OPINION: Bill White’s joining Mar-A-Lago, but he’s not done with Buckhead yet

 Bill White looks through some of the boxes that are left to move from the Buckhead City Committee Headquarters Thursday, Mar. 30, 2023.  (Steve Schaefer/steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer/AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer/AJC

Bill White looks through some of the boxes that are left to move from the Buckhead City Committee Headquarters Thursday, Mar. 30, 2023. (Steve Schaefer/steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

My final interview with Bill White last week happened at the same place as the first — under the money tree at Buckhead’s OK Cafe. It seemed a poetic way to end White’s tumultuous time in Atlanta, after he roared into town like a New York fireball, but packed up three years later after his effort to create “the City of Buckhead City” blew up spectacularly at the General Assembly in March. .

Gone this time were White’s mounted maps of the new “Buckhead City” he had planned to create. Also missing was the entourage that accompanied him to his previous meetings with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the curious passers-by who used to ask about what he had planned for Atlanta next or shout that they’d just seen him on Fox News.

His usual bluster was mostly gone, too, replaced by a sort of shell-shocked disbelief that his go-to tactics of charming, then punching, then ramming his way through a deal or legislative package didn’t work this time around — and in Georgia of all places.

“These people are so sleazy,” he said of the lawmakers and lobbyists who he said defeated the Buckhead City effort this year. “I thought New York was bad politics ... I’ve never seen anything like this. New York is really bad. This is really, really bad. There, a friend will stab you in the chest, not in the back.”

White packed up the last boxes in his sleek Buckhead home earlier this month and bought two new homes to take its place— a vacation spot on Georgia’s Lake Burton and a primary residence in (where else?) West Palm Beach, Fla. He said he’s nearly done joining Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago country club which he’ll be able to walk to, and planning his future without the fight that’s consumed him since 2020.

But he’s not leaving town empty-handed. Along with a few regrets and lessons learned about the brutality of Georgia politics, White is taking an enemies list — a catalog of the Republicans he thinks double-crossed or sank the Buckhead City effort, along with a plan to exact his revenge.

“My role in the next three years is to punish the people who told us they were voting yes and to punish the people who screwed us,” he said. “I think that is a very good use of my time.”

At the top of White’s enemies list is former friend, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, the man he says is ultimately responsible for Buckhead City’s demise.

“Governor Kemp is to blame. There’s no one else to blame,” White said. An adviser for Kemp declined to comment on White’s statements last week, but has earlier said that if White is looking for someone to point a finger at, he should point it at himself.

Although Kemp said earlier this year that he planned to mostly “keep his powder dry” as the divisive Buckhead debate moved through the General Assembly, David Dove, Kemp’s executive counsel, released a memo to senators on the eve of a Senate vote to move the question to a referendum in 2024.

The memo outlined the many unanswered questions about how the new city might work. The document either worried lawmakers who seemed inclined to vote yes or gave them the political cover they’d been looking for to vote no all along. A poll of Buckhead residents ahead of the vote showed they overwhelmingly disapproved of splitting Atlanta apart.

White thinks it was his friendship with Trump, who had long ago declared war on Kemp, that was behind the memo. Much more likely was the fact he and other Buckhead boosters never addressed critical questions for Buckhead residents, like where their kids would go to school, or whether their taxes would go up or down.

All of those issues would have been worked out one way or another, White insisted last week, whether through legislation, directive, or court order. Either way, Kemp, he said, double-crossed him.

“It was, ‘My powder is no longer dry. I have lit a cannon in your face.’”

White has other people on his enemies list, too, starting with the senators he said “flipped” under pressure from Kemp on the morning of the Senate’s vote, which he watched fail 33 to 23 from his Buckhead living room. They’ll all get theirs soon enough, he said.

But he doesn’t only blame Kemp and Republicans for Buckhead’s flame out — he partially blames himself, too. When I asked which mistakes he made, he said “a lot,” starting with retweeting a false rumor about the late head of MARTA in 2021.

“Tweeting that was a mistake. But should that keep Buckhead from voting? No,” he said, adding later that his husband, Bryan, said he should stop Tweeting entirely.

“Bryan’s like, you’re too old. you’re too fat, you’re too gay, to be tweeting, get over it,” he said with a laugh.

Also, he should have raised millions more to pass the effort through the General Assembly, he said. “If we had $20 million to $30 million, we wouldn’t be doing this kind of an interview. I really believe that.”

Money is at the heart of what White is planning next, too.

First, he’s turning his attention to Trump, whom he’ll raise money and organize for ahead of the 2024 elections. His first order of business in Florida will be registering to vote so that he can cast a ballot for the former president, and against Gov. Ron DeSantis, in the state’s primary.

And then there’s 2026, when Kemp is assumed to be considering a run for Senate, and other Republicans who didn’t help him will be on the ballot again, too.

He claims he’s already gotten $2 million in commitments for a PAC that he may name the “You Screwed Buckhead City PAC” to defeat them all.

“I think $2 million can do a lot of damage to 10 senators and a governor that wants to run for Senate,” he said.

He said he’s sad to leave town since his husband’s family is here, but also because he doesn’t see the city changing the way he wants it to. Violent crimes continue to make news in Buckhead on an almost daily basis.

“We would move back if circumstances change, but I think we’re really, really happy with where we’re going to be for the next four years.”

The City of Atlanta beat Bill White this year. But like others who have lost wars here before, he swears he’s not done yet.