Closer to home, Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee unquestionably has it. His runoff challenger, Bill Byrne? Not so much.
“If you think you’re going to get a new warm and fuzzy Bill Byrne, you are sadly mistaken,” he declared at a July 26 GOP forum. “If I hurt somebody’s feelings, I really just don’t care.”
AS LEE AND BYRNE head toward an Aug 21 primary runoff election that will decide who’ll chair the Cobb Board of Commissioners for the next four years, the outcome could hinge on the ties of friendship and support that Lee has cultivated.
Runoffs usually turn on which candidate does the better job of getting his supporters back to the polls, and which candidate’s supporters are the most motivated. Yes, we’re all familiar with “voter anger” as a motivating factor in today’s politics. But personal popularity, affection and loyalty are also extremely effective motivators when it comes to getting people to go vote.
We’ve seen it for years from east Cobb supporters of native-son U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.); we saw it two decades ago for late Marietta Mayor Joe Mack Wilson and his successor, the late Ansley Meaders; and we saw such feelings in play on a widespread basis again when Steve “Thunder” Tumlin ran successfully for Marietta mayor in 2009.
Lee seems cut from the same cloth, even though much of his record in his brief two-year term as chairman has lent itself to harsh criticism.
But voters are usually able to separate the person from his politics and retain their fondness, even while being critical of his actions.
The flip side of that is that many voters are willing to vote for candidates who they don’t much like and may even have grave doubts about as long as that candidate does a good job of articulating their beliefs and pushing their policies. We refer you back to “Tricky Dick” Nixon, who was never beloved even by Republicans, yet who won four of the five national elections in which his name was on the ballot and who won re-election as president by a landslide in 1972 even as the Watergate scandal was swirling around him.
AND THAT BRINGS US BACK to Lee and Byrne. Lee has a deep network of friends and supporters — and not just the insiders at the Cobb Chamber of Commerce and the top brass at the Cumberland Community Improvement District, or the legions who have donated financially to his campaign. His years as a district-level commissioner in east Cobb, his years of involvement before that with subdivision-level politics and zonings there, and his eager service on a variety of other boards have served him well. At this point, he’s arguably on a first-name basis with more people than anyone else in Cobb. And tellingly, the most frequent remarks heard by Around Town since Tuesday — even from those less than enchanted with some of what he’s done — have been variations on “I really like Tim” and “Tim’s a really nice guy.”
Byrne, on the other hand, has always had a reputation as a political loner. He doesn’t “work the room.” Rather, he waits for the room to come to him; and if “it” doesn’t, too bad. There’s nothing wrong with that style, and it worked just fine for him during his decade (1993-2002) as chairman. He’s been able to capitalize this summer on Lee’s support for the tremendously unpopular TSPLOST and Lee’s questionable decision last year to raise property taxes. In addition, Byrne’s unvarnished directness has also served him well. No one has ever been confused about how Byrne felt on an issue.
LEE’S LIKEABILITY is apt to be a critical factor in the next three weeks as those who voted Tuesday for Mike Boyce and Larry Savage weigh what to do Aug. 31. Boyce has declined to endorse either Lee or Byrne and Savage has endorsed Byrne. And Savage even touched on the likeability aspect of the race on Thursday, telling the MDJ that if he was picking a next-door-neighbor, as opposed to picking a chairman, he’d pick Lee because he is more likable.
The feeling is that many of those who voted for Boyce and Savage were originally Lee supporters put off by his TSPLOST and tax moves. But now, having cast their “protest” votes for Boyce (or Savage), they are apt to come back in the fold and give the hopefully chastened Lee another chance. In other words they retain a degree of affection for Lee, even though he’s lately irked them. And even though they agree with Byrne’s critique of Lee, they aren’t eager to risk a Byrne restoration.
In what’s likely to be a very closely contested runoff, those residual ties of friendship cultivated by Lee through the years could prove decisive.
THE MDJ will host a live televised debate between the commission runoff candidates at 7 p.m. Aug. 14 in the Commissioners Meeting Room at the County Government Building on Marietta Square. The event will be moderated by MDJ columnist Dick Yarbrough.
Byrne has already committed to take part. The newspaper has yet to receive a response from Lee.
LONGTIME state Rep. Judy Manning (R-Marietta) was upset Tuesday by political unknown Charles Gregory, and almost nobody saw it coming. In retrospect, she suffered from a pair of self-inflicted wounds. The first was her gratuitous swipe at Mormons and Muslims last winter, when she noted that “Mitt Romney is a nice man, but I’m afraid of his Mormon faith, (although) it’s better than a Muslim …”
The second was the fact that her family’s real estate company, Manning Properties, was in the news this spring for renting space just steps off Marietta Square on Atlanta Street to a tattoo parlor. Tattoo parlors, especially those that are garishly lit like the one in question, bring to mind “Skid Row” in the minds of many older residents, who feel such places are inappropriate for downtown.
She also was targeted in a pro-Gregory mailer featuring photos of her and President Obama that included the charge, untrue in her case, that she and Obama both favor gun control.
Meanwhile, mainstream Cobb Republicans say Gregory is an ardent Ron Paul supporter and are wary of what may be in store. Said one to Around Town on Friday, “I hope we don’t have another Bobby Franklin representing Marietta and Cobb.”
The eccentric Rep. Franklin of east Cobb, who died unexpectedly last summer, was principled but so far to the right of his fellow Republicans as to be ineffectual as a legislator. Among other things, he compared gays to drug dealers; complained that driver’s licenses were in violation of the inalienable right to travel inherent in the Magna Carta; and opposed government efforts to require vaccinations even during pandemics.
MANNING HOPEFULLY will be best remembered for having successfully sponsored Georgia’s Safe Haven law in 2002, which provides that the mother — but only the mother — of a child less than seven days old can drop off the baby at a hospital, infirmary, birthing center or health center without fear of criminal charges. It came in response to repeated cases in which mothers abandoned their newborns in dumpsters, bathrooms, alleys and the like.
There were more than 300 known cases just in the first four years of the law in which infants were dropped off at the appropriate locations, the state later said. Many of those newborns whose lives were saved thanks to Manning’s foresight are now nearing their middle-school years.
AMONG THE OTHER SURPRISES Tuesday was the closeness of the Vic Reynolds/Cindi Yeager race for Cobb district attorney. Reynolds had been heavily favored, but instead won by a scant six-point margin. The difference was most likely the last-minute mailer by Yeager reminding Republican Primary voters that Reynolds, an avowed death penalty supporter, had none-the-less represented cop killer Lynn Turner, one of the most notorious murderers in state history, and spared her from the electric chair.
Blared the mailer, “Vic Reynolds says he supports the death penalty, but his record clearly shows he does not.”
The mailer was illustrated by an old AP photo of a scowling Reynolds with Turner, who used antifreeze to slowly poison her victims.
TODAY’S “First Saturday Breakfast” at the Cobb GOP HQ at 799 Roswell St., will feature Cobb Sheriff Neil Warren as speaker. Cost is $10 for the 8 a.m. event. ...
OVERHEARD on Tuesday: “It’s been a great day! It’s not often that you can vote against a tax increase and vote in favor of Sunday alcohol sales all on the same day!”