Talk of the Town - Black man, alone July 15 2000

Holiday campaigning a lonely affair for one GOP hopeful

The Fourth of July holiday in my quaint North Fulton neighborhood was as American as it gets. There was a parade for the kids complete with a fire truck, and families gathered in the local park for games and a cookout. It was an idyllic summer holiday.

It was, at any rate, until the politicians showed up.

Republicans all, they seemed to appear out of nowhere and began aggressively canvassing the crowd. Fulton County Commissioner Bob Fulton was there, wearing (appropriately) a red, white and blue jester's hat. State Rep. Mark Burkhalter was giving away T-shirts with his campaign logo on them.

Fulton County district attorney candidate Page Pate worked the crowd quickly, and with gusto. They were white Republican men on a mission, and they were preying upon a captive audience of like-minded voters.

But not John Turner.

Turner, also seeking voter approval to be the next Fulton County District Attorney and a recent Republican convert, stood alone — a perennial African-American politician in a sea of white folks having a good time.

Turner awkwardly approached a few partygoers, most of whom were profoundly uninterested in his stump routine. But, being the political animal that I am, I made it a point to inch nearer to Turner until finally he turned and introduced himself. I shook Turner's hand and braced myself for a few minutes of Paul Howard bashing.

Sure enough, Turner managed to mention the words "Ray Lewis case" within the first 30 seconds, dismissing incumbent District Attorney Howard as "incompetent" and characterizing his recent appointment of a public corruption prosecutor as "a joke." Turner went on to describe his tenure as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, cravenly attempting to score points by pointing out that he helped put Georgia's first African-American state senator, Leroy Johnson, in prison for public corruption — a boast he's unlikely to make in south Fulton.

As he spoke, I secretly acknowledged that Paul Howard certainly embarrassed himself in the Ray Lewis matter.

Even so, Howard's sad performance during the Lewis trial is unlikely to result in voter upheaval. Howard is well-connected in city political circles, and has never counted on support from the county's conservative north side. Howard will again bet his incumbency on his ties to the Bill Campbell political machine — and will probably win handily, even though he blew one of the highest-profile prosecutions in the history of the Fulton DA's office.

Soon enough, Rep. Burkhalter ambled up to check on his protégé and introduce himself. Taking care not to give him my name, I interrupted his right-wing voter pitch and asked him about the legal travails of his close friend and political ally, Mitch Skandalakis.

Burkhalter stammered around the subject, eventually admitting that the feds were "hinting around" at an indictment. As Burkhalter droned on, I found myself wiping the perspiration from my face and neck with his campaign T-shirt. The insulted look on his face was priceless.

The spectacle of these Republican politicians who sullied my neighborhood's Fourth of July party made a mockery of our celebration. It is hard enough to retain one's faith in our great nation without the very cause of our cultural cynicism showing up and spewing right-wing aphorisms. For at least one day a year, it would be nice if you guys could leave the people alone to enjoy their freedom. Or what's left of it.

To Rep. Burkhalter, I apologize for using your campaign T-shirt as a sweat rag in front of you. But I'm a Democrat, and I couldn't think of a better use for it.

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