One side of Lee’s two-sided mailer (which was paid for by “Lee for Cobb”) is standard fare touting his accomplishments and recapping his platform.
The other side consists of a photo of Byrne and a quote from his testimony at a late 2000s meeting of the Polk County Election Board.
States the ad, “In 2008 Bill Byrne ran for the Polk County Commission and attacked Cobb County.”
The ad continues with a quote from Byrne’s testimony: “The last thing I wanted to do is live in Cobb County, let alone serve in Cobb County. I want to make damn sure Cobb County doesn’t move to Polk County. I live in Polk, I love this county and want to make sure that we preserve and protect this quality of life, and make sure Cobb County doesn’t move here.”
Byrne served a decade as Cobb chairman before resigning in 2002 to run unsuccessfully for governor. He ran for Cobb chair again in 2006 but dropped out before qualifying, then, ran in 2008 for a commission seat in Polk County, where he owns a horse farm. But the Polk County Elections board ultimately ruled that he was not a legal resident of that county.
Incidentally, Byrne’s 10-acre Polk house and farm were purchased in 1998 on what his critics said were favorable terms from John Moore of Marietta, who then and now was one of Cobb’s premiere zoning lawyers. The arrangement was sufficiently questionable to warrant a seven-month probe by the FBI after it was reported by the MDJ, but no charges were ever brought.
THE MORE IMMEDIATE QUESTION on Friday was whether the fact that Lee was resorting to such an ad indicates that his campaign is on the rocks. Candidates who are well ahead in the polls generally don’t see the need to go negative because such ads turn off so many voters, even though they usually are effective. Lee is the best-funded of the four candidates and almost certainly has bankrolled private polling on his race. Are they painting a bleak picture?
Lee has had a rocky re-election run, saddled with his support for the increasingly unpopular TSPLOST referendum and his decision last year to raise property taxes, rather than cut spending, to balance the county budget.
Another indication that Lee’s campaign might be taking on water came Friday when he suddenly seemed to hedge his support for the TSPLOST. Speaking in the third person, Lee told the MDJ’s Jon Gillooly that, “Chairman Lee felt that his vote, how he voted, was one he didn’t want to share, but he supports the referendum and the people’s choice to decide their future.”
As for the mailer, another of Lee’s challengers, retired Marine Col. Mike Boyce of east Cobb, quipped, “At least we kept the race civilized for all but the last 11 days — which might be a local record.”
COBB COMMISSIONERS and department heads got an unexpected email memo on Thursday notifying them that Tuesday’s commission work session would start at 2 p.m., rather than the scheduled 1:30 p.m. There was no word as to why.
They found out around noon on Friday. That’s when the Cobb Chamber of Commerce sent out an email blast of its own announcing a pro-TSPLOST rally from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday. The high-profile event at the Smyrna Community Center will feature Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed as headliner with former Gov. Roy Barnes of Marietta, Cobb Commission Chair Tim Lee and Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon singing backup.
Reed — who is said by political insiders to have gubernatorial ambitions — has emerged as the metro area’s most forceful advocate for the TSPLOST in recent days. Tuesday’s event will mark his second foray into Cobb this summer touting the program. He addressed the Cobb Chamber’s Chairman’s Club on the topic last month.
Tuesday’s event is sponsored by the Cobb Chamber, the Council for Quality Growth and Citizens for Transportation Mobility.
THE JULY 31 TSPLOST referendum is doomed, according Around Town’s conversations late this week with current and/or former elected local leaders on an off-the-record basis.
“Those who are opposing it have been extremely persistent,” said a Marietta official. “The Chamber of Commerce has hammered those who are against it. But the ‘antis’ are handling it better. If the vote was held today it would not pass.”
That was echoed by a retired north Cobb legislator.
“It is losing big right now and will lose on Election Day,” he told Around Town.
Another elected Marietta official told Around Town he sees the proposal “struggling” in Cobb but still supports it.
“There’s no alternative out there,” he said. “If we do it again in two or four years we’d probably wind up with a real similar project list. As for the present list, I would have preferred it have more emphasis on rail and less on bus. We might not have the density for rail at this point, but we have to move in that direction.”
The fourth leader contacted mentioned “mean-spirited” comments he’d witnessed at a recent public forum on the part of TSPLOST backers.
“When people take that attitude they usually have seen poll numbers that show things are not going their way and they get angry,” he said. “And (TSPLOST proponents) are probably doing lots of polling. I mean, they have huge amounts of money. I think they see that they’re behind, and they’re getting worried and getting nasty.”
That official, whose name has appeared on both local and statewide ballots in the course of a three-decade political career, also suggested that TSPLOST advocates are guilty of “overreaching” when it comes to their ballyhooed $8 million campaign fund.
“I think they’re spending too much money too obviously and it is backfiring on them,” he said. “If they had been more subtle and not said, ‘Look at all this money we have,’ it would have helped. They basically painted a big target on themselves. They’ve just been too ‘In your face.’”
Another problem is the project list, which the official in question, a Republican, described as “weighted toward ‘feel-good liberal items’ like rail and mass transit and bicycles. The average commuter and the typical housewife just don’t relate to that stuff.”
It also hasn’t helped that backers have changed the ostensible goal of the program from traffic relief to jobs and economic development.
“If that was what it was really about, then why not say that in the first place?” he asked. “It’s hard to shift your rationale so late in the game.”
SPEAKING OF THE TSPLOST, two rallies are slated today. Opponents plan the 10 a.m. “Lights for Liberty” motorcade, which will consist of two laps around I-285 in the center lane with lights flashing. Meanwhile, local Untie Atlanta supporters will gather at Dave Poe’s BBQ at 660 Whitlock Ave., from 10 a.m. to noon. That’s just down the street from Cobb Elections Office, where Saturday voting will be taking place. On Monday East Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott is sponsoring a TSPLOST debate at his 7 p.m. town hall meeting at Mount Bethel United Methodist. TSPLOST backers Chuck Clay and WSB traffic reporter “Capt. Herb” Emory will square off against frequent MDJ guest columnist Ron Sifen of Vinings at the event. The church is at 4385 Lower Roswell Road.
THE JULY 31 primary isn’t here yet, but state Sen. Judson Hill (R-east Cobb), who’s running unopposed, is already looking ahead. He told supporters at two recent Cobb GOP events that he plans to mount a primary challenge against U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Moultrie) in 2014. And should he be unsuccessful, he then plans to run in 2016 against U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-east Cobb), he said.
“Good luck with that,” cracked a local politico after hearing of Hill’s plans.