Buckhead cityhood opponents claim victory as Georgia General Assembly leaders join them
By John Ruch
Buckhead cityhood opponents are claiming victory after reports that the lieutenant governor and House speaker have declared themselves against the legislation that would enable the neighborhood’s succession.
The pro-cityhood Buckhead City Committee (BCC) did not immediately respond to a comment request.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on Feb. 10 and 11 that Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge), who can direct the course of legislation in the Georgia General Assembly, were opposed to the cityhood legislation and thus it was effectively — if not literally — dead. Cityhood has a partisan base among Republicans, and Duncan — a GOP leader himself — previously directed the Senate version of cityhood legislation to a committee controlled by Democrats.
Mayor Andre Dickens and the anti-cityhood group Committee for a United Atlanta (CUA) were among those declaring victory while pledging to work on the discontent reflected in the 18-month-old cityhood movement.
“Since taking office I have said, repeatedly, that we will remain one city with one bright future,” Dickens said in a written statement. “I am thankful for the support of Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan, Speaker David Ralston, members of the Atlanta delegation and all the other state leaders who have sat down with me. They have given me and my administration the runway we need to take off, and we will continue in our work to move Atlanta forward.”
“The actions by the Lt. Governor, Speaker, and other legislative leaders this week should put an end to the talk of carving up the City of Atlanta this year, but we continue to face serious issues and challenges,” said CUA co-chair Edward Lindsey. “Therefore, it is time for everyone to lower our voices, roll up our sleeves and lend a hand to each other to make our capital city a great place to live.”
The opposition group Neighbors for a United Atlanta also expressed pleasure, saying on social media, “We look forward to working with our neighbors on shared goals while holding elected officials accountable for a better future for BH [Buckhead] and ATL.”
“We very much share the sentiment that this is a time for us to come together and work towards a better shared future for Buckhead AND Atlanta,” said Neighbors chair Humberto García-Sjögrim.
Presuming the legislation indeed dies this session, there will be no referendum on the November ballot as supporters had hoped. But don’t expect cityhood sentiment to fade quickly, as it is an old idea that gained unprecedented momentum in the social and political upheaval of 2020. The BCC has also said it will back candidates with a political action committee; one long-shot candidate for the area’s 5th Congressional District, Christian Zimm, has already thrown a hat in the ring based partly on the cityhood movement.
Succession sentiment has simmered in Buckhead for decades amid discontent and frustration with City services but came to a boil in 2020 with skyrocketing crime as a major concern that drew broad appeal. However, BCC and CUA polling alike showed a partisan divide, with a Republican base of support and a Democratic base of opposition. The effort also had the strange political situation of legislative support from Republican lawmakers from outside Atlanta and opposition from the entire, all-Democratic Buckhead and Atlanta delegations.
The BCC’s effort was particularly affected by the political double-edged sword of taking on politically connected fundraiser Bill White as chairman and CEO. His penchant for incendiary and inaccurate commentary both appealed to a base of support, but also drew widespread outrage as, among other things, he reposted a racist comment about crime from a white-nationalist-affiliated website and proposed a conspiracy theory attributing the recent suicide of MARTA’s CEO on a nonexistent theft of funds. Such controversies underscored the racial and class tensions that underlie — or are amplified — by the talk of a wealth and majority-white neighborhood attempting to secede from Atlanta.
The BCC effort also has some pending legal challenges including a trademark dispute with the existing Town of Buckhead in Morgan County, and a First Amendment lawsuit against the City of Atlanta in a dispute about signage on the cityhood group’s campaign headquarters.
Update: This story has been updated with comment from Neighbors for a United Atlanta.