Politics, calls for MLB All-Star boycott vex Cobb leaders

Cobb County Commission Chairwoman Lisa Cupid will deliver the State of the County address during the Cobb Chamber luncheon on March 8. (Courtesy of Lisa Cupid)
Cobb County Commission Chairwoman Lisa Cupid will deliver the State of the County address during the Cobb Chamber luncheon on March 8. (Courtesy of Lisa Cupid)

As outrage over Georgia’s voting law took the shape of potential boycotts and canceled events, Cobb Commission Chairwoman Lisa Cupid was forced to delicately balance economic wellbeing with civil rights.

The two distinct but often interwoven interests have the first African American woman elected to lead Georgia’s third largest county sounding somewhat conflicted, as calls for Major League Baseball’s All-Star game to move out of Cobb County have grown across the nation.

Cupid would like to see businesses in her county benefit from millions of dollars in extra spending projected to accompany the game. She also recognizes the historical power of the purse.

“When did we see action with respect to civil rights?” Cupid asked during an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday. “It’s when it affects their pocketbook.”

Cupid, a former three-term commissioner, won the county’s top government job in November. Her victory came as Cobb’s growing population and changing demographics helped put President Joe Biden in the White House and Democrats in control of the U.S. Senate.

Cupid was joined on the commission by two other Democrat African American women: Monique Sheffield and Jerrica Richardson, whose District 2 encompasses Truist Park, home of the Atlanta Braves and scheduled host of the July 13 event.

Braves officials declined to comment for this story.

In her first State of the County address earlier this month, Cupid championed economic and racial equity and criminal justice reform while highlighting the county’s financial resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Then, within Cupid’s first three months as chairwoman, Gov. Brian Kemp last week signed a sweeping, 98-page elections law that some have called “Jim Crow 2.0.″

Senate Bill 202, among other things, adds restrictions to absentee and early voting, instituted more stringent voter identification requirements and prohibits handing out water or food to people standing in long lines at the polls.

Voting rights advocates across the country have condemned the legislation, alleging it unfairly targets African American voters.

Tony Clark, executive director of the MLB’s players union, told the Boston Globe last week that players were ready to discuss moving the game out of Georgia because of the Republican-backed law. The union did not responded to request from the AJC for comment.

The National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization representing the LGBTQ+/SGL community, has demanded that the PGA Tour move The Masters golf tournament out of Georgia.

And some of Atlanta’s largest corporations have found themselves in the crosshairs of potential boycotts and criticism from people who say they have not spoken out loudly enough against SB 202.

Social media posts carrying the hashtags #BoycottDelta, #BoycottCocaCola and #BoycottHomeDepot proliferated on Twitter following corporate statements that seemed to neither affirm nor denounce the law.

Democrats in Cobb’s delegation at the Georgia legislature promptly tried to thwart organized attempts to pressure Georgia businesses.

State Sen. Jen Jordan urged liberals to “stop with this boycott Georgia nonsense.”

“I would rather people and companies use their economic power in this state for change rather than not come here at all,” said Jordan, who is expected to run for attorney general.

But the most prominent example of what the state stands to lose is MLB’s 91st All-Star game, a multi-day event that also features a Home Run Derby and other contests. If held at Truist Park, the game and other festivities would occur fewer than 15 miles from the State Capitol.

Atlanta hasn’t seen a Major League Baseball All-Star game in 21 years, and the 2021 Midsummer Classic is supposed to arrive just as the region tries to rebound from the global pandemic.

On Thursday when the law became official, the head of MLB’s players union said he was ready to discuss moving the game out of Georgia. Dave Roberts, leader of the World Series Champion L. A. Dodgers who is poised to manage the All-Star National League team, also said he would consider shifting the event to another state.

The idea was then championed by opinion pieces in national news outlets far from where consequences of the decision would be felt.

A MLB spokesman did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Cobb commissioners last week approved $2 million to provide additional security and transportation for the game. In a memo accompanying the request, the county’s finance director cited a projected economic impact from the event ranging from $37 to $190 million.

A MLB spokesman later confirmed to the AJC that those estimates came from business interests in host cities, and the league made no attempt to verify their accuracy.

But the AJC published stories last week quoting economists who said that, while the impact could be several times less than the forecast, hosting the game would still likely bring tens of millions of dollars in economic activity to Cobb County and Metro Atlanta.

Georgia’s elections law is just one of several similar measures across the country being pushed in Republican controlled state houses in aftermath of national elections that resulted in GOP’s loss of the White House and Senate. It is supported by at least one Cobb commissioner.

“The new voting law makes our voting system more secure and safe and restores integrity in our voting system,” wrote Commissioner JoAnn K. Birrell, a Republican. “It’s a shame that MLB is even considering moving the All-Star game at this point, and for this reason especially, since planning and security measures are already underway for this major event.”

Jacquelyn Bettadapur, Chairwoman of Cobb County’s Democratic Committee, said that moving the All-Star game from Cobb most likely wouldn’t undo the state legislation.

“You’re not going to see the GOP back off,” Bettadapur said. “It’s better to do other things to mitigate the impact of the law.”

Jerica Richardson, one of the newly elected commissioners whose district includes Smyrna, said that she wanted to keep the game in the county but agreed with overall goal of those who wanted it moved to another state.

“I think that when the community feels unheard, the community will do whatever is necessary to get their voices heard,” she said “They have a right to do that.”

Justin Simmonds, 28-year-old cartoonist for Mind Invader Comics, who helped organize a Marietta protest last summer following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, said he could understand the dilemma that confronts elected leaders.

Simmonds said he knows economic pain would accompany loss of the game, but he also thinks legislators are attempting to restrict voting rights.

“When it comes to people’s rights, history shows that there’s no pretty way to do any of this.”

Reporters Greg Bluestein and Kelly Yamanouchi contributed to this story.

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