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Film Brief - Franklin busy campaigning -- for others

Her own re-election is as sure a thing as a short Braves post-season. But that doesn't mean Shirley Franklin is taking it easy.

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In recent days, the mayor has set aside plenty of time to write endorsements, make public appearances and even go door-to-door in support of Council incumbents and one first-time candidate. In the process, she has ruffled the feathers of opposition candidates and their supporters, some of whom complain that the mayor has overstepped ethical boundaries in the push to get her favorites elected — but stop short of accusing her of breaking election laws.

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Predictably, Franklin's hand has been most visible in what are considered the closest Council races. She spent a recent evening giving impromptu stump speeches to Inman Park residents in District 2, the site of a horse race between community activist Al Caproni and school board member Kwanza Hall. Benjamin Fierman also is running for the post.

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"There's an election on Nov. 8," Franklin repeated as she greeted passers-by. "I'd like your support, and I'm supporting Kwanza Hall." As she walked along the tree-lined streets, her own campaign workers mingled with Hall's as they handed out fliers and posted yard signs.

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Bill Bozarth, executive director of political watchdog group Common Cause Georgia, says that while he's seen no direct evidence to suggest the mayor has broken — or even bent — elections laws, such activities often fall into a gray area where allegations can be difficult to prove.

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Donations and in-kind contributions, such as political consulting and phone-bank canvassing, are perfectly legal so long as they are properly disclosed and do not total more than $2,000 per election cycle.

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So far, Franklin has not disclosed any contributions to other candidates; the latest round of disclosures is due Fri., Nov. 4.

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Franklin says her campaign work is her way of returning favors to loyal Council members who helped her pass an ambitious agenda of payroll cuts, tax increases and sewer fixes. So far, she says, she's held a press conference in Vine City to support District 3 incumbent Ivory Young and has consulted with District 12's Joyce Sheperd, who's in a bruising battle in southeast Atlanta against former Councilman Derrick Boazman, a Franklin foe.

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"I've given help to those who've requested it," the mayor says.

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Just last week, City Hall held two sewer-line ground-breaking ceremonies that provided opportunities for the mayor to appear on stage with Anne Fauver and Clair Muller, two Council incumbents whose campaigns she is supporting.

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"I like the mayor and believe she deserves to be re-elected, but it struck me as over-the-top to use a city-funded event to boost Anne Fauver," says Alan Howell, a volunteer for Fauver's District 6 opponent, management consultant Steve Brodie.

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Like many successful politicians, Franklin has urged some of her deep-pocketed supporters to make contributions and host fundraisers for other campaigns, says her campaign manager, state Sen. Kasim Reed, D-Atlanta, who adds that the mayor hasn't pressured city employees to donate time or money to other candidates.

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"We have followed the rules to the letter," Reed says.

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The risk for Franklin, says veteran political strategist Angelo Fuster, is that she may make unnecessary enemies if she backs the wrong horses in any of these races. But, he adds, for a popular mayor who must count on a friendly Council to get things done, it's a worthwhile gamble.

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"The mayor is doing the smart thing to solidify her support," Fuster says. "What's she got to lose?"

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But longtime political activist Jim Kulstad, who's backing Caproni and Brodie, says that while he understands Franklin's motivation, he doesn't support her goal of a compliant Council likely to rubber-stamp her agenda.

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"Debate and dissent over policy issues are good for the city," he says. "She's an impressive mayor, but we need people to challenge her when necessary. We don't need another nod squad."

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GET INVOLVED For info on the Nov. 8 elections, including polling places and a link to CL's endorsements, see Public Agenda.