Candidates denounce controversial memo

In July the five major candidates for mayor received a letter from a group called the Black Leadership Forum, summoning each of them for a sit down meeting. Mary Norwood, Jesse Spikes and Glenn Thomas met them on July 25 in the basement of Cascade United Methodist Church. Lisa Borders and Kasim Reed met about a week earlier.

The letter said the group was about eight months old and wanted to get to know the candidates better. Aaron Turpeau sent the letter and was listed as primary contact for the group. It is unknown, which of the 60 members interviewed the candidates.

The Rev. Gerald Durley of Providence Missionary Baptist Church in southwest Atlanta, acknowledged that he participated in some of the meetings, but said the significance and importance of the group has been overstated.

“It is not a formal group. We are just a group of people who have come together to see who would be the best mayoral candidate,” Durley said. “It was about which candidate could best be held responsible for the needs of your particular constituency.”

But it has become much more. In response to the interviews, the group put out an analysis paper of the race that called for the need for the city to maintain a black mayor. They went on — in the memo — to endorse Borders.

The reaction around the city was swift, as each of the five candidates denounced the memo and its contents.

“I am not surprised when this kind of reaction comes about,” Durley said. “And I don’t think it is going to have a major impact on any of the candidates.”

Durley said he is personally supporting Borders, but said the group is comprised of a “mixture of people, who have different opinions.”

For most of this week, Turpeau has been the focus of controversy surrounding the memo. He has denied writing it and refuses to say who else is in the group, but he has not been shy about talking about the memo’s meaning.

“I have nothing bad to say about Mary, I just think Lisa is a better candidate. That decision is not based on race,” said Turpeau, an old ally of Maynard Jackson. “But I am not going to sit and tell you I have not been meeting with folks about the possibility of losing to a non-black person.”

For those new to Atlanta, the name Aaron Turpeau might not be that familiar.

But the 66-year-old has been a looming figure in city hall since the days that the man whose ultimate legacy he is trying to protect — Maynard Jackson — was in office.

He has led city programs, run mayoral campaigns, worked for the city, and worked with Hank Aaron in a concessions business.

He was almost Jackson’s chief of staff until a scandal forced the former mayor to withdraw his name. Still, when Jackson died, Turpeau helped coordinate the massive funeral.

Since then, Turpeau had remained relatively quiet, until the memo surfaced with his name plastered all over it.

If there ever was a black political machine helmed by Jackson, Turpeau was a main cog. In 1977, he managed Jackson’s re-election campaign. During that period, he also ran Atlanta’s Comprehensive Employment Training Act program.

Later, under Andrew Young, Turpeau served for more than 20 months as the interim commissioner of the department of community development, until he got the job permanently in 1984.

In 1986, Young nominated Turpeau as commissioner of administrative services, in charge of personnel matters, contracts and the construction of city facilities.

In early 1990, when Jackson was re-elected mayor, Turpeau became his choice as chief of staff. But before he could get confirmed, Turpeau became the subject of a city council investigation into how a city contractor got a $48,000 contract increase that had twice been rejected.

He was accused of personally intervening to get the payment approved for a friend.

Jackson withdrew Turpeau’s nomination, before the council concluded that he did nothing wrong. He kept his job as services commissioner, but left the city for good in 1991.