By Maria Saporta
Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young said “the most recent flop — the T-SPLOST” failed because of the way it was presented to the region.
Young made his comments during a conversation before several hundred people attending the DataBank real estate symposium on Thursday.
“We just didn’t do our homework,” Young said. “We made a mistake. They depended on the media. A lot of public relations people get a 15 percent kick-back. The more ads they put on TV, the more money they make. They don’t care whether it won or lost. You’ve got the commercialization of politics.”
Young then described how the regional transportation sales tax campaign of 2012 differed from when the MARTA sales tax passed in the City of Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb counties in 1971.
“When we passed the MARTA referendum by 400 votes, we probably had hundreds of community meetings,” Young said.
But Young also said the metro area also is different today. In the 1970s and the 1980s, the Atlanta business and civic community worked closely together to move Atlanta forward.
“That common bonding doesn’t exist anymore,” Young said in an interview after his conversation. “The world has changed, and we in 1971 had an organized neighborhood base that actually the business community helped organize.”
It was through that community outreach that the decision was made for the first MARTA line to be the East-West line so it would serve both the predominantly white and predominantly African-American communities in the city.
“It’s physically impossible to have those kind of neighborhood structures in the new metro Atlanta area,” said Young, remembering how he and DeKalb leader Manuel Maloof and Gwinnett leader Lillian Webb in the 1980s could have a phone call and work through a lot of issues.
Young praised Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed for doing what he could to pass the tax and for trying to unify the region. But Young criticized some African-American leaders who fought against the regional transportation sales tax.
“The problem Kasim Reed has is that at least 50 black people in Atlanta think they ought to be mayor, and there’s no way they can be mayor,” Young said. “That’s who was against him.”
Later Young added: “They were looking at it as to what’s in it for my neighborhood.” But Young said the flaw with that argument is that African-Americans need mobility to get to jobs and to more prosperous communities so transportation improvements in the rest of the region would benefit them.
Also, Young said the opponents miscalculated. They thought that if the tax failed, then they could try to renegotiate a better plan. But there seems to be little hope of that happening any time soon.
Young was asked about the future of MARTA, which would have received $600 million to help bring the system to a “state of good repair” and would have had its first rail expansion in decades had the tax passed.
“MARTA can’t close down,” Young said simply. “Frankly I have never known Kasim Reed not to have a back-up plan, or if he doesn’t have one now, he’s working on it.”
Yet Young acknowledged that the challenges are tougher today than they were when he was mayor.
“The problem is we had a sense of community in the 70s and 80s because Charlie Loudermilk, John Portman and Herman Russell all grew up here,” Young said. “The business community now is in a global free market, and they can’t worry about Atlanta alone. They have got to consider their global business But if Atlanta ever gets too bogged down for the functioning of their global business, they will pack up and move somewhere else. They would have to.”