Local News Archive
Print Issue: February 28, 2002
Print Issue: February 28, 2002
|Students Meet Atlanta's First Black Woman Mayor|
By Priscilla Greear, Staff Writer
ATLANTA-She had never before run for elected office-even for junior high, student-body president-Mayor Shirley Franklin told students at Immaculate Heart of Mary School on Feb. 19. But her love of politics and her experience in city management made her ready to take on the challenge of campaigning to be Atlanta's first black woman mayor.
"I believed my experience running the day-to-day operations of government . . . could make a difference to the future of Atlanta and I love Atlanta and live in the city and could tell it was not going too well," the new mayor told the students. "I did not want there to be a question in your lives as to whether a woman could run and win."
Franklin, city manager under former mayors Andrew Young and Maynard Jackson, spoke to second through eighth-graders as part of Black History Month. She also made cameo appearances in kindergarten and first-grade classrooms.
She was invited by school parents Joyce and Jerry Gray. Deputy chief of staff for Gov. Roy Barnes, Jerry Gray is currently on leave working on the governor's reelection campaign and also worked on the Franklin campaign.
Franklin spoke of growing up in Philadelphia, where she studied ballet and wanted to be a dancer. At Howard University in Washington, D.C., she majored in sociology. Social sciences were her favorite subjects, and she also liked literature, especially Shakespeare. She also has a master's degree in sociology. "It was the combination of all that study that made me interested in politics."
With her parents and cousins, she heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, for which she is grateful.
"You can achieve everything I've achieved, plus some," she told the students, "because . . . by Internet, by TV, by telephones, and also because opportunities have been opened to us, by people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott King, (Rep.) John Lewis."
"Black and white, rich and poor, Latino and Asian, people from all over the world now come to the United States for the opportunity to achieve."
In addition to running the city, which really is a $3.5 billion corporation, mayors have private time, she said, and "do the same things your mothers and fathers do. We go grocery shopping, go shopping for the holidays, work with little children, take care of our parents."
In response to an eighth-grader's question, Franklin said the worst part of being mayor is having to balance the city budget after finding an $80 million shortfall, which forced her to fire 400 employees. "We didn't have enough money to pay them."
And what's the best part of being mayor? asked Neal Partadiharja, vice-president of the student council. "Winning the election," she said. And after that, getting out and "really listening" to people and connecting with them.
As mayor she hopes to make Atlanta an inclusive city that cares about and respects all people, including children, seniors and the homeless. "At the end of my term I want people to know Atlanta city government is honest (and the city is) clean, well-run, safe and it's a city that cares."
And then there's pothole plugging. She recalled a talk she gave to city business leaders where, after talking about the budget crunch, layoffs and raising taxes, she said that she "would fill potholes in 72 hours." The next two days media headlines reported the pothole pledge. Over the next four weeks, 1,800 potholes were filled. While she had other priorities, "you have to seize the opportunity to do something else. I still work on the budget, but I fill potholes at the same time."
Atlanta also faces a challenge to build more recreational facilities "so that you have a safe and clean and fun place to play," she told the children.
Principal Tricia DeWitt thanked the mayor for coming. "Mayor Franklin and I have a lot in common," she said. "One of the things I think is so important is for us to be a caring community. (It's good) to know Mayor Franklin puts (creating) a caring community at the top of her list."
Petite and polished in a gray suit and a double strand of pearls, the mayor also visited kindergarten classes where one child asked, "Do you have more necklaces?" She said, "I always wear my jewelry on my shoulders, neck and ears because that's what you see" in photos.
One student said the mayor "tells everyone what to do and what not to do." Franklin elaborated, describing her job, saying that the city also owns the airport and makes sure it is safe and efficient, and hires police and firefighters. She said being mayor is tough, with long days, and "everybody wants you to take care of their problem immediately."
Asked, "do you ever get days off?" she happily reported taking half of Saturday and Sunday to go on a nature walk.
Middle-school social studies teacher Cassie Heine said her students "were particularly excited to have the mayor come because they're doing a project next month on women's history."
Heine, who teaches students to follow local elections, liked Franklin's message that they, too, can achieve as she has.
"I think that would reach our kids . . . and that she's a normal person. They like to hear that," she said. "In eighth grade during local elections we talked about how local politics affects daily lives more than national (politics), but most people don't pay much attention (to local campaigns). I try to encourage them to be more interested in what's going on at home."
Eighth-grader Katherine Petti believes "that's what makes America great, that normal people can do great things" to improve society. Petti has served as a page in the Georgia House of Representatives and is president of IHM's National Junior Honor Society.
Fifth-grader Michael Milich, who lost fourth-grade student council elections by three votes, found the mayor's talk "pretty interesting, just in case I'd ever want to run for something." He liked that "she studied a lot of things. That's a good way to start off your life."
Regarding her being Atlanta's first black female mayor, "It doesn't matter about being black or being a girl . . . I've nothing against that," he said. "It's a great privilege to be able to see the mayor of Atlanta," he said. "I was born here and have been here all my life . . . I've met the governor before. That was interesting too."
The Gray's daughter, Jessica, who takes a lot of questions from classmates about her family connections to the mayor, admires Franklin's "courage to go and run for mayor."
"She is really, really nice and I think she will be a good mayor and she'll do some good things," the fifth-grader said, like creating a more caring community. "I enjoyed when she talked about black people, African-American people, how she talked about Martin Luther King" who gave "black people a chance."
gave "black people a chance."
POLITICAL DIALOGUE--Immaculate Heart of Mary School sixth-grade teacher Bob Baldonado, top right, and his students listen as Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin gives some insight into city politics. Atlanta's first woman mayor and the first African-American woman to serve as mayor of a major Southeastern city, Franklin spoke to the second through eighth-grade Feb. 19. (Photos by Michael Alexander)