Opinion: Worrying about city’s quality of leadership

Editor’s Note: This column by The Atlanta Constitution editor Reg Murphy appeared on the opinion pages of Jan. 1, 1969.

“The quality of a city is elusive, and largely indefinable. And, even after a judgment has been passed on that quality, the factors responsible for it remain hard to understand and isolate. About Atlanta, however, it should be said at once that the quality of the city is good, and that the single most striking reason is the leadership that exists there. Businessmen in Atlanta generally have stayed in the city, have assumed wide responsibilities there, and have managed to keep in sight some of the larger objectives of urban society. Atlanta is establishing a tradition of great mayors …”

Fortune magazine, August 1966.

Will the national publication be able to say that in 1976? The most important question facing Atlanta — and Georgia — at the moment is the one of leadership.

The city particularly and the state in more general terms have come to an epochal turning point. Much of the leadership that lifted us through the 1960s is gone or is less active. In this and the following two pieces, there will be an examination of the leadership for Atlanta, and to some extent Georgia, in the 1970s.

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The first and most urgent question as we begin the new year is whether Atlanta will continue its tradition of great mayors. Beyond that is the question of where the new leadership will emerge. And finally there is the problem of how to stimulate the development of a thinking leadership.

It now appears that Ivan Allen Jr. will not run for mayor again. From the days of James Key through the era of William Hartsfield and on through Allen’s decade, the city has been ruled wisely and well.

Despite its problems (and they are massive), it has become the great city of the South. Art and commerce have flourished frame-by-dollar. That is due in great measure to the vision of the mayors.

Now the city apparently must choose a new one. The choice will not be a happy occasion. A very serious dialogue is going to occur in the city this summer and fall. It will involve at least these possible candidates, in alphabetical order: Rodney Cook, Milton Farris, Maynard Jackson, LeRoy Johnson, Vernon Jordan, Sam Massell, Bill Wainwright. In all likelihood, there will be others.

But it will be fairly easy to rule some out. They all probably would enjoy being mayor. The question is tougher: Who is willing to apply the intellectual vigor to develop a program which he would enjoy working for?

The key of Allen’s success is that he went into office with a firmly developed program — major league stadium and rapid transit, urban renewal and expressway expansion — which has been the end product of his administration.

Now someone else must develop concrete goals which the community will accept. He must push them.

And Allen, if he is firm in his decision not to run again, also has an obligation. Just as Hartsfield did before him, Allen cannot sit back and allow some unknown drift to occur in the city. he will feel it his obligation to pass on the reins of leadership with dispatch, clarity of purpose and vigor for the future.

The time is not too early to think long and hard of where the leadership will come from.

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