Around Town: Why Lee? MDJ’s endorsement in chairman race explained
by Otis Brumby, Bill Kinney, Joe Kirby
Around Town Columnists
August 18, 2012 12:28 AM | 4020 views | 6 6 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
POLITICAL TALK late this week in Cobb centered on two questions: Who will win the runoff race for chairman of the Cobb Board of Commissioners; and why did the Marietta Daily Journal endorse incumbent Tim Lee rather than challenger Bill Byrne?

We’ll look at the second question first. And it’s a fair question. After all, the MDJ editorial page has been unstintingly critical of Lee throughout his two-year tenure — in fact, harshly so at times. We strongly disagreed with his decision to raise property taxes 15.7 percent last year rather than cut county spending; we opposed the TSPLOST project list that he helped co-author; and we complained that he was turning into the errand boy of insiders at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce and Cumberland Community Improvement District. And those were just the big issues we disagreed on. And Byrne was against the tax hike and one of the most outspoken opponents of the TSPLOST.

So we understand why some readers were taken aback by our endorsement of Lee on Wednesday. One reader commenting on the editorial on the website pointed out that the endorsement’s headline said Lee was the best choice to keep Cobb moving “forward,” and noted that the word “appears time and time again in socialist/communist propaganda,” going on to suggest that Lee favored redistributionist policies.

To which reader “Verbatim” answered, “The MDJ supports Obama or is liberal and so now endorses Mr. Lee? Come on folks, the MDJ is as conservative as any paper in the nation.”

And as someone logging in as “Watcher” wrote in the Reader Comment area under the editorial, “This is a sad day for the MDJ!” To which “Samuel Adams” added: “It truly is. Joe Kirby must be on vacation.”

WRONG. Yes, Kirby wrote the editorial in question, but decisions about who the newspaper endorses are arrived at by consensus, not by a single editor or, for that matter, by flipping coins.

But when it comes to picking leaders, sometimes “how you get there” is just as important as “where you’re going.” Lee is easy to work with. He’s a chairman, not a czar. He’s not a “My way or the highway” leader like Byrne. He’s a consensus-builder like his political mentor and predecessor as chairman, (current Georgia Attorney General) Sam Olens.

There’s a fine line between being perceived as a consensus builder and between being dominated by those with whom you’re seeking consensus. Olens wrote the book on “working the room,” but there was never any doubt who would ultimately make the decision. Lee is not quite there yet. But he’s still preferable to Byrne, who as chairman rarely seemed to consult anyone other than the guy in the mirror.

Moreover, it’s inconceivable that a newspaper would endorse for chairman a candidate who just four short years ago trashed Cobb in the course of trying (without success) to persuade the Polk County Board of Elections that he was bona fide resident of that county and eligible to run for the commission there.

“The last thing I wanted to do is live in Cobb County, let alone serve in Cobb County,” he told that board in sworn testimony. “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 can claim his comments were “taken out of context” all he wants — but there’s no question that his legendary bluntness has now come back to bite him.

THAT BLUNTNESS was also on display a couple of times this week.

Asked about his support for the commission’s 1993 “gay lifestyles” resolution first proposed by east Cobb Commissioner Gordon Wysong that made his earlier tenure as chair a nightmare, Byrne minced no words. Asked by the MDJ if he might act any differently if he could “redo” the episode, he answered that, “I would have personally gotten my revolver and shot Gordon Wysong between the eyes.” Once allies, the resolution episode — and Wysong’s decision to leave Byrne holding the bag as its most high-profile defender — ultimately helped drive an unbridgeable gap between the two men.

And as he has so often in the past, Byrne came across as a bull in a china shop in Thursday’s MDJ courtesy of his gratuitous swing at Gov. Nathan Deal in response to comments the governor supposedly made about the TSPLOST. Blurted Byrne: “(Deal) sounded to me like a very arrogant man that just got his butt kicked, and if that’s the leadership of the future, then we’ve still got a problem.”

If Byrne wins on Tuesday, don’t count on the governor bending over backward to do any more favors for Cobb anytime soon. Not after that swipe.

As for the TSPLOST, there’s a happy medium between embracing the rest of the metro region and its problems, as Lee seems to want to do, and wanting to pull up the drawbridge, as Byrne wants. But the fact is that going it alone is no longer a viable option for Cobb. And the now-chastened Lee is none the less the better-equipped candidate of the two to find the right balance between embrace and rejection.

AS FOR THE QUESTION of who will win on Tuesday, we frankly don’t know. Lee got the most votes in the four-way field July 31, but 52 percent of those who voted that day voted against him. Larry Savage, who came in fourth, has endorsed Byrne. Third-place finisher Mike Boyce is staying on the sideline and confirmed to AT on Friday that he plans no endorsement.

