OPINION: Buckhead crazy train halted. Hopefully for good

Bill White, a leader of the Buckhead cityhood movement, left, confers with Republican state Sen. Randy Robertson, right, at a recent Senate committee meeting. (Image via state Senate video)

Credit: State Senate video

Credit: State Senate video

Bill White, a leader of the Buckhead cityhood movement, left, confers with Republican state Sen. Randy Robertson, right, at a recent Senate committee meeting. (Image via state Senate video)

It’s asinine that we’ve still been talking about the malignant Buckhead secession effort.

I’ve written before how deannexing the rich parts of a city — any city — to create a newer one is a race to the bottom and would tear communities apart.

But Lazarus got revived by a corps of cityhood zealots and conservative rural pols who find it useful — and popular with their base — to bash Atlanta.

Fortunately, rationality won the day at the legislature Thursday. Ten Republicans crossed the aisle and defeated the measure 33-23.

It’s a truism that no Georgia politician from the hinterlands has ever gone wrong by beating up on the Capital City. State Sen. Randy Robertson, a Republican from Cataula, population 1,433, was the point man for the movement at the Capitol and happily soaked up whatever TV time he could absorb.

Apparently looking for a challenge, he ran into Bill White. White is the Trumpian carnival barker who moved to Buckhead not long ago and has, through sheer force of his blusterhood, become the Face of the Movement. Last year, he was the Mouth of the Movement, although he muttered one too many stupid things, so those more cautious folks in the effort prevailed upon him to zip it.

Surprisingly, he has.

Now, it’s not to say that White & Co. are not Opportunists with a capital “O.” In December, when a 77-year-old lady was stabbed to death in Buckhead, the cityhood folks sent out a fundraiser barely minutes after her accused killer was locked up.

Crime, of course, drove the effort. At a recent Senate committee hearing, White & Co. filled the meeting room and resident after resident walked to the microphone and spoke of Buckhead’s “decay” and its being a “cesspool” and a “soft target.”

012422 Buckhead: Supporter Bob Prather (right) buys a Buckhead City hat from Tiffani Wittwer as he arrives for a Buckhead cityhood movement fundraiser on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022, in Buckhead. The Buckhead cityhood organization is starting a political action committee with $1 million in the bank, Buckhead City Committee chief executive Bill White told several hundred donors at Bistro Niko.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton/AJC

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Credit: Curtis Compton/AJC

Granted, crime has become more brazen across the city. The murder rate spiked with COVID and hasn’t sunk. Atlanta’s crime rate last year was flat compared to the previous year. But the police department’s Zone 2, which is largely Buckhead, saw a 14% drop in overall crime last year compared to 2021 and a 10% drop in violent crime.

Last week, it seemed Gov. Brian Kemp artfully smothered the effort by asking a slew of unanswered questions about the nuts and bolts of creating a new city. He didn’t come out and say, “I’ll veto this steaming pile of legislation if it passes,” but that seemed to be implied. I asked his office to clarify and they said, “That’s as far as we’re wading into this.”

Sense ruled the day at the Capitol Thursday. State Sen. Frank Ginn, whose committee had earlier pushed the matter forward, told his colleagues that pulling Buckhead from Atlanta would be like removing its heart. “And I don’t want to see our capital city die,” he said before voting against the bill.

John Albers, R-Roswell, told his colleagues that Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, elected in 2021, has made inroads into helping Buckhead, as well as the entire city.

The elected state legislators representing the Buckhead area were against the proposal. The Atlanta City Council members from there were more circumspect.

When I first heard of the cityhood movement, I immediately thought this was an effort to get City Councilwoman Mary Norwood elected mayor of something, anything. She famously almost became mayor of Atlanta twice, running against Kasim Reed in 2009 and Keisha Lance Bottoms in 2017, losing both times by less than a 1,000 votes.

Interestingly the Buckhead cityhood legislation has a provision saying no one holding elected office “at the time of the enactment of this charter shall be eligible for election or to serve as mayor or councilmember” during the city’s first four years.

I called this the “Mary Norwood Clause.” It seems the cityhood crowd doesn’t want current elected officials to use their incumbency and name recognition to roll over enterprising political upstarts. I’ve always figured Bill White daydreams of himself leaning back in the comfy mayoral chair. Now he must move on.

Longtime Atlanta Councilman Howard Shook, who represents half of Buckhead, has been circumspect on cityhood. But it seemed like he was leaning against it, telling me Kemp “asked some good questions, questions that we haven’t gotten answers for.”

Mary Norwood, candidate for mayor, gives supporters a double thumbs up making a final appearance at her election night party saying she assumes there will be a run off before ending the evening with few election results counted on Tuesday, November 7, 2017, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Credit: Curtis Compton

I reached out to Norwood before the vote, who’s been elusive on the subject. But it sure doesn’t seem as if she hated the idea.

Last year, she very publicly blasted Atlanta officials for the handling of money meant to fix roads and infrastructure. In an editorial, she wrote, “we have been overlooked and underserved for years.”

She is aggrieved at how she believes the city treats Buckhead, using it like a piggy bank.

“It’s stunning where the money is being spent and where it is not,” she said. “I’m just doing everything I can to help my district.”

Norwood said she stayed out of the fray to avoid being a “lightning rod” indicating that she would not run for Buckhead office it it ever got that far.

“I don’t believe the third time is a charm; I believe you have a moment and then it passes,” Norwood said. “I’m 70. I’m not going to be the Nancy Pelosi of Georgia politics.”

She said that if the legislation passed, “Then there would be a lot of discussion this summer. If it doesn’t, there will still be a lot of talk.”

It just won’t be as loud.