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Published on February 22nd, 2018 |

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Sam Massell reiterates his ‘Atlanta Together’ plea at BBA breakfast

(Editor’s Note: The following is the draft of the “State of the Community” address Thursday, Feb.22, to the Buckhead Business Association, by Sam Massell, Buckhead Coalition president and former Atlanta mayor. –John Schaffner)

Just about this time a year ago, I had the pleasure–and the honor—to give the “State of the Community” address to this Buckhead Business Association, as I have done year after year.  It was a positive, supportive description of what we had been through and were expected to see ahead.

This rosy picture was no surprise, as it was Buckhead we were discussing.

Former Atlanta Mayor and Buckhead Coalition President Sam Massell addresses the Buckhead Business Association breakfast meeting at an earlier year.

A major difference, however, was that on January in 2017 versus January in 2016 there was pending an Atlanta citywide election.  An election that was scheduled for November to replace the leader of our city who served for the past eight years, and to replace at least half of the City Council, plus a number of seats on the Board of Education.

There were no less than eight credible candidates for mayor, and contests would surface for all but one of the City Council seats!

I tried to emphasize the importance of this exercise, with a plea that one and all get informed and get involved.

What has resulted is a condition that warrants widespread citizenry attention.  There is now some sentiment of seclusion, a defined division that calls out for correction.

Thus, when I introduce this “State of the Community”, I find it to be different from a standard history, as the “State” of our Community very much reflects the “State of our City”.

Yes, just as Buckhead’s retailing, Buckhead’s dining, Buckhead’s nightlife, indeed Buckhead’s affluence all establishes the standard for others to emulate, any division we experience is an issue for Atlanta-at-large to address.

Buckhead’s 45 neighborhoods may total only about 20 percent of Atlanta’s land area, and its 85,000-plus population may total only about 20 percent of Atlanta’s citizenry, but Buckhead pays into Atlanta’s treasury about 45 percent of the city’s ad valorem taxes, so indeed you can sense that the tail is wagging the dog.

In fact, the Atlanta Journal- Constitution recently ran a story on secession, mentioning Buckhead in the headline, in spite of the fact it wasn’t the generator of the article.

Former Atlanta Mayor and Buckhead Coalition President Sam Massell Presents the crystal sculpture representing Atlanta Together to new Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

As president of the Buckhead Coalition, I have spoken out in opposition to such consideration of Buckhead becoming a separate city, because of the obvious result that would project: a Wall Street headline of our Capital City bankrupting, a simple path to devastation for Atlanta and its growth, with parallel damage to Buckhead’s on-going prosperity.

When I speak of the “State” of our area, of Buckhead, I need only direct your view out any window to marvel at our ever-expanding skyline.  Can you believe it?  Have you ever even imagined such growth, such statue?  I could just provide a new photo every year and you could quickly measure the expansion.

Just in multifamily rental apartments alone, we now have some 17,000 units in various stages of announced development, occurring since 2012 (only six years ago), at a 134 percent increase!

But we know that Buckhead’s success, indeed Atlanta’s success, depends on one combined effort, not a dream of divisiveness.  It was not only the mayor’s race that ended with a 50/50 split vote, for there were 10 other contests that ended with 55 to 45 percent divisions or closer, and that’s almost half of the 23 contested races (of a total of 26 seats).

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms won by a razor-thin 50 percent, Councilman at-large Bond won by just 50 percent, Council President Moore won by only 55 percent, Councilmen Shook and Matzigkeit won by just 50 percent each, Councilmembers Archibong and Hillis won by 51 percent each, Councilmembers Overstreet, Winslow, Farokhi, Smith, and Sheperd each won by 57 percent or less, as did Board of Education member Amos.

No wonder there is a depressed feeling in some of the electorate that cries out for attention and understanding.

Sam Massell is shown in 2015 waiting to address the BBA audience with the Coalition’s Vice President Garth Peters to his right.

I think it’s safe for me to say that with very few exceptions, all Atlantans agree that a city combined as one will be a city of much greater strength and opportunity for success.

It is for just such reasoning that the Buckhead Coalition last month issued a plea that Atlanta’s leadership assembled at its Annual Meeting adopt the pledge of “Atlanta Together”.  And, we gave to our keynoter Mayor Bottoms a Hans Fräbel custom crafted crystal trophy of two hands reaching to clasp in friendship, (plus miniature replicas to each of the other 190 attendees).

