Sunday, January 11, 2009

Asleep at the wheel

Jay Bookman has a great piece in the AJC that covers all the bases on transportation and state politics:
It’s hard to know what to expect. Even in more prosperous times, the governor wasn’t exactly a visionary. His biggest initiative to date has been his “Go Fish Georgia” program. The current economic climate gives him the perfect excuse to once again “go small,” even at a time when much bigger steps are required.

However, the roots of our transportation problems go deeper than mere money. For example, Georgia’s 13-member transportation board — one member for each of the state’s congressional districts — is archaic. It was designed as a means to distribute patronage around the state, and that’s exactly what it does. Traditionally, board members have seen their first responsibility as diverting as many transportation dollars as possible back to the home district; setting policy to create an efficient statewide transportation system was a distant second. 
The whole piece is great, but it ties into a bigger issue, which is the lack of leadership in this city and this state on key issues.  We simply don't have leaders who are willing to take risks anymore.  

Atlanta has a great history of civic involvement, which perhaps reached its peak during the civil rights movement with Mills B. Lane at C&S and Robert W. Woodruff at Coca-Cola.  These were guys who worked behind the scenes to make sure that Atlanta and Georgia came out on the right side in the end.  Lane help negotiate Atlanta's school desegregation, helped found the Action Forum, helped get Hosea Williams out of jail, and helped Carl Sanders defeat segregationalist Marvin Griffin in a gubernatorial race.  

Woodruff bankrolled MLK's Nobel Peace Prize dinner and rallied local businesses to do the right thing and support the event.  He also raised millions for the United Negro College Fund, the Atlanta University Center, and numerous other organizations.  Just take a look at all the institutions and landmarks named after him to get an idea of his impact.  

The biggest civic figures I can think of now are perhaps Tom Cousins, Bernie Marcus, and perhaps Arthur Blank.  The Aquarium is great, and Tom Cousins has done great things with his foundation, but these issue don't compare with the Civil Rights Movement (or the other issues mentioned above).  

We used to have some political giants, as well, but that is another post.  Suffice it to say that it took significant risks and leadership to get through the Civil Rights Movement, get MARTA started, pull off the Olympics, and establish (and expand) the world's largest airport.

Who is going to step up and take on the Police Department?  Who is going to deal with transportation?  Will someone step up and find a way for the BeltLine to take less than 25 years?  Atlanta had a great run economically during the 80's and 90's, but we need to do more to get ready for the future.  Our economic base is getting stagnant, and our high profile companies aren't as robust as they used to be.

We can't afford to have leaders who are asleep at the wheel any more.  I don't think any of the current candidates for mayor (or governor in 2010) have the vision or the tenacity to handle these big issues.  Atlanta has real challenges, and our current Mayor is not wrong when she says we are on the cusp of greatness.  There is no lack of opportunity for leaders to step up.

h/t Joe M

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