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 MDJonline.com 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.