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A large shadow

Maynard made Atlanta in his own image

There was more to Maynard Jackson, 65, than the figure painted by death's encomiums.

"He was not a diplomat," says Dillard University President Michael Lomax, a longtime friend and onetime adversary. "He was not a mediator. He was an advocate."

He feuded with the press, and his business activities and insider contacts came under scrutiny more than once. Allegations of impropriety infuriated Jackson.

He could be an agitator. And, more than anyone in the last generation, Jackson was responsible for who ran and who won this city's elections. His support brought us Ambassador Andrew Young and the thus-far capable Mayor Shirley Franklin. It was also responsible for the disaster — except to the U.S. Attorney's Office — that was Bill Campbell's administration.

As mayor, his first two terms saw the all-important expansion of the Atlanta airport, the racial makeover of the bureaucracy at City Hall and running battles with the city's business community. Jackson's tenure bridged a gap between black America's fight for racial equality to the more complicated battle for equality of economic and political opportunity. Former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell says Jackson "could absolutely, positively affect any election in any city, county or state in the United States that had any black constituency." Massell should know — he lost to Jackson in 1973.

In politics and business, Jackson proved tough and shrewd. The words "old school" get thrown around. To some, that means Jackson often enjoyed an "in" when it came to pitching his bond business, Jackson Securities, around the country. To play ball with him politically meant he'd receive something in return — good ol' boy business in the hands of a man who didn't start out in the boys club.

Here are recollections by a few people who knew him, memories that show a proud, charismatic and sometimes imperious and impetuous man — a person who created hope for many Atlantans.

Massell

"He was very much a political animal, and I'm not faulting him. For instance, when I was working so hard on the MARTA referendum as mayor, he went out of the country, because he wasn't sure what side he wanted to come down on that, because it was a regressive tax, a sales tax, that could adversely affect his constituency. From the very beginning of my relationship with him, he focused his efforts along that one agenda of reforms for the African-American community, and he did it very well. He got to the point where they worshipped him around the country."

Michael Lomax

In 1973, Lomax met Jackson through Jackson's then law partner, David Franklin. Franklin asked Lomax to write a speech for Jackson. What followed was a three-decade relationship that saw Lomax join Jackson's administration and become a Jackson protege.

"Maynard was very persuasive. He was a salesman, charming, and he had the capacity to make you feel like you were the most important single individual on the face of the earth. He was spellbinding, and he certainly got us.

"I remember one occasion when [50-60 white businessmen] came up and sat in one of the second-floor conference rooms in the old City Hall, and I don't remember what the issue specifically was, but the tension in the room was palpable. Here you had the white business leaders, and they were there to deal with this young black mayor, and ... I think it was crime in the downtown and 'What are you people going to do about it?' sort of their position. Maynard was a tough cookie. He did not defer. He didn't backpedal. Maynard stood his ground, and he didn't compromise where he thought there was a matter of principle. I think he wanted the city to be one where blacks and whites were working together, but it wasn't going to be because black folks conceded."

Tom Houck

Houck, a longtime Atlanta politico, first met Jackson in a Chinese laundry on Peachtree Street in 1966, when Houck was working for the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Houck recalls a bet the two made on the air during one of Houck's radio shows in the early 1980s.

"I said to Maynard on the air, 'Maynard, we both need to go on a diet.' And Maynard said to me, 'Is that a challenge?'

"We had one month and the loser would give $100 to ... the missing and murdered children fund. Every day, before I got back into the studio, there were three pizzas delivered to WGST. This was the great sense of humor he had. I started sending him ice cream. I went on the Atkins diet. GST staffers loved the fact that Maynard was sending over pizzas every day. I wasn't eating them. I lost 23 pounds. He lost three. I kept sending him ice cream, and he gave $100 to the missing and murdered children's fund. So every time I would see Maynard for several years afterward [he'd say], 'Challenge me now! Challenge me now!' He would always say that challenge was unfair, because I was sending him the ice cream and he couldn't get off the ice cream."

U.S. Rep. David Scott, District 13

Scott worked for Jackson's first campaign in 1973, and after Jackson won, the new mayor returned the favor and went door-to-door with the then 26-year-old Scott in his bid for the state House of Representatives.

"It was awesome, because Maynard Jackson was larger than life to so many people. He gave us hope and said we could do it. If you sat in a room long enough with Maynard Jackson, you could believe you could do anything.

"I would walk through Carver Homes and it was just instant acceptance. He was like a rock star. You would hear people say, 'Maynard Jackson's here! Maynard Jackson's here! He's on our street!'

Angelo Fuster

Fuster served as Jackson's spokesman and is a longtime fixture in the city's political scene. Fuster recalls two incidents — one around 1980 when Monday Night Football came to Atlanta and the other in 1989, when Jackson announced he would seek a third term in office.

"Howard Cosell and Frank Gifford were still the broadcasters. He ... wanted me to bring a letter from him to Cosell so that they would read it on the air at halftime, and I couldn't get anywhere near the box. So I called back, and said, 'You know, I'm trying to get to these guys, even to somebody to hand these things to him, but nobody will let me through.' So Maynard said, 'Do they know whose town this is?' I said, 'Yes, sir.' He said, 'Well, do they want the lights on at the stadium?'

"He called Atlanta [Police official] Eldrin Bell. Eldrin called the guy who was in charge of security, and said, 'If these guys don't take the message from the mayor, they will not have a halftime show.'

"I got close enough to hand the letter to somebody who got it to Cosell, who said, 'We have a gracious letter from the mayor of Atlanta, Maynard Jackson, greeting us and saying hello to football fans across America,' some bullshit like that. He didn't read the letter, but he said that. I half expected him to say, 'We've been coerced to say this thing.'"

This second remembrance by Fuster comes from Jackson's mayoral announcement in 1989.

"The first thing in the day was a prayer breakfast at Paschal's, and the benediction was given by a minister named Ed Loring, who was the Presbyterian minister who was one of the key advocates for the homeless. It was an unusual benediction which ended 'Praise God and janitors for justice and Maynard for mayor.'

"We left and I was in the car with Maynard as we drove off to go to the next announcement. Maynard said that he was a little surprised and pleased that Ed Loring was at the breakfast and so enthusiastic. I said, 'Yeah. I was surprised, too, but I caution you. Ed is a passionate advocate for the homeless, and if he thinks you're not doing all that you can, he can turn against you just the same way he's for you now.' Maynard stopped for a second and he said, 'You know people like me need people like him to remind us why we run for office in the first place.' To me, that captured Maynard Jackson better than anything else. There was no press there. There was nobody there but me. He was making a statement about what he thought was the real issue of why he thought he was in public service."

kevin.griffis@creativeloafing.com