race against Gov. Roy Barnes, and while Gambrell served as a Democrat, he threw money to Mack Mattingly in his 2000 race against Democratic U.S. Senator Zell Miller.

Bolden says the Pitts campaign plans to counter such attacks by pointing to Pitts' record of neighborhood advocacy. "We must nurture relationships everywhere," Bolden says, and that includes the white business community.

As for Saturday, though, the unbecoming task of raising cash from rich folks took center stage.

"I don't lay awake at night dreaming of being mayor," Pitts said, suggesting, in an "aw shucks" kind of way, that it's a dirty job that someone has to do.??