The public seems to finally have focused on the TSPLOST in the past week or so, and many who were formerly on the fence or not paying much attention have now come down four-square against it. It’s no longer a question of whether it will pass in Cobb, but whether it will even break the 40 percent threshold, some think. The proposal holds its own in south Cobb and with younger people, but is highly unpopular with just about everyone else here. Of course, it could still be implemented if voters in the other metro counties approve it, even over Cobb’s rejection.
And the TSPLOST’s unpopularity appears to be having a spillover effect into the re-election candidacy of Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee. He was one of the architects of the now-maligned “project list” that featured first the rail line to Cumberland Mall, and now the premium bus service. And his earlier advocacy of the tax has come back to haunt him. He has declined to say how he will vote on the measure, and tellingly, was for all intents and purposes “The Invisible Man” at Tuesday’s pro-TSPLOST rally at the Smyrna Community Center. Yes, Lee was in attendance, but he took no part, preferring to sit in the front row rather than at the dais with headliners Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and former Gov. Roy Barnes. And unlike Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews and host Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon, he did not address the nearly 100 TSPLOSTers in attendance.
Meanwhile, former Cobb Commission Chairman Bill Byrne has proven adept at tapping into the hostility against the TSPLOST and positioned himself early on as one of its staunchest opponents. Few would have thought not so long ago that the often-polarizing Byrne would again be a voter favorite, but he is. That’s despite being burdened with enough baggage from his past to torpedo most such candidacies. But like Bill Clinton, Bill Byrne seems to be a political cat with nine lives.
MOST POLITICAL OBSERVERS have assumed from the outset that a runoff would be likely in the chairman’s race, considering there were four candidates and that Lee was considered a weak incumbent by virtue of only being in office two years and having raised property taxes last year. Such a runoff looks as likely as ever with the election just three days away, but the political parlor game of the week is “Who’ll Be in the Runoff?”
It was long expected that the primary would blow away the “chaff” (retired Marine Col. Mike Boyce and retired biz exec Larry Savage) and match Lee against Byrne in the runoff. And that’s still the most probable outcome, thanks in part to the advantage in name recognition enjoyed by the two and to Lee’s well-funded campaign.
But now observers aren’t so sure. Boyce was a “Who’s he?” to most of Cobb six months ago, but has relied on friends and his base at Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church in east Cobb to mount a surprisingly strong race. Had he started six months earlier and made himself better known in Marietta and west Cobb, he might have had this one tucked away by now. Some suspect the runoff could pit Lee against Boyce, not Byrne.
And with the TSPLOST getting less popular by the day, some even wonder if it might drag Lee out of the runoff entirely, leaving voters with a Byrne vs. Boyce choice on Aug. 21. That would be an interesting contest between a political veteran (Byrne) and rookie (Boyce); a face-off between an ex-Marine non-com and an ex-Marine officer, both of them former chopper pilots.
But wait, don’t count out Savage, say his supporters. Savage garnered 40 percent of the votes when he ran as an unknown against Lee two years ago. And friends of Lee and Byrne both predict their man will win it all on Tuesday, without a runoff.
If the admittedly unscientific poll on the MDJonline.com website is any indication, the runoff will feature Byrne and Lee. Of the 362 people who had responded as of 3 p.m. Friday, 34 percent favored Byrne, 30 percent backed Lee, 22 percent went with Boyce and 15 percent liked Savage.
FORMER Gov. Barnes of Marietta arrived right on time for Tuesday’s pro-TSPLOST rally at the Smyrna Community Center, but related that he’d had a roundabout trip.
“They told me it was at the Brawner Center,” he said, referring to the former psychiatric/substance abuse hospital further down Atlanta Road. “So I went to the Brawner Center first. It wasn’t the first time that somebody had told me I needed to go to the Brawner Center.”
The event started 15 minutes late, leading Bacon to quip to the crowd, “Can we finally start? I gotta meet my wife’s attorney at 1 o’clock!” He quickly conceded that he and new bride Ellen Claire Rose had been “happily married for 94 days now.”
Bacon also told the crowd that he graduated from Campbell High School in Smyrna in 1966, the same year Barnes had graduated from South Cobb High.
“Roy was the only kid in the school that carried a briefcase,” Bacon teased.
Barnes later related how Cobb had been a rural county when he grew up and that “if you had told me back then that Cobb someday would have a population twice the size of Wyoming, I would have said you were crazy. But if we stop growing, your taxes will go through the roof and the greatest export we will have will be your children leaving here to find jobs elsewhere. That’s not the future I want for Cobb, and that’s why we need to pass the TSPLOST.”
TUESDAY’S SMYRNA RALLY was Mayor Reed’s second venture to Cobb this summer to lobby for the TSPLOST. He boasts a rare combination of oratorical humor and power and is said to be considering a race for governor. Yes, Georgia is a “red” state, but not so red that Reed wouldn’t be able to make a real race out of it. Whenever that time comes, the Republicans better “bring their A game.” … An invitation from the pro-TSPLOST “Untie Atlanta” group that went out at noon Thursday inviting supporters to a fundraiser that evening downtown with Reed raised the eyebrows of TSPLOST foes. It urged attendees to give up to $25,000 each to the effort, which has already raised close to $7 million for its ad blitz.
WEDNESDAY’S CHAIRMAN CANDIDATES DEBATE at the Cobb GOP headquarters on Wednesday drew close to 100 people — most of them seemingly Byrne partisans — and was a reminder that there’s no love lost between Lee and the former chairman.
“Bill Byrne was a bully, and not meeting with people is not the management style we need,” Lee said at one point. “I try to build consensus. I don’t need to be bombastic or argumentative or to throw things or to slam doors and not meet with people in order to build a consensus. I believe in building consensus, not fences and walls.”
Byrne wasn’t pulling punches either. When asked by panelist/AT columnist Joe Kirby if he had learned any lessons from his controversies of the 1990s and whether if elected the public could expect more of the same this time, the former chair had a ready reply:
“If you think you’re going to get a new warm and fuzzy Bill Byrne, you are sadly mistaken,” he declared. “If I hurt somebody’s feelings, I really just don’t care.”
Savage, who was sandwiched between the two at the dais, was asked by moderator Ross Cavitt of WSB-TV if he cared to comment.
“I’m almost afraid to say anything,” Savage quipped.
CLOSE TO 100 PEOPLE crowded into the HQ for the debate, although they were slow in arriving. That prompted WSB’s Cavitt to joke to a fellow panelist that, “They probably decided to stay home and watch Monica Pearson’s final newscast tonight instead.”