Former Mayor Shirley Franklin wishes she had done more to help city’s poor

By Maria Saporta

Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin gave a refreshingly candid interview to an  online national journal about how she wished she had done more to address the lack of upward income mobility in the city while she was leading the city.

The article appeared in related publications — “The National Journal” and “The Atlantic Cities: Place Matters” — on March 24. It was written by Nancy Cook, who asked Franklin about the recent report from the Equality of Opportunity Project that ranked Atlanta as one of least likely cities in the country for low-income children to be able to climb out of poverty.

Franklin told Cook that poverty in Atlanta “has been pretty intractable” going back to the 1970s.

“It appears that whatever is good that’s going on in Atlanta is not having a positive impact on the people with the lowest incomes,” Franklin told the online publication.

Although leaders in Atlanta have tried to address various issues related to poverty, those efforts usually have occurred in silos.

Franklin has been working in this space both before and after her tenure as mayor. She was actively involved as a consultant on the East Lake revitalization effort that was championed by developer Tom Cousins; Renee Glover, then CEO of the Atlanta Housing Authority; as well as other civic and community leaders.

East Lake has been heralded as a multi-dimensional model that has had a transformational impact on one of the poorest and crime-infested communities in Atlanta.

After leaving office, Franklin has been named CEO of Purpose Built Communities — an effort that Cousins has undertaken to replicate the East Lake model in other communities across the country.

Yet when she was mayor, Franklin readily admits that she regrets that she didn’t do more to help less fortunate.

“What I could have done is been a stronger advocate,” she said. “The first and easiest thing to do would have been to use the bully pulpit to talk about the importance of reaching back and helping people at the lowest end. I know that I offered alternatives in city government. For instance, we increased the minimum wage that was being paid to city employees. That seems like a small thing, but there were city employees who were earning less than $20,000 a year working 40 hours a week when I came into office.”

Asked about possible solutions, Franklin mentioned efforts being done by San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro.

“All of the literature says that children need to have an early start, and his advocacy for a sales tax for early education in San Antonio worked,” Franklin said. “For someone who has aspirations to the national level, or certainly the state level, it can be pretty dangerous to advocate for taxes, but in this case, he felt like that was important and it made a difference.”

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.

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