The outcome likely will hinge on who does the best job of getting his “people” to return to the polls. And Georgia history shows that election frontrunners (like Lee) tend to have a hard time getting people back out, unlike the second-place finisher, whose supporters often are highly motivated to vote again.

Lee has the backing of most of the Cobb business community and many younger business people. Byrne’s core support seems to be among those who turned out in droves to reject the TSPLOST. Will they head back to the polls on Tuesday in sufficient numbers to return Byrne to office? Could be. We’ll know for sure in three days.

DON’T LOOK FOR “SEXY” ITEMS like artificial turf fields or take-home laptops to be included in the project list to lure residents into voting for the Cobb Schools’ SPLOST IV if there is one, says Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa.

“We’re not going to have any gimmicks like that,” he told Around Town this week. “We just want to replace some of our old buildings from the 1950s and upgrade some of our facilities like Walton and North Cobb and Campbell (high schools) where the common areas are far behind. We’re not trying to get anything sexy in there or play games with people.”

Topping his project list would be building a pair of “career academies” for high-schoolers and replacing/combining eight small, outmoded elementaries with four or five new ones.

HINOJOSA wouldn’t tip his hand as to who he’d like to see elected school board chairman in January, but noted that incumbent Scott Sweeney is “one of the top three chairmen I’ve worked with in my career. He’s smart, he’s not emotional and he just does a great job for us.”

POLITICS: Byrne’s “empty-chair” Atlanta Press Club debate taped without Lee on Wednesday by Georgia Public Broadcasting will air from 9:30-9:45 a.m. Sunday on PBA30 TV in Atlanta. … Martha Ouderkirk and Kathy Qualey will host a wine-and-cheese meet-and-greet for Byrne at 7 pm. Sunday at their home, 700 Atlanta Country Club Drive, Marietta.

MORE POLITICS: Laura Turner-Seydel, former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and Amanda Brown-Olmstead will host a fundraiser for state Sen. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna) from 6-8 p.m. Aug. 30 at 274 W. Paces Ferry Road in Buckhead.

POWDER SPRINGS horse farmer and web-technologies architect David Staples, a Libertarian, has qualified to run against incumbent Georgia Public Service Commission member Stan Wise of east Cobb. There is no Democrat in the race.

“It is time that the citizens of Georgia had a voice representing all Georgians instead of just the utilities,” he said.

Wise came under fire from Republican challenger Pam Davidson for taking campaign contributions from those the PSC regulates, but cruised to an easy victory over her in the July 31 Republican Primary.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
we know why
August 19, 2012
Lee got your endorsement, it is the same reason he has raised more funds, the bucks behing the failed TSPLOST...exact same reason
So Clear
August 19, 2012
Hinojosa likes Sweeney because Sweeney does whatever the Superintendent wants. If you buck the super, he doesn't want to play.
On Long Eyebrow
August 18, 2012
Not a very strong defense of the endorsement. Methinks you'd like to have it back. There is nothing wrong with saying, "neither candidate is worthy of endorsement." A mealy-mouthed MDJ endorsement may prove more harmful to Lee than one given with conviction might be helpful. For my part, I'll vote for one or the other and I'm not sure which. It's like deciding which ugly girl to ask out.
August 18, 2012
Tim Lee is so deeply obligated to the Chamber, CID, The Atlanta Chamber and Kasim Reed he is stalemated from doing anything that is pro Cobb if it in anyway contradicts what his many and sundry "handlers" want him to do.

It has been demonstrated time and again that the average citizen in Cobb County has no influence on his decisions.

To me that is a much more untenable position than the one in which Byrne finds himself.

He can be recalcitrant and obstinate, but he is not stupid and has the flexibility, guts and the mandate to change his mind.

Lee on the other hand is bought and paid for and has shown numerous times, as pointed out by this editorial, who he is going to favor.

Let's not let the concerns about Governor Deal's hurt feelings and those outside of Cobb County determine how we vote.

We need to decide our own destiny.

All in all Byrne, even with all of his minor personality flaws, will be the best leader for Cobb County.

If he starts to gets out of control there are plenty of voters and several other county commissioners who will not hesitate to reign him in.

Lee is already a lost cause.

Lee no leader
August 18, 2012
You all pushed Lee forward the last election and the results have not made the electorate happy. So you are going for the second try.

What happens when Lee, who is not a leader, decides once again on some scheme which is not good for the Cobb taxpayer? Well, who cares, he has a good haircut and after all, it isn't his money he's spending.
August 18, 2012
Tis' a shame I have a choice between "worse and worser" for Chairman!
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