Buckhead cityhood supporters vow to continue fight, but future is uncertain

Bill White, chairman and CEO of the Buckhead City Committee, holds a book titled "Never Give Up" as he begins speaking to members of the press during a news conference to discuss an important series of next steps outside the Buckhead City Committee headquarters on Tuesday, February 18, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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Bill White, chairman and CEO of the Buckhead City Committee, holds a book titled "Never Give Up" as he begins speaking to members of the press during a news conference to discuss an important series of next steps outside the Buckhead City Committee headquarters on Tuesday, February 18, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

City Committee says it’s keeping its divisive leader, Bill White, in place

Leaders of the group pushing to separate Buckhead from the city of Atlanta vowed on Wednesday to continue the secession effort after state Republican leaders effectively killed the measure for the year.

During a press conference in front of their Peachtree Road headquarters, senior members of the Buckhead City Committee said they would work for as long as it takes until legislators greenlight a referendum that would allow neighborhood residents to vote on de-annexation.

But despite the defiant rhetoric, the future of the cityhood movement — and its political viability — remains uncertain going forward.

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Leila Laniado (left), secretary of the Buckhead City Committee, holds Bill White, the group's chairman and CEO, as she speaks to members of the press during a news conference on Tuesday, February 18, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Leila Laniado (left), secretary of the Buckhead City Committee, holds Bill White, the group's chairman and CEO, as she speaks to members of the press during a news conference on Tuesday, February 18, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Leila Laniado (left), secretary of the Buckhead City Committee, holds Bill White, the group's chairman and CEO, as she speaks to members of the press during a news conference on Tuesday, February 18, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The committee affirmed its support for Bill White, the group’s chairman and CEO who has drawn widespread condemnation in recent days for a social media post that peddled a false conspiracy about the suicide of MARTA CEO Jeff Parker.

A professional fundraiser in New York City before his 2018 move to Atlanta, White said the city committee has raised nearly $2 million so far from neighborhood residents.

“We will never give up,” White told reporters. “We will never give in to the city of Atlanta and their coordinated effort to deny us our right to vote on cityhood.”

The statehouse’s top two Republican leaders, Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, announced last week that they planned to pause consideration of Buckhead cityhood legislation until at least 2023 to give new Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens time to curb violent crime.

This fall’s elections could shake up the elected leaders running the state, raising the potential that even more outspoken opponents, such as Democrat Stacey Abrams, could be sworn in next year.

Duncan, who is retiring at the end of the year, was particularly outspoken in his criticism of the secession push, saying that many key questions about issues such as crime reduction and education remained unanswered. He also singled out White’s comments about Parker, calling them “disgusting.”

“We’ll continue to watch people gravitate away from people like (White) and gravitate toward solutions,” Duncan told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

White refused to answer a question Wednesday about his comments regarding Parker. But he insisted that the cityhood movement is not about him.

“Although there seems to be an obsession, truly, that this is about one person... it is not,” White said. “It is about 80,000 legally registered voters who want and who deserve to vote this year.”

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During the press conference, committee leaders also announced that they had approved a new strategic plan and were launching a fresh fundraising campaign. They urged supporters to leave pro-Buckhead City yard signs up, and call on political leaders to approve referendum legislation this year.

Dozens of businesses in Buckhead urged lawmakers this month to oppose the secession or remove the neighborhood’s commercial center from the proposed boundaries. They said the effort “casts history aside and divides the city,” and hurts Atlanta’s brand, which relies heavily on an image of racial unity, an image of a Black mecca.

White said that any delays in approving a de-annexation vote “will put lives, property, businesses, commerce and the already vastly diminished quality of life in Buckhead at severe risk.”

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Buckhead cityhood supporters watch as Bill White, chairman and CEO of the Buckhead City Committee, speaks to members of the press during a news conference on Tuesday, February 18, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Buckhead cityhood supporters watch as Bill White, chairman and CEO of the Buckhead City Committee, speaks to members of the press during a news conference on Tuesday, February 18, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Buckhead cityhood supporters watch as Bill White, chairman and CEO of the Buckhead City Committee, speaks to members of the press during a news conference on Tuesday, February 18, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

He and other speakers also continued to criticize Dickens over homicides in Atlanta, which are up this year citywide compared to this time last year. Data show declines in other crimes, including aggravated assault, robbery, and motor vehicle theft.

In Buckhead, homicides have not seen an uptick, and overall property crime is down 35% compared to this time last year.

Asked about White’s comments Wednesday, Dickens said, “Interesting that Bill White is still talking after Friday.”

The mayor also said he visited Buckhead twice on Tuesday and was well-received.

“They’re seeing that this administration is committed to making sure that our city is run well and run well for everyone, and that includes all of Buckhead, and it’s run well for Bill White,” he said.

Billy Linville, spokesman for the anti-cityhood Committee for a United Atlanta, said “there is still work to be done.”

“We will continue to communicate with the Buckhead residents and our state leaders on why our city needs to be united,” Linville said in a statement Wednesday. “We will also continue to work closely with Mayor Dickens as he implements his public safety plan and collaborates with our neighborhoods on how to improve city services.

“Mayor Dickens needs a chance to do his job.”