Incumbent Tim Lee and former Chairman Byrne have conducted one of the most hard-fought campaigns for chairman in memory. The race will be decided in today’s runoff elections. If Byrne wins, it will come with a feeling of “déjà vu.”
Byrne was part of a crowded five-man field seeking the chairmanship in 1992. This time he has the advantage of running as an experienced former chairman. But in 1992 he was running as the darkest of dark horses in a field that also featured not just the incumbent but two well-known former commissioners.
Then-Chairman Dr. Phil Secrist was widely perceived as vulnerable that summer, his victory four years earlier against incumbent Earl Smith having been considered something of a fluke. So when the ’92 GOP Primary came along, Commissioner Stan Wise Jr. of east Cobb resigned to run for chairman against Secrist. So did Commissioner Harvey Paschal of west Cobb, a Democrat. Cobb was so monolithically Republican in those days that no Democrat was given any hope of winning a county-wide race. Hence, Paschal’s abrupt decision to switch parties (a move saluted even by wool-hat Democratic Mayor Joe Mack Wilson of Marietta, who attended Paschal’s press conference announcing his change of parties, and who endorsed Paschal as a “populist Republican”). The fourth candidate in the primary was popular custom-home builder Cody Holman of east Cobb. Byrne was mostly unfamiliar to press and public, although he had run unsuccessfully for the commission in 1990.
But to the surprise of most, Paschal (27 percent) and Byrne (24 percent) wound up in the runoff. And even though Secrist, Wise and Holman all endorsed Paschal, it was Byrne who got the nod from voters. Byrne came out of nowhere to crush Paschal by a 56.8 percent-to-43.1 percent landslide margin.
FAST-FORWARD TO 2012. Lee was the frontrunner in the July 31 GOP Primary, with 29,024 votes. Byrne was second, with 19,388. There is no Democrat running for the position, which pays $131,000 per year plus invitations to nearly every event of any significance in the county.
Lee has the backing of much of the local business community and has had no trouble compiling a campaign war chest reported at $441,000 as of Friday. That figure dwarfs the $75,000 raised by Byrne.
But the underfunded Byrne has maximized his minimal funding by capitalizing on Lee’s backing of the unpopular TSPLOST and his decision last year to raise property taxes rather than cut services further to balance the county budget.
Several politicos contacted by Around Town over the weekend see Lee winning, but only by a nose. Indeed, that might just be wishful thinking on their part. If any private polling has been done, the results have not been shared. Lee is the one with the most resources to spend on polling. And if such a poll showed him in a strong position going into today, chances are the news would have made its way out, the politicos said. The other possibility is that such a poll might have shown Lee ahead, but he preferred to keep the news quiet so as to not breed a feeling of complacency among his supporters.
Will Byrne be able to repeat his feat of 20 summers ago? Only a fool would rule it out.
LARRY SAVAGE, who finished in fourth place July 31 with 7,622 votes (behind Lee, Byrne and Mike Boyce, who had 17,025), has thrown his support behind Byrne and issued a strong statement of support for him on Monday.
“Chairman Lee has been in office for almost two years,” it read. “He has demonstrated clearly that he is the chairman of the special interests. … Bill is the Conservative. Tim is the Liberal. Byrne embraces small government and a commitment to low taxes. Tim embraces the interests of his backers.
“Over the past several months and since the election of July 31, I have had many conversations with Bill Byrne about government in general and about the Cobb County government in particular. I am convinced that Bill Byrne is honest, well-informed and committed to return the Cobb County government to its conservative roots. Over the past two years I have studied the Cobb government more thoroughly than any individual before me. I am confident that Bill Byrne knows what’s needed and can deliver the results we need.”
ONE OF TODAY’S other high-profile runoffs pits incumbent Woody Thompson against political newcomer Lisa Cupid in the race for the District 4 seat representing Southwest Cobb on the Board of Commissioners. Cupid came in first with 40 percent of the vote in the July 31 Democratic Primary. Thompson was a distant second with 27 percent in a crowded six-person field. There is no Republican running.
The Cobb United for Change Coalition has endorsed Cupid, announced its spokesman Rich Pellegrino over the weekend.
“Lisa has proven to be a dedicated and hands-on leader in Cobb County; and we feel that her interpersonal proficiency and initiatives will best serve our community well,” he said.
Lee did not make an endorsement in the race. “It’s up the people to decide who their best representative is,” he said. “They’re both very capable people.”
INCIDENTALLY, the Coalition will hold a “Public Strategy Planning Meeting” from 5:45-7:45 p.m. Aug. 29 at the Cobb Central Library to discuss immigration and other issues, including the foreclosure problem and the Coalition’s “Occupy Our Homes” campaign.
BACK TO BYRNE: Lee lashed out at the former chairman last week for his role in costing Cobb the chance to host the volleyball competition during the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. But what’s been forgotten by many is that Byrne was largely responsible for Cobb losing out on hosting not just one Olympic event, but two.
As many have reminded, the “anti-gay resolution” passed by Byrne’s commission in August 1993 caused the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games to change its earlier decision to stage the preliminary volleyball competitions at the then-new Cobb Galleria Centre, which had been specially designed with 40-foot-high ceilings (at extra cost) just to host the event.
But generally forgotten is that Cobb had been widely considered the favorite to host the women’s fast-pitch softball medal competition. The Cobb County Olympic Organizing Committee (which included such high-powered figures as John Williams of Post Properties, President Dr. Betty Siegel of Kennesaw State College, Southern Tech President Dr. Steve Cheshier, Dr. Sid Williams of Life College, Commission Chair Secrist, state Sen. Johnny Isakson and Byrne’s brother-in-law, then-state Rep. Bill Atkins, several of whom had close ties with Atlanta Olympics czar Billy Payne) had submitted a bid to ACOG on behalf of Al Bishop Park, with expansion to be paid for by revenue bonds. The skids were greased for Cobb to be awarded the venue.
But shortly after taking office as commission chairman in January 1993, Byrne unveiled a plan to junk the earlier proposal and substitute a bid for a softball facility at Lost Mountain Park to be paid for with $12.8 million in general obligation bonds.
The hitch was the measure would need to be approved by county taxpayers. And they failed to cooperate, rejecting the referendum question in June 1993. So softball was played in Columbus instead, and that community enjoyed the tens of millions of dollars in “spin-off” spending, not Cobb.
“(Byrne) couldn’t sell the ‘vision’ of what it could mean to our county to host softball,” a former member of the Committee told AT last week. “Cobb missed out on so much. It broke our hearts.”
SICK BAY: Marietta architect and gun collector Lamar Cheatham is recovering at home from surgery to remove a tumor from one of his kidneys. Next up, following this recuperation will be a round of heart surgery. … WellStar exec Gene Weeks of Marietta is recovering from knee replacement surgery. … And downtown landowner Herbert Goldstein, 88, father of Marietta Councilman Philip Goldstein, is slated to be released today from WellStar Kennestone following a three-week stay that included two surgeries.
“AROUND TOWN” editor Joe Kirby will be featured at a reservation-only lunch talk Wednesday at the West Cobb Senior Center about his book, “The Lockheed Plant.” The event is being sponsored by the Heritage of Brookstone Assisted Living.
BOTTOMS UP! The popular “Martinis & Music” event returns to The Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art on Friday from 5:30-8:30 p.m., featuring jazz ukeleleist Derek Lorin, reminds director Sally Macaulay.