Game of four

Quartet of hopefuls vie for council presidency

To find out what Atlanta City Council members really think about the lineup of candidates vying to fill the vacant slot of council prez, we’ve done a little snooping. After canvassing a half-dozen council members to see who they thought could be trusted to bring the notoriously dysfunctional group together, we came up with a sneak preview of the four candidates’ ability to handle the often-thankless cat-herding job.

The allure of the post is its heightened public visibility. The council president doesn’t even vote, except in the case of a tie, but the job can be a springboard to higher office. In fact, former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard left last month to run for Congress.

But an effective council president also wields quite a bit power when it comes to committee assignments and influencing votes. That’s apparent in that none of the council members with whom we spoke were willing to let their names be used as they sized up the four candidates.

On the July 20 ballot to replace Woolard are three former council members — Doug Alexander, Derrick Boazman and Michael Bond — and business executive Lisa Holmes Borders. To hear each of them describe themselves, their diplomatic skills and reservoirs of resolve border on Gandhi-esque. “Consensus builder” appears to be their middle name.

Beyond that, there isn’t much debate — not even about, say, the issues. All vaguely cite public safety, infrastructure and quality of life as top priorities.

Borders, 46, is a senior vice president with mega-developer Cousins Properties who comes from a well-known political family. Her grandfather was the Rev. William Holmes Borders Sr., minister for five decades at the politically influential Wheat Street Baptist Church.

Still, Borders’ tallest political hurdle will be her lack of name recognition. Few council members with whom CL spoke know her well. But the one who did thinks she’s a good fit for the position, and Borders is widely regarded as being the choice of Mayor Shirley Franklin. (The mayor’s office did not return phone calls seeking comment.)

Borders dismisses talk of her lack of political experience by noting that she’s built relationships with state and federal agencies as a member of groups such as Prevent Child Abuse Georgia. At Cousins, she brings people to the middle ground by trying to take “people’s emotions out of the equation, present the facts, set up the plan and execute against it,” she says.

Alexander, 45, served two terms on the council and stepped down in 2001. He then went to work for the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority. He’s well liked and considered an affable character by the council members interviewed for this story. Yet his former colleagues say his lighthearted attitude during council meetings shows he might lack the “gravitas” necessary to lead.

“For some people, gravitas means imposing your will on the council,” Alexander says. “That’s where the problem lies. What I would like to do is help [the council members] achieve their agenda and maybe find some new ideas and new solutions along the way.”

As a former at-large council member and the only white candidate in the race, Alexander could make it into a runoff while the other three candidates split the black vote.

Bond, 38, is making his second run for council president. He received the most votes in the general election in 2001, but Woolard beat him in the runoff. That time, it was widely believed that Bond’s position in the NAACP — not to mention his father, civil rights icon Julian Bond — helped keep him visible. This time, Bond is recovering from the blow of being forced to step down as the deputy director of the NAACP’s Atlanta chapter.

As NAACP chapter director, Bond took positions that are popular with a lot of Atlanta voters. During the most recent General Assembly session, he joined the AARP and consumer group Georgia Watch to lobby for legislation to end predatory payday lending. And he recently fought against the construction of a garbage transfer station in west Atlanta.

“I was able to bring disparate interests together across race and class lines for a common issue,” Bond says of the struggle against garbage giant BFI.

He also points to the fact that he got more legislation passed when he was on council than any of his colleagues. But that’s a bit misleading: He was Campbell’s floor leader, and what the former mayor wanted, he usually got.

Today, being tied to Campbell isn’t quite so popular. Most of the six council members interviewed said Bond can be worked with, but they’re still wary of the Campbell days.

Boazman, 37, made his name as a council member by tackling crime along Metropolitan Parkway and going after strip clubs and prostitution. Though he represents a relatively poor district in south Atlanta, including the neighborhoods Capitol Hill and Lakewood, Boazman maintains that he can effectively represent all of Atlanta.

“I’m not a stranger to any part of the city,” he says, noting that he went to high school in Buckhead.

During the initial fight to close Atlanta bars early because of problems with noise and violence in Buckhead, Boazman opposed the initiative, and the fight took on racial overtones. He says he tried to play peacemaker, inviting people from his district and Buckhead to his home to “have a dialogue about race.”

But some of Boazman’s recent actions suggest he would be less diplomatic in the president’s chair. “He’s the most opposite thing from a consensus builder that I can think of,” says one councilwoman of Boazman. Recently, after Councilman H. Lamar Willis suggested that the council eliminate the president’s position, Boazman, like an angry toddler, suggested the council eliminate its at-large posts, one of which Willis happens to occupy.

None of the sitting council members interviewed had much faith that Boazman is the one capable of bringing them together.

Editor’s note: Kevin Griffis has left CL to join a political campaign — but not one having to do with city government. He’s now the press and policy adviser to Democratic Senate candidate Cliff Oxford. This story was written before his departure.