Atlanta leaders part of Obama’s urban policy team

Two metro Atlanta leaders are working with the Obama administration to establish its urban policy agenda.

Catherine Ross, director of the Center for Quality Growth at Georgia Tech; and DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis, were in Washington D.C. Monday as part of a round-table discussion advising the new White House Office of Urban Affairs.


President Barack Obama addressed the urban and political leaders in the afternoon explaining how the federal government can develop policies to improve housing, education and transportation systems in urban areas.

“The president is going to put his muscle behind this,” Ross said in a telephone interview earlier today. “We will now have an urban agenda that we have never had before.”

Ellis was similarly impressed.
“It was a pretty heady and exciting discussion,” said Ellis, who was sitting on the front row during the president’s talk and was introduced by Obama. “It was a great day.”

The all-day urban roundtable included the Secretary of Transportation, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, the Secretary of Labor, the Environmental Protection Administrator and the Small Business Administrator.

It also included experts from the Brooking Institution, the Ford Foundation and former cabinet members Federico Pena and Henry Cisneros, plus Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell as well as other people who “have been working in the trenches,” according to Ross.

“It was not the usual suspects,” she said. “There were only three academicians in a group of 25 or so. It was very hands on and implementation-oriented. They want to get the job done.”

The next step will be to go to a select group of urban areas to witness how some cities have been able to revitalize their communities.

“They are planning to to go around the country to showcase best practices,” Ellis said. “We know they are considering DeKalb County, and we hope they will come.”

Ellis added that much of the message from the president and his team was that “some of the most innovative solutions are from the bottom up,” and that the “federal government wants to be a resource and a partner.”

Ross, who used to be the executive director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and has been working on urban issues for decades, called the entire day “very reaffirming.” She said that it is refreshing to work with an administration that has an urban focus and an urban agenda.

“I feel we have an opportunity to be on the ground floor,” Ross said. “They are so focused, it’s contagious. The president invigorates you, challenges you and excities you. He is very much a motivator.”

Here is a link to the Washington Post report on Monday’s round-table discussion.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

2 replies
  1. Tony Wilbert says:

    Interesting column. Do you have any ideas why Obama did not bring Shirley Franklin to Washington for a position in his administration or any other official duty? She seemed to be lobbying for one during the campaign.Report

  2. mariasaporta says:

    I think Mayor Franklin has let the Obama administration know that she would like to finish out her term as mayor. I also know that she’s been involved in other forums with the new administration. But I don’t know the reasoning behind why she wasn’t included in this discussion. Apparently it was a rather small group. Ross was there for all the work she’s done, including her research on megaregions. Ellis was invited because of his leadership role with the National Association of Counties.
    Thanks for reading.


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