I know our city can bring this off, as we have done with other divisions along the way during my lifetime.

To give you some concrete examples, I’ll take you back 65 years to changes where I have been involved and can attest to what were considered dramatic reforms with results we accept today as SOP:  standard operating procedure.

In 1953 when I was a member of the Democratic Executive Committee that conducted Atlanta’s Democratic Primary Elections, (and being the only primary its results were tantamount to election), with help from the courts, blacks were allowed to vote and to be candidates . . .  as were two prominent African-Americans of the day, A.T. Walden (a very able attorney) and Miles Amos (a very successful druggist).

We didn’t let this divide and weaken us – – we emerged even stronger as one.

Six years later, as secretary of that Executive Committee, I went to the Georgia Legislature (with the acquiescence of then Mayor Bill Hartsfield) where the local delegation agreed with me it didn’t make much difference what party affiliation you claimed as to how you filled potholes or fixed malfunctioning traffic lights, as a result of which Atlanta’s elections were made nonpartisan.

Thus for the first time Republicans were allowed to vote and to seek elected office.  Again, this change added strength to our City with three Republicans, Rodney Cook, Richard Freeman, and Q.V. Williamson getting elected to our Council.

In 1962 I became the first Jewish person to run citywide in Atlanta, when I was elected President of the Atlanta Board of Aldermen (now called the City Council).  We overcame whatever anti-semitism took place, and “Atlanta Together” became the password rather than part of an argument.

In fact, one of my very first formal addresses was before the Mickve Israel Congregation in Savannah, Georgia simply on the subject of Brotherhood.

During racial stress of the following eight years I was pleased to create the City’s Community Relations Commission, to which I appointed Andy Young as chairman.  It was—as in other cities around the country at that time—created for the purpose of bringing blacks and whites together to arbitrate their tensions.

It was then that I realized race was not the only difference that wanted acceptance, but there was growing need to address pressures felt by the Gay Community, which I added to this Commission through its leading advocate, and Atlanta Together was again ensured.

Today you will find this next revelation to sound trite, but after I was elected mayor of Atlanta in 1969, the Charter under which we then operated allowed me to fill vacancies occurring on the City Council, whereby I was able to appoint the first female to that auspicious body.

Can you imagine, the first woman on Atlanta’s City Council in 125 years—with half the population being female, and not a one being able to contribute to our future—since which time we have had years of female Councils and female mayors. I’m glad to give witness to the fact our city is stronger as a result,  as we have come together after such a change!

Just count the reforms considered divisions by some at the time.  Blacks, Republicans, Jews, Gays, Females were all admitted and every time “Atlanta (came) Together”.

There is no stopping us, as we become stronger with every inclusion.

I’m proud that Mercer University Press has recently seen fit to publish my biography, “Play It Again, Sam” to chronicle the opportunities I encountered as our city’s mayor.  It spells the specifics as transformations took place, as Atlanta met the price to peacefully join hands together for every reform.

So, as we discuss the “State of our Community” we see the need and benefit from coming together, this time geographically, north side and south side, to reinforce the whole and enjoy what “Atlanta Together” can generate.

This is our math of the day:  one plus one equals the strongest possible one, and it should be the symbol of Buckhead and of Atlanta for one and for all.

Buckhead leadership will continue to nurture our quality of life, as it continues to grow with development of housing for the labor market requested by the expanding commercial interests.  It is for these reasons that our area attracts the country’s leading developers adding office space, hotel rooms, retail units, condo housing, entertainment facilities, and other investment real estate.

Atlanta Tech Village has started an entirely new industry with technology knocking at our door.  Alternative mobility ideas are surfacing with MARTA light rail, BeltLine expansion, the Clifton corridor, bicycle trails, and other options being molded into our fabric at a much quicker pace than we had become accustomed to.

So I’ve given you a brief history lesson and a peek into the future, to reinsure you that the “State of our Community” is very healthy, because it’s made up of informed and involved people just like you assembled here today.  For this I thank you!

Keep in mind that how Buckhead succeeds affects the entire City of Atlanta, and its success sets the tone for the entire region of well over six-million citizens.

Take this responsibility seriously.

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