The wake-me-when-it's-over campaigns

Candidates for mayor and council prez chug toward visibility

Responding to a small jab that his campaign for City Council president hasn't been generating much buzz, councilman Michael Bond says, "Good."

"I'm glad you haven't heard anything," he says. "We're taking the campaign directly to the voters, to individuals."

If only we had a nickel for every faltering candidate who said that. But in this case, according to at least one poll — conducted by one local candidate — Bond looks formidable heading into the fall.

Bond claims his troops have canvassed east and west Atlanta, southwest and his own Vine City district as well as parts of Midtown. And, he says, he is calling the shots for his campaign.

"I've been involved with campaigns since I was 6 years old," Bond says. "I can do this in my sleep."

Judging by the recent poll, the District 3 councilman might be able to nap his way right into a runoff. Granted, there are still plenty of undecided voters, but the poll shows Bond ahead with 22 percent of the vote, while his opponents "Able" Mable Thomas, Cathy Woolard and Julia Emmons rate 14, 12 and 12 percent, respectively.

Most troubling for Woolard and Emmons is that they both polled only 4 percent among black voters in the survey. They've got work to do.

The key to Bond's strong numbers is his name recognition. As the son of civil rights icon and chairman of the NAACP Julian Bond, Bond says his father is assisting the campaign within the limits of the law (because he's the head of a nonprofit that can't endorse any candidates) and fund raisers are being planned for Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Detroit, among other spots.

Free rides getting bumpy treatment

When you're running for mayor, it sure helps to have friends in high places. Or, at least wealthy places.

Robb Pitts should know. Some of his most ardent supporters also are his richest ones — the ones who can afford to commission expensive polls, buy billboard space or purchase TV time for ads.

Such support is called third-party, or independent, expenditures. While not technically illegal, third-party expenditures can be a secret weapon for some candidates even while they distance themselves from the spender's tactics publicly.

In 1997, for example, an organization called Reform Atlanta distributed literature attacking Mayor Bill Campbell for being an incompetent manager. During the same campaign, a group called Friends of Bill produced a videotape that characterized Campbell's opponent, Marvin Arrington, as the "king of corruption."

In Pitts' case, the independent expenditures are fairly innocuous — so far. Multimillionaire Charlie Loudermilk, a member of the current council president's finance committee, said in a March column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he paid for a $10,000 poll. No eyebrows were raised in the column, so apparently we're expected to believe that Pitts never got a look at the poll numbers commissioned by a major money man and therefore it shouldn't be a campaign expenditure.

Pitts says you should believe just that. He says the only thing he knows about the poll is what he has read in the paper.

Then there are the two billboards donated to the Pitts campaign by a political supporter as part of the council president's All Congregations Together initiative — a month-long program that began in June to promote racial healing. The billboards, though, showed Pitts' name in large letters, with a message that read: "Red. Yellow. Brown. Black. White. We are one." That refrain is eerily similar to the mantra Pitts recites at campaign stops.

In late July, Shirley Franklin released a statement that she would not accept such expenditures — though it's unlikely she could stop an overzealous supporter from running ads independent of her approval — and challenged her opponents to do the same.

Pitts, though, says he doesn't have a problem with independent expenditures as long as they aren't tearing down his opponent. If the election remains close, we'll see if Pitts' camp will keep singing that tune.

If it looks like an elephant ...

Robb Pitts is not a Republican. He is an independent and the Atlanta mayoral election is non-partisan, he reminds crowds at public appearances. Pitts says he's supported everybody from Jesse Jackson to George W. Bush — never mind the fact that after the Florida debacle telling some African-Americans that you like Dubya is like telling a Red Sox fan that you dig the Yankees.

Despite all these reassurances, Pitts is having trouble shaking his association with the Republican party. Little surprise. Last week, e-mails from the DeKalb and Fulton County Republican parties advertised a fund raiser and meet and greet at Albert's Art and Mirrors, which is run by Jill Chambers, the chairwoman of the DeKalb County Republican Party.

Chambers says her support of Pitts is not a party thing but rather a favor to an effective politician.

In July last year, road work along Piedmont Road closed down all access to her street. She called the mayor's office for help and got none. Then she called Pitts.

"Within three hours, detours were up," Chambers says, and customers could find the way to her business.

Liz Hausman, chairwoman on the Fulton County Republican Party, says the meet and greet was not officially sponsored by the group. She says she did hear from a few party members, perturbed about e-mails advertising a candidate who isn't running as a Republican.

Pitts says he didn't even know that Chambers held a position in the Republican party. And the event was on his calendar as a meet and greet — not as a fund raiser and certainly not tied to the local GOP.

Worry-free campaigning

By now, most Atlantans know that City Council elections are in jeopardy because the justice department has questions about the council's recently redrawn district maps. Still, the elections of the citywide seats — the mayor and council president — are likely to move forward regardless of what the feds say. If that happens and the council elections are moved back to March, it might be possible for the councilmembers who lose the race for the council presidency to run again for their own seats, a la U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut.??